A couple of weeks ago, Huang Heqing, a professor in the department of art and archaeology at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China made ridiculous claims about ancient history at a conference. Huang, who teaches art history, holds a doctoral degree from the University of Paris but nonetheless is convinced that all the achievements of ancient Western cultures were fabricated in the nineteenth century.
Sen. Lindsey Graham warned this week that calling the so-called QAnon Shaman, Jake Angeli (a.k.a. Jacob Chansley), to testify in Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial would be a circus, while last night CNN aired footage from tonight’s QAnon conspiracy special of anchor Anderson Cooper interviewing a former QAnon believer about the extreme delusions that he accepted as true while in the mouth of madness. Just as Angeli posted YouTube videos detailing his belief that he was a psychic space warrior working for a secret U.S. military program to destroy alien spaceships from another dimension, his fellow QAnon believers have some pretty strange—but very familiar—ideas.
Before we begin, be sure to read this recent academic essay exploring the History Channel as a vector for conspiracy theories and masculinity panic. I’m cited in it, and, well, we all know that this mix of conspiracy culture, toxic masculinity, etc. feeds directly in to the conspiracy culture we are seeing all around us, notably among the Capitol Hill insurrectionists, whose demographics are a close mirror of the History Channel’s own target audience.
Major news outlets are finally starting to notice that Jake Angeli (Jacob Chansley), the horned QAnon "shaman" who infiltrated the Capitol last Wednesday, is kind of weird. News reports said that Angeli claimed that Pres. Trump had invited him to attack the Capitol, and a judge ruled that Angeli was entitled to special organic food in jail because QAnon shamanism is his religion, and organic food is his sacred diet. Also, there were the rants about QAnon conspiracies of every stripe. So far, mainstream media haven't reported on his since-deleted YouTube videos claiming to be a government psychic space warrior battling Lovecraftian abominations from another dimension.
In the wake of the Capitol insurrection and renewed interest in QAnon and its web of conspiracy theories, Q-believers have been trading images of a map of "hidden history" that, not coincidentally, maps exactly onto the fake history deployed by Ancient Aliens, Scott Wolter, and the History Channel, Science Channel, and Travel Channel band of speculators. To the best of my knowledge, the map was first developed in 2018 by fashion designer Dylan Louis Monroe, a Q-curious artist who displayed it at both the History Channel's AlienCon and a special 2018 exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted to conspiracies theories as art. The Met called it a way to "oppose political corruption, bureaucracy, and media manipulation." You know, by accusing all of history of being a Jewish-Catholic Satanic conspiracy. As you do. Seriously, how could the Met not have considered the consequences?
It should surprise no one that yesterday’s siege of the United States Capitol by a pro-Trump right-wing mob included close connections to right-wing conspiracy theories, and not just the putative election fraud claim Pres. Donald Trump used to incite the violence at a rally yesterday afternoon. Many of the thugs who invaded the Capitol sported QAnon clothing, and at least one brandished a flag printed with a “Trump—JFK Jr.” slogan, a reference to a QAnon conspiracy theory imagining that the late son of John F. Kennedy is both secretly alive and about to become Trump’s second vice president. On Fox News Channel, Tucker Carlson spun a conspiracy theory that Antifa agitators had infiltrated the mob, while actual journalists identified several of its members as known white nationalist and right-wing extremists.
In cable television, as in politics, there is no shame, no depths that the purveyors of conspiracy theories won’t plumb in the endless quest to wring out just a little more money and power. The History Channel, though, must surely notice that the brand of anti-science, anti-fact, antisocial conspiracy that they have spun for years now has not only poisoned out democracy but is also getting some relatively heavy pushback. The question, of course, is whether they care. That answer is almost certainly no. In the nihilist marketplace of fracturing media, holding on to a small but loyal army of extremists is more important than either civic responsibility or mass appeal.
For years now, I have ended each trip around the sun with a summary of the preceding twelve months in fringe history, space aliens, and the weird. Most years, these summaries run into the thousands of words because so much happened. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic and the American presidential election severely curtailed the number of extreme claims made about ancient history, as conspiracy theorists turned their attention toward disease and politics. Last year, I said I was ready for a long, difficult year to end, and now those look like the good old days. This year I published a new book and wrote two more, and I look forward to what I hope will be big things next year when publishers get a look at my newest manuscript. In the meantime, we can look back in sadness and anger.
At least seventy artifacts at Berlin's Museum Island museums, including paintings and Egyptian sarcophagi, were sprayed with an oily substance earlier this month in what officials describe as the largest attack on museum artifacts in postwar German history. The attack occurred on October 3 but was only made public this week. While the attacker is unknown, German police tied the attack to social media posts from Attila Hildmann, a conspiracy theorist with fringe ideas about COVID-19, who claimed that the famous Pergamon Altar of Zeus, on display at the Pergamon Museum on Museum Island, was the "throne of Satan." The altar is currently undergoing conservation and is not on display. A digital recreation of it was attacked, however.
Time magazine carried a disturbing article yesterday about conspiracy theories and their growing impact on the 2020 electorate. In the article, voters described a variety of beliefs derived from Q-Anon conspiracy theories as well as the occult fringe of YouTube, including a number of references to former Ancient Aliens star David Wilcock’s “cabal” of parasitic blood-drinking liberal extraterrestrial elites who have long been a staple of Q-Anon culture under other names. I hate saying I told you so, but how many years of warning did we have about this coming intellectual apocalypse from the History Channel’s parade of shows stoking panic about demons by other names? How many years of warning did we have watching Wilcock build an underground following of millions of believers absorbing his snake oil about secret government blood-drinking extraterrestrial liberals?
I'm an author and editor who has published on a range of topics, including archaeology, science, and horror fiction. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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