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?
Just for the record, Wilcock was spouting the nonsense about underground pedophile blood-drinking liberal elite alien cultists years before the October 2017 debut of Q-Anon, as I previously documented. His version, centered on Hollywood and Jews, derived directly from the (false) 1980s Satanic panic literature and Hollywood’s long (and actually partially true) history of sexual exploitation and abuse. The blood-drinking Satan-worshiping pedophiles in underground tunnels seem to come straight out of the infamous McMartin case of 1983-1990, where those exact allegations had been made against preschool staff through moral panic and damaging (and deceptive) hypnotic regression therapy. I’m not sure who was the first person to apply these themes to Hollywood or the Reptilian/alien “cabal,” but Wilcock’s use of the Q-Anon conspiracy material years before there was a Q-Anon shows how Q-Anon was able to take preexisting Ancient Aliens and Christian fundamentalist conspiracy theories and use them to give a spurious depth and history to a thin veneer of Trump-worship.
Just look at how Wilcock-style Q-Anon ideas have dribbled off the internet into everyday life. This example comes from Wisconsin:
On a cigarette break outside their small business in Ozaukee County, Tina Arthur and Marcella Frank told me they plan to vote for Trump again because they are deeply alarmed by “the cabal.” They’ve heard “numerous reports” that the COVID-19 tents set up in New York and California were actually for children who had been rescued from underground sex-trafficking tunnels.
While both Q-Anon and Wilcock use “the Cabal” to refer to the evil alien/demon/liberals, it’s probably worth mentioning that the Cabal is a pretty close parallel to the Syndicate from The X-Files, whose mythology folded into Wilcock’s and Q-Anon. By 2000, the Syndicate was being referred to as a “cabal,” as evidenced by Jan Delasara’s use of the term in PopLit, PopCult and the X-Files (McFarland), possibly through contamination from ufologist Steven Greer’s use of “cabal” to describe his appropriation of X-Files mythology in the mid-1990s. The earliest reference I found to the modern idea was from 1995, but Otto Binder used the word “cabal” in 1967 to describe a UFO conspiracy in his What We Really Know about Flying Saucers, as did Randall Fitzgerald in 1979’s Complete Book of Extraterrestrial Encounters. All of that, in turn, seems to date back to mid-twentieth-century conspiracies about the Council on Foreign Relations as an “Invisible Government,” often referred to as a “cabal.” That ties it all back to traditional right-wing John Birch Society-style conspiracies, which take us a bit beyond our scope.
Time threw up its hands and said that they don’t understand why people believe these weird ideas. Believers themselves don’t always know the origins of their own ideas, pointing most often to “online” as the repository of secret wisdom. But there are decades of precedent that gradually built toward a complex belief system with each new tabloid article, media panic, and History Channel occult program. And this isn’t just an issue of people believing in a new satanic panic. It’s a massive problem for the very notion that Americans can even agree on the definition of reality:
“They’re not on the same epistemological grounding, they’re not living in the same worlds,” says Whitney Phillips, a professor at Syracuse who studies online disinformation. “You cannot have a functioning democracy when people are not at the very least occupying the same solar system.”
Recent surveys have found that a quarter of Americans believe COVID-19 is a planned conspiracy, and more than half of Republicans told Pew Research that they believe some or all of the Qanon conspiracy.
Time talked to a voter named Kelly Ferro who practices yoga in the morning and then spends several hours watching online conspiracy videos, taking them for a divine revelation of a glorious truth shining as brightly as Trump’s orange bronzer. “You can’t stop, because it’s so addicting to have this knowledge of what kind of world we’re living in,” she told Time. “We’re living in an alternate reality.”
And there it is, that old Gnostic hope, to break out of the pain and suffering of the physical world toward a more real one somewhere beyond. But I’ll be damned how anyone can think Trump is going to rend the veil and bring down the New Jerusalem. Well, St. John did say it would be covered in gold and encrusted with gaudy gems (Revelation 21:18-21), so there’s that.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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