Monday, August 17, 2020

Q and the ancient smear

I am not a "normie."

That fact makes me dangerous to Q believers. Or rather, it would make me dangerous if I were still young, and still possessed the energy to oppose Q-style fascism in a sustained and systematic fashion. That's the paradox of age: When you're finally old enough to know, you may be too old to do.

I've followed America's fringe subcultures since the 1970s, and spent much of the 1990s as an unhappy inhabitant of Deep Fringeland's leftmost ghetto. I learned a thing or two about how fringe-dwellers think, or don't think. And yet, after all this time, I still cannot gauge their sincerity with absolute confidence.

I constantly ask myself: Are they espousing a bedrock belief? Or are they caught up in what we now call an ARG -- an alternative reality game? Would they even know the difference?

Sometimes I am convinced that Q -- at least the original Q (it now seems to be a group effort) -- seriously believes that wealthy Democrats rape and devour children. At other times, I suspect that Q is having a good cackle at his followers' expense. Of this, I'm certain: Whoever concocted the QAnon persona has cannily revived a set of lies once told about Jews.

In the post-war era, anti-Semites learned how to repackage their favorite fear-fables. They tell the same stories, but they scratch out the word "Jew" and replace it with something a little less obvious -- the euphemism du jour. For some conspiracy writers in the 1950s and 1960s, the preferred phrases were "cosmopolitan" and "the serpent race." (The latter term may have inspired David Icke's fantasias.)

Until recently, the best-known euphemism was "International bankers." Numerous conspiracy writers have assailed this secretive, all-powerful group without quite clarifying who these "international bankers" truly are. Over time, the clues kept piling up: The international bankers control Wall Street...the international bankers control Hollywood...they wear little international banker hats...they eat at international banker delis...they go to the Catskills to laugh at international banker comedians...they complain to their international banker psychiatrists about their overbearing international banker mothers...they go to international banker churches on Friday but don't call it church... 

In the 1990s, a few conspiracy peddlers -- especially the infamous Milton William Cooper -- discovered the usefulness of a space-age euphemism: Aliens.

An alien nation (said Coop) has taken clandestine control of America's government. In exchange for advanced technology, the aliens are allowed to kidnap children and use human beings for food. Certain human families, particularly the Rothschilds, are part of an "alien" interbreeding program. You can recognize members of the alien race because they all have large noses. And if you want to learn more about these big-nosed aliens, you should read a book called The Protocols of the Elders of Zion...

Cooper even provided a drawing of these "big-nosed aliens." It strongly resembled the anti-Semitic caricatures seen in Der Sturmer.

Coop's metaphor was about as obvious as the nose on an alien's face, yet his audience refused to see the metaphor as a metaphor: "Bill Cooper has never said one word against Jews! He's talking about ALIENS! Big-nose aliens who own all the banks...!"

I heard such words many times throughout the 1990s. The obstinacy of those dolts was infuriating.

QAnon has fastened on a new euphemism: Elites. QAnon believers, like Cooper's disciples, act very affronted if you accuse them of spreading anti-Semitic myths. "Q never said one word against Jews. He's talking about the ELITES! Hollywood elites! Elites who rape children and eat their flesh and drink their blood and..."

Old whine; new bottle.

Witches. The anti-Semitic rumors of the 19th century derived from the earlier mythology of sorcery and diabolism. The most shocking Q allegations -- Sex! Pedophilia! Cannibalism! -- trace back to witch-hunting lore. Have you heard what Q folk have to say about a life-extending elixer called adrenochrome? This conspiracy theory is the updated version of that old canard about a magical ointment made with baby's blood.

QAnon is a witch hunt -- literally. Thus, to understand Q, we need to talk about the craft.

Much of what people think they know about the great witch hunts of yore is wrong, so let's expose some common misperceptions:

1. The number of condemned "witches" was somewhere around 50,000 -- not "millions" as Dan Brown and numerous contemporary Wiccans (who love to consider themselves persecuted) would have you believe.

2. Although most people presume that the main culprit was the Catholic Church, Protestants toted up a higher kill-count -- in Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, England, Scotland and elsewhere.

3. Most people think of witch hunting as a Medieval "thing" -- even though the clergy focused on heresy, not witchcraft, during the Middle Ages. Although the witch-hunting fad surfaced in the 15th century, the mania became truly monstrous during the 16th and 17th centuries. The Protestant/Catholic schism seems to have engulfed all of Europe in a frenzy of paranoia.

4. A "historian" named Margaret Murray wrote a series of books arguing that the witch hunters battled a real pagan cult which survives to this day. According to Murray, various well-known figures -- Joan of Arc among them -- secretly belonged to this cult. Although dear old Margie was nuttier than a Payday bar, her theory remains popular with Wiccans and New Agers, and has even inspired a couple of major movies: The War Lord and the original Wicker Man.

Perhaps the best book about the witch hunts is Norman Cohn's 1975 classic, Europe's Inner Demons. It's now rather hard to find. If your library doesn't have it -- or if your copy has become as tattered and fragile as mine -- you can now borrow a digital version from the Internet Archive, though you can keep the book on your computer for only a short time. 

Side note: If you happen to be a scofflaw, you could use a free screen capture app to make a jpg of each page and then run those jpgs through a PDF maker with OCR capability, which would allow you to retain your own a word-searchable copy of Cohn's book. You could do all that, but it would be wrong. This, we must never do.

(In the old days, staffers at the Library of Congress would solemnly warn you not to xerox rare books protected by copyright. Then they would tell you where to find the machines.)

Cohn traces the usual claims about witches -- Sex! Pedophilia! Cannibalism! -- to a surprising origin point. Ancient Romans loved to tell very similar Sex! Pedophilia! Cannibalism! stories -- let's call them "SPC" stories -- about a scrappy new cult called Christianity.

Early Christians gathered for dinner parties called the Agape, or love-feast, where the Eucharist was celebrated. From Cohn's first chapter:
Indeed, to many pagans the Eucharist must have seemed not merely cannibalism but, quite specifically, a "Thyestean feast". Christian missionaries must often have used the version of Jesus' words given in the Gospel of John: "Except ye eat of the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you." In Greek, the mysterious phrase "Son of man" could easily be understood as "child."
In Greek myth, Thyestes was a king tricked by his vengeful brother into eating his own children. It's easy to see how an ancient Roman might hear "Son of Man" and take it to mean "the son of A man." Someone should have told J.C. that his words were open to misinterpretation.

(The preceding sentence nicely sums up the past 2000 years, doesn't it?)

In the early second century, a Roman Christian named Marcus Minucius Felix described the Agape feast as it was seen from the point of view of the average non-Christian Roman
As for the initiation of new members, the details are as horrible as they are well-known. An infant, covered with dough to deceive the unwary, is brought to the would-be novice, who, misled by the dough, stabs the baby to death, thinking the thrust to be harmless. Then -- shameful! -- they all thirstily lick up the child's blood and eagerly divide his limbs. This murder binds them together; their shared complicity insures their silence. Such rites are more abominable than any acts of sacrilege.

What takes place at their banquets is also well known; everyone talks about it, and our countryman of Cirta has attested to it. On a certain day they assemble together -- children, sisters, mothers, people of both sexes and of all ages. After much feasting, a dog, fastened to the lamp, is encouraged by some tossed meat to spring violently beyond the length of its chain. The lamp, which would have been an inconvenient witness, is overturned and extinguished. After this, riot and indecency reign supreme.
Again: Minucius Felix was a Christian offering a summary of his era's standard "QAnon" narrative. We know from other sources that even well-educated people took this narrative seriously. After all, there was evidence -- actual courtroom-quality evidence. The more affluent Christians kept slaves, and when the masters were arrested, the slaves would tell interrogators whatever they wanted to hear. Romans thus had "eyewitness" reports of SPC debauches at those secretive Christian love-feasts.

As then, so today: Virginia Giuffre belongs to a very old tradition.

(Incidentally, the "Christian SPC" legend had a brief revival in the 19th century. Karl Marx toyed with the idea, though only for a while.)

In the second century, the "SPC" mythos was spread by Marcus Cornelius Fronto, a scholar who became a tutor and advisor to Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Yes, that Marcus Aurelius -- the stoic philosopher-king who seemed so decent when embodied on screen by Richard Harris or Alec Guinness. Marcus Aurelius did not actively persecute Christians, but he at least half-believed the ghastly stories in circulation. After all, Fronto was an educated man.

As one might expect, early orthodox Christians tried very hard to debunk the SPC smear. They argued that heretical Christians -- especially those awful, awful Carpocrations -- might be capable of such atrocities, but not mainstream believers.

Over the centuries, SPC charges have been routinely leveled against "outsider" groups. Pagan against Christian. Christian against pagan. Mainstream believers against non-mainstream (Montanist, Cathar, Waldensian, etc). Catholic against Protestant. Protestant against Catholic. Both Protestant and Catholic against the imaginary witch conspiracy.

And then, of course, the Jews.

Q revives the blood libel. Though rarely accused of eating the flesh of Christian children, Jews were frequently thought to drink their blood. Wikipedia's summary is more succinct than any I could devise:
Blood libels typically claim that Jews require human blood for the baking of matzos which they eat during Passover, although this element was allegedly absent in the earliest cases which claimed that then-contemporary Jews reenacted the crucifixion. The accusations often assert that the blood of the children of Christians is especially coveted, and, historically, blood libel claims have been made in order to account for the otherwise unexplained deaths of children. In some cases, the alleged victims of human sacrifice have become venerated as Christian martyrs.
Czar Nicholas II genuinely believed in this myth. In 1911, a Jew in Kiev named Mendel Beilis was arrested for the ritual murder of a 13 year-old Ukrainian boy. An anti-Semitic Catholic priest testified at the trial, offering his "expert" opinion on the topic of ritual murder; the case fell apart when this priest, under cross-examination, demonstrated a hilariously poor understanding of Judaism. Although Beilis went free, the blood libel circulated in Russia even after the revolution. (Example.)

The Nazi publication Der Stürmer spread the blood libel in a robustly QAnon-ish fashion, as the illustration at the top of this post attests.

During the early days of the internet, I stumbled across a lovely pamphlet called Jewish Ritual Murder, published here under a slightly different title. This work was written by an infamous British fascist named Arnold Leese. About ten years ago, someone adapted the Leese book into a "documentary" which you can probably find on one of the bittorrent sites. I saw the opening minutes and didn't know whether to laugh or to vomit.

If you have the stomach for such things, I urge you to read, or at least skim, Leese's contribution to the history of awful ideas. It forces us to confront the ancient question -- the question I've wrestled with for most of my life: Do writers like Leese really believe in their own "evidence"?

Did Cooper?

Did Marcus Cornelius Fronto?

Does Q?


Anonymous said...

Excellent, informative post, Joseph. Thank you for mentioning Norman Cohn’s book.

Adrenochrome use was described by Hunter Thompson in F&L in Los Vegas. The reader is given to think that at least an adrenal gland had been sacrificed. The sort of material that Q would work from.

After thinking and wondering about the matter of belief, the question became uninteresting to me. Because it does not matter. It simply doesn’t matter what they believe. And they would be most unlikely to ever tell anyone, if it differed from the promulgated story line. All that matters is what they say, how they build their narrative and to whom the story is aimed.

They are just like con artists or salesman. Always selling, and the more convinced of the product they can make themselves, the better for business. Someone with a character disorder like sociopathy does not actually need to have broken free of reality by believing their own stories to be effective. I think that they have a good cackle at the rubes.

The psychological situation remains of great interest, and is furthered by following what is said and done and who is consuming the manufactured narrative. Tracking thematic sources is important.

Anonymous said...

Just in the past two decades cabals of very powerful Jews (the rightwing neocons and ultra-Zionists) sent American and allied troops off to slaughter huge numbers of Israel's neighbors in the Mideast.

As a liberal Democrat, you opposed these ghastly "wars," didn't you?

But also, as a committed anti-Fascist, you to this day are still simply unable to admit who shares the greatest blame. Cognitive Dissonance is a bitch, isn't it?

Just because they've been viciously lied about, persecuted, tortured and murdered by Gentiles across millenia doesn't mean Jews are therefore, always and forever, innocent of shedding innocent blood too, Joseph.

Joseph Cannon said...

It's amazing to me that people can think that way, anon. One can be anti-racist and also a believer in peace. The two concepts used to be allied. seems as though the world really has gone mad.

Anonymous said...

@ anon3:49
You offer proof that crude antisemites, such as your self, always find ways to blame “The Jews.”

In passing, you also hint at another truth, which is that the most damaging thing to do to Israel is to support its right wing. A clever antisemite would support Bibi to the greatest possible degree.

In its early days, Naziism appealed to those who loved tyranny. Some of those were Jewish, and when Hitler’s antisemitism became unavoidably clear, they had to move out. One of them was Leo Strauss. If need be, you can refresh your memory as to who his students were, and how they became the first neocons.

The point of this is that the “cabals” you mention were driven by their fascistic love of illegitimate power and tyrannical aims rather than religious identity.