The past few months, during the Black Lives Matter movement, a global pandemic and an election year in the nation, a new contender in the attention economy has appeared. QAnon, a now-mainstream conspiracy theory from an anonymous user named “Q” who claims to have insider information on Trump’s administration, purport sthat Trump is secretly fighting a cabal of sex traffickers that involves Hollywood elites, the Democratic party and the deep state.
Seemingly silly, the conspiracy theory is probably at least suspected by someone you know.
QAnon has recently taken a turn for the mainstream through the rise of social media posts, the biggest of which was a baseless accusation that furniture company Wayfair was trafficking children, the alleged evidence being the unusual names of their products. This eventually led to social media companies taking down the misinformation or tagging it as false, but the quick rise in popularity has led to a growth in believers. The presentation of the issue in these articles is similar to that of abortion in similar circles, with details being sensationalized and gratuitous in description. The idea of sex trafficking as envisioned by these concerned parties does not represent reality. It works in a sort of white savior way here. People envisioning swooping in and saving white children who have been auctioned off.
Of course, sex trafficking and human trafficking are real-world problems. We don’t need conspiracy theories to know that these atrocities happen in our today. However, most child trafficking cases are labor-based. The issue people are wanting to coalesce around, this fictional idea of child trafficking, does not exist in the way that they believe it does.
Here is where I want point out the parallel timelines of the rise of human trafficking rights with the Black Lives Matter movement, which has also gained traction these past few months, after the murder of George Floyd by police officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao. These conversations about sex-trafficking and Black Lives Matter both started to gain traction on social media. In my own social media experiences, Instagram and Twitter were full of images of protests, statistics about the danger of living as a Black person in the US and instances of police brutality. On Facebook, however, I began to see the spread of the hashtag “#savethechildren” from aunts and cousins and conservatives. Save the Children is a real organization that really does work with those who have been trafficked, however, the hashtag was co-opted by QAnon and soon full of conspiracy and false information.
These posts ran parallel to those about Black Lives Matter. It was almost as though, as soon as Black Lives Matter gained a movement online, #savethechildren showed up the way that your mother might tell you to think about “starving children in Africa” when you told her that her slimy spinach was disgusting. As a distraction and a countermeasure.
The thing about Republicanism as I have experienced it within my community is that it isn’t so much about policies as it is about cultural values. This turns any sort of left leaning arguments or issues into ideological differences. It’s not about left versus right, but about good versus evil. Politicizing human rights issues in turn allows them to be negotiated against.
Several Republicans I know believe that Black Lives Matter is a hoax, that police brutality is a fluke and that privilege doesn’t exist. Purity, however, exists. If Republicanism is based on cultural values, then the question follows, where is the culture coming from? A lot of it is based in evangelical chrisitanity. The evangelical church has popularized human trafficking issues for years. As Ruth Graham for Slate Magazine reports, however, the ideals of the movement are focused on certain groups and ways of sex-trafficking:
“… the better comparison may be to the ‘white slavery’ panic of the late 19th century. Like the current rhetoric around anti-trafficking, ‘white slavery’ engaged both feminist and Christian activists. It also focused primarily on protecting female virtue — often depicting prostitution as ‘slavery.’”
A theory I want to posit is that the evangelical church, the driver of this culture and large reason for Trump’s election, is dying. Their base is growing smaller and they are failing to reach younger generations. Millennials and Gen Z’ers are motivated by their political beliefs. Causes like BLM and LGBT issues are non-negotiables for them, and while evangelicals are unables to concede these points, they offer up conspiracy based causes as alternatives. Can the embrace of sextrafficking as a social justice issue within the church then be seen as a ploy, knowing or not, to try to remain relevant? I don’t doubt that people worry and are grieved by the atrocities of sex trafficking. But if they are not putting in the effort into research to see that these movements have been co-opted by the alt-right, and how trafficking can take many forms and affect people of all races, it makes me wonder how much one cares about the children after all.