The Ancient, Murderous Roots of Q-Anon
And How We Bring Back Our Loved Ones from the Brink
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A second century Egyptian papyrus describes secret Christian rituals:
The heart is removed from the body of a young child. It is then sprinkled in flour and sopped in oil, and served out to the newcomers as an initiation rite. The initiates swear an oath, drink the blood, and serve out the limbs and flesh of the child to be consumed by the members of the assembly. When all are sated, they engage in sexual intercourse with one another, with special fervor for incestuous couplings.
In the early third century, Minucius Felix, a Christian, describes another ritual which he had been accused of engaging in:
On a solemn day they [the Christians] assemble at the feast, with all their children, sisters, mothers, people of every sex and of every age. There, after much feasting, when the fellowship has grown warm, and the fervor of incestuous lust has grown hot with drunkenness, a dog that has been tied to the chandelier is provoked, by throwing a small piece of offal beyond the length of a line by which he is bound, to rush and spring; and thus the conscious light being overturned and extinguished in the shameless darkness, the connections of abominable lust involve them in the uncertainty of fate. Although not all in fact, yet in consciousness all are alike incestuous, since by the desire of all of them everything is sought for which can happen in the act of each individual.
This should sound familiar.
If you’ve developed even a passing acquaintance with Q-Anon these past few months, you recognize the accusations. Cannibalism, pedophilia, incest are the stuff of Greek mythology -- but in the ancient world as well as our own, they were the most common charges thrown at minority groups as they sought to assert themselves in a rapidly changing world. Minucius Felix laments how many people believe this nonsense about orgies, and how these conspiracy theories are used to justify persecutions and pogroms. Perhaps he would be amused, or maybe just appalled, to discover how many of his co-religionists, would, 18 centuries later, believe the same nonsense. Felix would, I hope, be chagrined at how many Christians are now willing to justify armed insurrection both in the name of keeping a grifting dictator in power, and in the name of “saving the children” from a fate dreamed up by ancient Lovecrafts.
That history repeats itself is sometimes embarrassing. It seems absurd that in 2021, a large swath of our fellow citizens has fallen prey to the same absurd conspiracy theories that swayed the ancients. Our technological prowess has not inoculated us against lies, as we might have hoped – it has only made it easier for the lie to spread, and easier for housebound fantasists to find it each other across vast distances. At least one of those fantasists is now in Congress, and many of those who participated in the insurrection of January 6 were driven less by worries about the legitimacy of mail-in voting and more by the belief that AOC and Chuck Schumer enjoy munching on the brains of freshly-slaughtered white babies.
Accusations of pedophilia, cannibalism, and incest were used by the Roman authorities as justification for bloody persecutions. Whether those authorities believed the silly charges is debatable; that they found them useful as a device for pacifying a majority by persecuting a minority is certain. The same accusations were thrown at Jews in medieval Europe. European monarchs may have been more worried about the debts that they had accrued to Jewish merchants than they were about baby-snacking, but they found the blood libel an all-too convenient excuse to get those debts cancelled. For millennia, a conservative establishment has weaponized the nightmarish reveries of the mob against those who threaten them.
Three weeks on from the ugly vision of a Q-Shaman prancing in the House chamber whilst his compatriots beat a police officer to death with a fire extinguisher, what are we to do with our neighbors and family members who have fallen for this tired, silly old lie? The inauguration of Joe Biden has pushed a few towards a grudging acceptance of reality, but many more are pointing to March 4 or beyond, awaiting the redemption that their exiled savior will bring. (Donald Trump presumably knows Q is nonsense, but he knows that any return to public life – and certainly, a 2024 run – will require that he harness the energies of the fanatical true believers.)
Pedophilia and eating children are, to put it mildly, inflammatory charges. The whole point of inventing these accusations is to create a frantic urgency to end the obscene practice. There can be no forgiveness for those who rape children and eat their flesh; mass executions of all who participated in these rituals is required. When Q-Anoners talk excitedly about the storm, they daydream of military tribunals and public hangings. They don’t want Nancy Pelosi doing a stint in federal prison; rather, they salivate at the thought of seeing the Speaker dangling at the end of the rope. I’ve never met a Q-Anoner (and I’ve talked to many, including old friends and former students) who didn’t look forward to a bloody reckoning.
No reconciliation with Q-Anon supporters is possible until they come to terms with their own bloodthirstiness. Gullibility is one thing; dark fantasies of firing squads is something altogether different. The former is regrettable, the latter is an abrogation of the social contract. We cannot have civic friendship with people who want us – or the leaders we voted for with open eyes and hopeful hearts – dead. The answer, though, isn’t ostracism. Leaving Q-Anoners alone with each other in their online forums is unwise; cutting off all ties feeds their already palpable sense of rejection and self-righteousness.
As I’m not averse to deploying melodrama, I often tell my Q-Anon friends that I’m a Democrat to my core, and that any mass executions of party leaders ought to include me. “Whatever you would like to do to Bill Clinton, you should want to do to me, right?” I say it with a warm grin, because I think it’s important to try to provoke a little cognitive dissonance. When they protest that I don’t eat babies, my standard response is to wink and say, “But how do you really know?” (That’s a bit puerile on my part, I realize, but I hope understandable given the provocation.) The key is to confront one’s parents, siblings, and co-workers with the human cost of their lurid fantasies. “Treat me as you would treat the Clintons” is an invitation to a reckoning, and I’ve found it works more often than you think.
The early Christians survived persecutions. In time, they began to take the same myths and tropes that had been deployed against them, and used them to whip up frenzies against Jews and various heretical sects. Every troubled age sees a return to the myths about cannibalistic, pedophilic, incestuous orgies engaged in by the elites. There is no sure vaccine against these alluring absurdities. They will always be with us. Yet the more we confront those who’ve fallen victim to the Q spell, and confront them by forcing them to humanize the objects of their rage, the better chance we have of restoring our loved ones to sanity.
 INCEST, INFANTICIDE, AND CANNIBALISM: ANTI-CHRISTIAN IMPUTATIONS IN THE ROMAN EMPIRE Author(s): Bart Wagemakers, Greece & Rome , Vol. 57, No. 2 (OCTOBER 2010), pp. 337-354 (I am indebted to my brother, Philip Schwyzer, both for drawing my attention to this article and for using his JSTOR account to send it to me!)