Conspiracy theories are as American as apple pie and their origins date back even before the founding fathers created this nation. Some historians will tell you the first American conspiracy was a plot to kill George Washington. There was even a book written about it, but American history likes to forget some of its ugly ways. In 1692, a colored slave woman was used as a pawn to spark the first conspiracy ever to land on the shores of America: The Salem Witch Hunt.
From February 1692 to May 1693 hundreds of people (mostly teenage women) in colonial Massachusetts were accused of witchcraft, with no basis in fact or reality. “The Hunt” led to the actual Salem Witch Trials; a time in which hundreds of people were jailed, and many were even publicly hanged or executed (Yes people died, women and children. Don’t read over that lightly). There was never any proof of actual witchcraft. Most of the persecuted women were of lower socioeconomic status and easy scapegoats to give the conspiracy someone to blame. It’s the first known case of mass hysteria this country has ever seen, and if I can be frank, it’s weird! The fact that something so ridiculous could have seeped into the minds of so many people may seem archaic, but American history could be doomed to repeat itself.
Today, the Salem Witch Hunt is seemingly taking place in the form of a right-wing conspiracy group called QAnon. Do they believe in witches? No (well, maybe…); but what they do believe in is rooted in many of the same things that brought us the Salem Witch Trials: isolationism, religious extremism, and false accusations.
The concept of isolationism has been around for a very long time and it has always stunted the growth of mankind. Isolationism is the idea that a tribe or a society is better off without the affairs or interests of outside groups. The information you take in only comes from sources that subscribe to the same tribe. Leaders can also direct policy to remain apart from the affairs or interests of other groups, especially other countries. In the 1600s, the world was small and closed with information, and even tinier and shut-in communication. Because of this, ideas like witchcraft and demons, could spread unchecked. Minds in the 1600s were just as creative as they are now, but if you tell a convincing story to a group of isolationists, by definition, they won’t seek council outside the group for any more info whatsoever; they are hooked, and the story just grows. Witches go from tales of grandeur to a cold ass reality for a whole lot of innocent women, all because a slave was beaten into falsehoods. Times are considerably different now. By nature, we aren’t an isolated nation anymore. We have the internet, social media, and television to keep us connected daily. We also have cellphones, which keeps us connected to the minute. But a funny thing happened on the way to freedom…we decided to isolate ourselves (With a little nudge from Prince Zuckerberg of course). We have put ourselves in groups, isolating ourselves from opposing viewpoints. We have isolated the truth and made it something only our tribe could possibly be privy to. And our prize? In 2020, we got hit with the biggest pandemic this country has ever seen since 1919. It forced our policies into isolationism for survival. Isolationism became a necessary evil. We had to close borders and limit contact to control the spread, but with limited contact comes an idol mind. Just more opportunity and time for some folks to dive into the fringe conspiracies that had already tickled their fancy. If Alice in Wonderland taught us anything, it’s once in the rabbit hole, not much else matters.
In steps, the QAnon conspiracy theories (there are multiple) – with their baby-eating beliefs, sex trafficking conspiracies, and their anger pointed toward Democrats. Anger that could very well be in the minds of politicians who have a pretty good chance of getting elected in November. This movement has fed on the idea of isolationism. QAnon, who is said to be an anonymous person, posts on conspiracy-mongering sites such as 4chan.com, and he convinces his believers that only his word is the truth.
In Salem 1692, Harvard graduate Samuel Parris beat his slave into telling the tribe that witchcraft existed; and that she, too, was a witch. This made it all too believable for the folks in Salem. If you get folks who won’t take in information anywhere else to believe in your lies, then you have them hooked.
People make false accusations every day, but the accusations become problematic when the masses start to believe them. During the Salem Witch Hunt, leaders used false accusations to rally their tribes into accepting the murder of women and children. The lies gave some sense to the things they didn’t have answers for. That is the same exact thought process that allows a QAnon believer to accept that a cabal of satan-worshiping pedophiles running a global child sex-trafficking ring are plotting against President Donald Trump. The absurd ideas mean less than the accusations themselves; and for the tribe, it only makes their argument stronger. In 1692 Salem, if a woman was called a witch by more than one witness, she must have been a witch. Now, the arm of the internet gives one tweet the power of a thousand witnesses, and false accusations can quickly become the truth in the eye of public opinion. Truth is then lost and the false accusations win.
In 2008, Donald Trump screamed to the rooftops that President Obama was not a citizen of the United States, even though there was actual evidence he was. He demanded that Obama show the world his birth certificate and riled up his then small following to believe his easily debunked false accusation – and for the most part it worked. He wasn’t widely rebuked or shunned. Rather, eight years later he was elected as the 45th President of The United States. This false accusation opened the door for more and more until now almost anything he says is believed. Just another ingredient to a recipe that we’ve seen before, but this time no witches and he is still as nutty as they come.
There’s not an era in American history where extremism doesn’t rear its ugly head. America was built on it and it still oozes it today. Back in 1692, religious extremism was more our cup of tea. The Puritans, who were very religious folks, came to settle in the northern Americas in the early 1600s. They believed in the active existence of the devil and demons, and that spirits could possess humans and force them to do their bidding. Puritan pastors regularly performed exorcisms and oversaw many of the executions in the Salem Witch Trials. Done all in the name of the Lord. This type of religious extremism is a staple in the belief system of QAnon. Their tribe consists mostly of evangelical Christians, who already have a strong religious belief system. Mix that with the isolationism due to COVID-19, and false accusations circled around the tribe, violence is next to come. Just like in 1692, now we have violence acted out by religious extremists who isolated their beliefs and were tricked into believing false accusations.
Pizzagate – In 2016 a gunman walks into a pizza shop in Washington, D.C., because he was told it was a front for a child sex-trafficking ring
Hoover Dam – In 2018 an armed Nevada man drove an armored truck onto a bridge and blocked traffic to bring awareness to a QAnon conspiracy.
Mob Boss Killer – In 2019 a 24-year old QAnon believer killed a mob boss in Staten Island because he was convinced Donald Trump wanted him to.
Brother Lizard – In 2019 a 26-year old QAnon believer killed his brother who he claimed to be a lizard, with a sword
Live Stream Driver – In April 2020 a woman armed with a bunch of knives live-streamed herself driving to go “take out” Hilary Clinton and Joe Biden because they were a part of QAnon’s child sex trafficking conspiracy.
These seemingly outlandish stories go on.
If you want to check them out, click here. Just don’t forget what we learned from Alice In Wonderland.
This isn’t 1692.
We as a people are now connected in ways we could have never dreamed then. But still, our minds are manipulated by falsehoods that drive human nature to a dark place. From demons and witches to Satanic sex trafficking cults, it is all part of the same cycle of conspiracy. That cycle has stained this country with atrocities that will live in the history books forever. If we are not careful, QAnon could be leading us in that very same direction. Although in 2020 the group is fringe, its mainstream tentacles grow every day. They have built an online church of Q, and even have members deciphering Q theories through the Bible. Their beliefs are also just a stone’s throw away from having a seat in Congress. Marjorie Taylor Greene is running for Congress in Georgia’s heavily-Republican 14th Congressional District. She will likely win in November. She has openly supported QAnon beliefs and regularly posts videos promoting hate. Here are a few of her notable one-liners:
“There’s an Islamic invasion into our government!”
“the most mistreated group of people in the United States today are white males.”
“There’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take this global cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles out, and I think we have the president to do it,”
(Click here to read more about Greene.)
This stuff is scary, but history can bring some solace because it can give you a hint to what’s to come. Nothing but more violence will come, according to the Salem Witch Trials. When we know the origins of conspiracy theories, we have a way better chance of stopping them from becoming mainstream, because once they do what comes next ain’t pretty.