Child Sexual Exploitation as a Tool of the Conspiracy Theorist.

An examination of the latest child sexual exploitation documentary by a conspiracy theorist, and comments on how these actors continue to leverage CSE as a way to promote & monetize their propaganda.

⚠️CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses a video that contains false but graphic claims about: child sexual exploitation; child trafficking; child murder; child abuse, and discussion of suicide. The content discussed and described below may be disturbing.⚠️

Background

Last night, my friend Abbie asked if I’d watched what I’ll call  “Documentary XYZ,” which was being promoted on TikTok by some users under the SaveTheChildren hashtag that QAnon hijacked in summer 2020. The video had been sent her way by Jess, who debunks anti-trafficking panic on TikTok. The documentary has been on my to-do list since it first appeared in Telegram QAnon chats, so I had a watch party with three other extremism researchers: AbbieAllie and QOrigins.

It was deeply disturbing. Afterwards, QOrigins described it as “like listening to an audiobook of child snuff porn.”  Most of the video consists of blurred-out individuals being interviewed. It is not visually shocking, but the audio, the description, is something else entirely, and it is the audio that is extremely concerning.

The video has gotten more attention than I expected, both in its country of origin Poland and from a transnational English speaking audience. As I write, the original video on YouTube has 6,258,400 views, while the English version has 1,147,823 views; these are the main links being shared on Telegram and other platforms.

I refuse to share too much of the video’s content, but here are some of the things that it features:

  1. graphic description of child sexual exploitation of children under 7 years old,

  2. description of how a four-year-old child is raped,

  3. graphic description of child abuse of children under 7 years old,

  4. graphic description of the torture and murder of children under 7 years old,

  5. graphic description of the murder and organ harvesting of a four-year-old child,

  6. blatantly Islamophobic lies that boil down to: dangerous Muslim foreigners are raping white babies.

YouTube is not the only platform hosting “Documentary XYZ.” The video is also available on the documentary creator’s verified Facebook page where it has 120,000 views.

The video is also available on alternative streaming site BitChute, Rumble, Odysee, YourNewTube, etc. It is also shared on TikTok and parts of it are shared in Instagram stories and in posts.

The social media posts discussing the video, create a sense of communal rage and anger towards the “evidence” in the video; however, as it will be mentioned later the blame for the child exploitation is placed on Satanists, Muslims, and liberal non-Christian society at large. These are well-worn claims in conservative Christian communities even though they bear no relation to reality. This video as well as others like it, target a specific audience with their content, as well as those who are inclined to react to “outrage porn” (media or narrative that is designed to use outrage to provoke strong emotional reactions for the purpose of expanding audiences).

The Documentary

The video claims to be an investigative documentary where the director exposes how children are trafficked for sexual exploitation in brothels and/or sold for parts in Europe, when they are no longer attractive to pedophiles because they are too old. In it, the director of “Documentary XYZ” interviews what he claims to be a mother who is selling her child, a middleman who facilitates the transaction, and a child trafficker who is buying them. The interviews appear to be professionally lit, so that – within the universe of the film – one must assume the “traffickers” were willing to let the director come into their homes, set up lighting equipment and a camera, and then – knowing that the camera is recording them – to make enough incriminating statements to send them to prison for life many times over.  

The acting in the video is terrible. The script is leaden and unrealistic. The individuals in the “documentary” who are supposedly selling children apparently have full knowledge about how they will be trafficked, where they will go and what will be done to them. The traffickers are willing to share all the details of their operations without any obfuscation. At times the plot of the criminal acts read like a shitty crime TV show, with concepts about the criminal underworld pulled from film and TV, rather than rooted in the reality of the horrendous underworld linked to CSE and trafficking in real life. It is difficult to accept that anyone would believe this, but it has been circulating in QAnon and other ecosystems since March and garnered some visceral reaction from people in these ecosystems.

The director is a laughingstock in his home country, but this does not change the fact that his content is being consumed and used by a specific audience, who have shown several times that they are willing to mobilize offline to “Save The Children” or investigate where children are being held by the Deep State. The documentary is further driven by his religious bias. In an interview with One Kultura, the reporter asked the director if “Documentary XYZ,” is a Catholic film, to which the director responded:

“I'm Catholic, so it's hard for me to do things that don't embody what kind of person I am. I see this film as kind of spiritual warfare. The only thing I'm afraid of in life is moving away from God. I have a sense of synchronicity with God's plan, and I have come to a particular point, what has taken me many years. To put it colloquially, I gave the steering wheel of the car I drive to the God.”

This concept of spiritual warfare (concept of a dualistic war between good and evil) is is something that has found resonance with QAnon followers in the US and Canada in particular, as well as in some parts of Europe and Australia. It is also something embodied by ‘Q’ itself. Spiritual warfare is resonates with an audience that are anti-abortion, to whom this video was targeted to in Poland who recently banned nearly all abortions. Though, most may not take this individual seriously at home, and most will not know him abroad, his message is one that is familiar to many.

Though many may watch this and know this is utter nonsense, the “documentary” does play on the central QAnon narrative that shadowy organizations are trafficking children and harvesting them for a type of substance or play upon more racist tropes that Muslim immigrants are responsible for kidnapping and raping your children. The video echoes other QAnon documentaries like “Fall Cabal” and “Out of Shadows” that were widely popular in QAnon ecosystems and ecosystems adjacent to QAnon like Save Our Children, as well as those familiar with the Pizzagate conspiracy theory. The documentary would also resonate with those who are familiar with the Satanic Panics of the 70s, 80s, and 90s.

There is a key Islamophobic scene 10 minutes into the video that needs to be mentioned as well. In it, one of the characters being interviewed is discussing selling children for “parts” to a brothel in Germany and the director asks her to put him in touch with a trafficker. The interviewee states, “since those child brothels for pedophiles are mainly run by Muslims, their religion and culture does not prohibit them from having sex with children. They have wives or husbands who are five or ten years old so it's not a problem for them; therefore, it's the Arabs that mainly run those places.” This is a pack of lies, and in the European context it’s aimed at a very specific audience.

Satanism also makes an appearance in the video, for when the children get too old for the pedophiles that attend the brothel where the children are trafficked, the Satanists come to get them for their “occult practices.” The video here plays off of tropes from the Satanic Panic that would resonate with a Christian audience. It is also quite similar to QAnon’s view of the world.

In a conspiracy theory twist, the documentary claims that a Polish child who disappeared at age 4 was trafficked to the United States and grew up to become Ryan M. Pitts, a former United States Army soldier and the ninth living recipient of the Medal of Honor from the War in Afghanistan. My friend Allie found a 2017 IMGUR post that shared the exact conspiracy theory the documentary is sharing. The claim is based on an alleged similarity between age-progressed photos of the missing child and Mr. Pitts, but the child and Mr. Pitts have different-colored eyes, and Mr. Pitts was born and raised in the United States. Here, “Documentary XYZ” exploits the grief and anguish of the missing child’s mother to provide “proof” that an international ring of child traffickers has operated in Poland for decades.

Platform Community Guidelines

According to Facebook’s community guidelines about child sexual exploitation: “Content that threatens, depicts, praises, supports, provides instructions for, makes statements of intent, admits participation in or shares links of the sexual exploitation of children (real or non-real minors, toddlers or babies)” This video definitely breaks Facebook’s TOS.

YouTube’s community guidelines in regards to Child Sexual Abuse Material, does not include graphic description of this content and is limited only to visual depictions “CSAM stands for child sexual abuse material. It consists of any visual depiction, including but not limited to photos, videos, and computer-generated imagery, involving the use of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct. Our interpretation of CSAM follows the US federal definition of “child pornography.”  The graphic descriptions do not breach the YouTube Guidelines, as no child abuse happens on camera. It is simply described by the speakers.

The descriptions are extremely detailed and graphic. As QOrigins puts it: “Watching this film is, at times, like listening to an audiobook of child snuff porn.” The impact of the video is present without the visuals accompanying it. Abbie, QOrigins, Allie and I all agree the video is repulsive and traumatic for the audience -- especially if the audience isn't knowledgeable enough to recognize that the movie's claims are a pile of lies.

On TikTok, users are sharing video of them watching the video, or promoting it to their audiences. For TikTok, this should be a violation of their community guidelines on minor safety for the first instance “content that depicts, promotes, normalizes, or glorifies pedophilia or the sexual assault of a minor” and in the second instance “content that revictimizes or capitalizes on minor victims of abuse by third party reshares or reenactments of assault or confessions”.

Risks

Narratives about CSE and trafficking are powerful. We’ve seen how these narratives can play a role recruiting individuals into Pizzagate and then QAnon. CSE narratives played an important role in radicalizing and mobilizing Jessica Prim where less than three weeks passed between Prim’s first interaction with QAnon and Pizzagate videos and her arrest. In this brief period, Prim went from watching online child trafficking conspiracy documentaries to offline violence-threatening behaviour against (at the time) former VP Joe Biden.

Survivors of sexual abuse are also getting sucked into QAnon as they are drawn into QAnon’s conversation about saving children from sex trafficking. In an interview with Rolling Stone Jetta Bernier, executive director for Mass Kids, a child advocacy organization stated, “Those who have experienced sexual abuse in their childhoods have a deep understanding of how traumatic it can be over the course of a lifetime […] We want to support survivors in turning their attention to constructive ways to make a difference in the lives of other children. We don’t want them to be exploited and, in a sense, re-abused, re-traumatized, by those who would propose these conspiracy theories.”

Abbie highlighted that islamophobia and misogyny are common tropes used in this type of media. “They essentially lure people in with pseudo-activism and then dosing them with the fear of Muslim men and a severe hatred for women whose maternal instincts are "underdeveloped." It's interesting that the video focuses so much time painting the pregnant woman as an immoral, apathetic atheist who would sell her newborn to buy shoes, clothes, or a nice car. The belief that women are not morally qualified to make decisions regarding their own bodies underlies the entire script.”

There are also anecdotal reports and comments about individuals in closed groups on various platforms, who have shared child pornography they found in their “investigations” into apparent sex trafficking rings. These individuals might also inadvertently put themselves in illegal situations by research or investigating these conspiracy theories.

Special thank you to QOrigins for the copy editing, and for Allie, Abbie and QOrigins for watching this with me and providing feedback and statements.

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