The Fix | Analysis
March 31, 2018 at 4:14 PM
Roseanne Barr capped a remarkable week of new media relevance with a tweet that seemed to fly out of nowhere — unless you're a close observer of far-right media.
On Friday night, the star of ABC's revived smash-hit sitcom began rounding up praise for President Trump on the very specific issue of child trafficking. “He has broken up trafficking rings in high places everywhere,” Barr tweeted. “Notice that.”
Over the next few hours, Barr retweeted supportive tweets and links to articles about the “untold story” of how the administration was breaking up “pedophile rings.”
One link, to the little-known site the Liberty (“committed to spreading peace and happiness [throughout] the world"), claimed that “by the second month of Trump’s presidency, police had arrested 1500 criminals nationwide who are connected with these pedophile rings” and that “there are suspicions that not only Hollywood is involved in the pedophile rings, but also politicians.” The same sort of information popped up in Barr's reply thread, in convenient meme form, with the hashtags #Pedogate and — wait for it — #Pizzagate.
How, in March 2018, are we still talking about the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory? After how that ended, are there still people who think that a huge legal conspiracy has protected a child sex slavery network used by the country's most powerful people, from former Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta on down?
Absolutely, yes. As the Hill's Will Sommer quickly explained, Barr had echoed a relatively new theory that grew out of Pizzagate — that the president is quietly cracking down on the pedophilia network and that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's probe of foreign meddling in the 2016 election is an extremely effective distraction from his real investigation of the Democrats tied to that network. We know this, or “know” this, because “Q,” an anonymous account on the 4chan message board, says so and claims to be a government operative with the highest level of security clearance.
Why has this caught on with some fringe far-right media organizations? I can't sum it up better than Paris Martineau did in her late 2017 explainer of #QAnon.
In this fantasy world, all of the far right’s wildest dreams come true: Q promises that Clinton, Obama, Podesta, Abedin, and even McCain are all either arrested and wearing secret police-issued ankle monitors, or just about to be indicted; that the Steele dossier is a total fabrication personally paid for by Clinton and Obama; and that the Las Vegas massacre was most definitely an inside job connected to the Saudi-Clinton cabal.
Barr did not mention #QAnon in her tweet, but she has repeatedly tweeted or retweeted links about the theory and asked whether QAnon could contact her via direct message. Most recently, on March 23, Barr retweeted a summary of Q-based theories of how the just-passed omnibus spending bill would unleash law enforcement on the pedophile ring.
Here is what the post says:
It's a pretty typical product of the #QAnon genre, promising the final defeat of the president's enemies and engaging in some inventive ideas about how the military works.
That's why Barr's tweet rattled observers of far-right media. We've seen conspiracy theories jump into the mainstream before; we've even seen Barr tweet about them. As Amy Zimmerman reported last summer, when the White House celebrated the news that “Roseanne” was coming back to TV, Barr had “retweeted Infowars reports on the '5.7 Million Illegals' who they baselessly claim voted in the presidential election” and “shared a YouTube video titled, 'CONFIRMED: SCALISE IS AT THE SAME HOSPITAL THAT TOOK OUT SETH RICH,' as well as various other Seth Rich-related bulletins.”
Those tweets have been deleted, but Barr, like plenty of people, remains susceptible to bogus information that validates her worldview. Let's take #QAnon out of it. Barr's tweetstorm about child sex trafficking did not just thank Trump for his focus on the problem — it implied that he had grabbed hold of it after previous presidents ignored it.
Look again at the claim that came up again and again in the tweet thread, that law enforcement under Trump had freed more children from sex traffickers in one month than it did under any year of the Obama administration. It sounds incredible, because it's false, originating in a 2017 column by an obscure conservative writer named Liz Crokin. Her piece, titled “Why the MSM Is Ignoring Trump's Sex Trafficking Busts,” claimed that there had been a “staggering 1,500-plus arrests” of sex traffickers in Trump's first 30 days, compared with just 400 in 2014.
Reason's Elizabeth Nolan Brown made short work of that story. Not only was Crokin giving Trump credit for local law enforcement actions that had been planned before he took office, she was fudging the numbers. Few of the arrests she cited had anything to do with sex trafficking. The 2014 data was a rundown of state-level arrests in just half the country; Crokin had ignored more relevant information, such as an Immigration and Customs Enforcement statement published a month before her column announcing 1,952 federal arrests of human traffickers in 2016.
But the fake numbers got around. From newspaper letter pages to mainstream conservative sites, the “fact” of a Trump-era surge in sex-trafficking arrests has survived multiple debunkings. In 2017, ICE claimed 350 fewer arrests of human traffickers than the last year of the Obama administration. There have been high-profile arrests of sex traffickers, as there are every year, but no surge over what we saw under previous presidents.
Why claim otherwise? For Crokin, at least, the story was always a piece of the Pizzagate/QAnon puzzle. Crokin has claimed that the Parkland, Fla., shooting was a “blatant false flag” to distract from that story; that former DNC staffer Seth Rich may have been killed because “he read the Podesta emails, and he knew that sex trafficking was going on”; and that the #MeToo movement was largely a distraction from how Hollywood elites are involved in “eating babies, drinking blood, sacrificing, and that kind of stuff.”
On Saturday, Crokin tweeted her thanks to Roseanne Barr.
Barr is by no means responsible for what people tweet about her. Conspiracy theorists frequently use social media to bring celebrity attention to their causes. But if they think that Barr might be susceptible to their theories, they've been paying attention. With a hit TV show, praise from the president and free advertising on Fox News, Barr has one of the loudest megaphones in the country. So far, mainstream conservatives have argued that attacks on her more far-out tweets are motivated by a desire to silence her.
“Roseanne is not a conspiracy theorist like you would think,” Rush Limbaugh said Friday. “The conspiracies that she believes in are those that supposedly exist to destroy Trump.”