Last week, the Guardian revealed the relationship between Prime Minister Scott Morrison and a key proponent of the QAnon conspiracy theory, an individual who tweets under the handle @BurnedSpy34. According to the report, Morrison and his wife Jenny maintain a longstanding friendship with this Burned Spy, whose wife works on Morrison’s staff.
The QAnon narrative espoused by Mr Spy posits a secret conflict between the administration of Donald Trump and a deep state cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles that includes the Bush and Clinton dynasties, the Obamas, George Soros and a dizzying array of others. The activities of these deep-staters were supposedly exposed by, wait for it, a poster on 4chan, who provided cryptic hints about imminent developments in world politics – most of which have spectacularly failed to manifest.
Nevertheless, a vast subculture has developed out of this narrative, with Q devotees waiting – like Linus in the pumpkin patch – for an event they call The Storm, in which Trump’s enemies will be rounded up, imprisoned, executed or otherwise dispatched.
On first glance, this all seems insane – and on second glance, too.
But it’s worth taking a step back.
If you’re a climate denialist – that is, if you disbelieve the enormous literature documenting humanity’s role warming the planet – you confront an obvious question: what motivates all those scientists to lie?
The most common response invokes a climate gravy train: researchers bodge their figures, the argument goes, in order to attract and retain funding. But that merely pushes the mystery back a step. For who supplies this funding, given the notorious impecunity of environmentalists? The government? But why would a state seek to undermine the energy upon which it relies? Is it being undermined from within or, perhaps, pressured from without?
The former option leads to Cultural Marxism, while the latter leads the United Nations and the New World Order – although, of course, those forces may well all be in cahoots.
Climate denialism fosters conspiracism, a causality evident in the relationship between an Andrew Bolt article and its comments section. The columnist denounces science as a fraud – and his readers speculate as to whether it’s Agenda 21 or the Fabians who benefit most from the Hoax of the Century.
Now, way back in 1957, Humble Oil – a company later better known as Exxon – funded a study to analyse the ‘enormous quantity of carbon dioxide’ released into the atmosphere ‘from the combustion of fossil fuel’. Its executives knew already about the role their core business played in increasing atmospheric carbon.
At around the same time, Edward Teller – the man who helped build the hydrogen bomb – warned industry insiders about the relationship between carbon and the climate.
‘When the temperature does rise by a few degrees over the whole globe,’ he explained, ‘there is a possibility that the icecaps will start melting and the level of the oceans will begin to rise.’
In 1978, Exxon researcher James Black published an internal report concluding that ‘a doubling of carbon dioxide is estimated to be capable of increasing the average global temperature by from one degree to three degrees centigrade, with a ten degree rise predicted at the poles.’
By the 1980s, as Nathaniel Rich documents in Losing Earth, fossil fuel corporations understood all the essentials of climate change, a knowledge built upon decades of private research. They not only chose not to act on that information: they embarked on a conscious strategy of dissimulation, an attempt to throw doubt on a consensus that they secretly accepted.
This involved employing lobby groups and PR companies to paint contrarian scientists as respected experts, whose opinions on climate should carry a weight equal to their mainstream peers. It meant astroturfing into existence a baffling array of front organisations to create a perception of public support for industry views. It meant think tanks, academic ‘studies’, sceptics’ conferences and a whole infrastructure aimed at supporting the denialist ecosystem.
More than anything, it meant money, with the Koch family alone channeling an astonishing $127,006,756 to discredit mainstream science.
You can’t, then, talk about climate without confronting a genuine plot – but not the one that denialists imagine.
This doubling characterises politics in the twenty-first century, a period in which conspiracies and conspiracism are entwined just about everywhere.
QAnon theorists obsess about pedophilia – a predilection which they believe to mark the operatives of the deep state. The conspiracy emerged as a subset of Pizzagate, which saw various internet obsessives conclude from the leaked Podesta emails that high-ranking Democrat operatives regularly congregated at the Comet Ping Pong pizza restaurant to praise Satan and molest children.
This was a bizarre allegation, no doubt. Yet, courtesy of the Epstein affair, we now have genuine evidence of a child abuse ring that touched the upper echelons of American public life. Once again, a conspiracy did exist. Once again, it wasn’t the one that the conspiracists claimed. The glamorous set that flocked to Jeffrey Epstein’s parties might have included the Clintons but it also included a certain Donald J Trump.
‘I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy,’ Trump explained in 2002. ‘He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.’
When you’re a star, you can do anything, as someone once said.
The same dynamic might be identified closer to home. Burned Spy tweets regularly about the hapless Alexander Downer, who’s now indelibly associated with some of the more demented goings-on in American life. But he’s also taken aim at Julie Bishop and her penchant for red shoes.
‘If you want to do your research into the US context,’ he told the Guardian, ‘the red shoes are purported to be very much a paedophilia shout out. And there are some extremely odd photos of large groups of men in suits wearing red shoes, many of whom are promoting paedophilia.’ The reference here is to the images on various blogs devoted to Pizzagate showing Tony Podesta, Pope Benedict and others, all sporting footwear in various shades of scarlet – apparently, on the basis that, if you perform a sacrificial ritual while wearing red, the blood doesn’t stain your feet.
Yet if you wanted to investigate child abuse in the context of Australian politics, you might start, not with Julie Bishop’s shoes, but with Brian Houston, a man who, like Burned Spy himself, enjoys a close friendship with Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Houston, the founder of the Hillsong Church, was formally censured by the Royal Commission into the Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, for not reporting allegations of child abuse against his father. According to the New Daily, Brian Houston remains under investigation by the NSW police for his handling of the matter.
In his maiden speech in Parliament, Scott Morrison paid tribute to Houston as his mentor – and, last month, he tried to bring him to the White House to meet Donald Trump.
But that’s not what Burned Spy and his followers want to investigate.
We live in a time in which the gulf between the powerful and the powerless has widened immensely, both because of the ongoing transfer of wealth to the political class and because of the general collapse of the organisations of the Left. Our inability to fight the real enemy gives rise to an inability to recognise the real enemy – and, of course, vice versa. That confusion provides endless opportunities for shonks and charlatans to exploit.
Does Scott Morrison accept any of his friend’s theories about Downer, Bishop and the coming Storm? In some ways, what he believes matters less than how he acts. When, last week, he denounced ‘negative globalism’ and ‘unaccountable internationalist bureaucracy’, he was sending signals to a certain audience, one that included the QAnon set.
Expect more of this to come.
Image: Bletchley Park bombe, Wikipedia Commons
By Jeff Sparrow