The welfare of kids is an effective issue when it comes to mobilising the masses. Anti-democratic movements have long attempted to win over parents and grandparents through “the children”. Most recently, the QAnon conspiracy ideology has had worldwide success with its message of “freeing” children from the alleged clutches of evil.
The conspiracy ideology QAnon emerged from the USA, but boasts its largest non-English language following in Germany (see ISD). There are similarities in the strategy and dissemination of the conspiracy ideology in both the USA and Germany, although the scene in the USA remains more developed. In both countries, a similar pattern has emerged: stripping the QAnon ideology down to its most consumable, inconspicuous and agreeable message leads to one phrase – save the children!
Questionable claims of “protecting the children” are not new to far-right extremists and populists. These appeals seek to recruit those who otherwise feel less welcome and heard in far-right or alt-right circles: women, especially mothers and grandmothers. The commitment to children and the protection of the family corresponds to the “traditional” image of women in the far-right spectrum without immediately conveying rampant sexism, which would drive women away from these movements.
- Far-right “Kameradschaften” (comradeships) calling for the death penalty for child abusers
- The far-right party NPD campaigning against child molestation
- The “Demo for All” using LGBTQI*-hate to defend notions of the “traditional family”
QAmoms and Pastel Q
In the USA, the progression of this ideology into the mommy-blogosphere and Insta-mom-scene has led to the coining of the phrase “QAmom”. Members of these scenes have begun sharing conspiracy beliefs about paedophilic child abuse rings, including antisemitic ramblings about “elites”, “high finance” or Hollywood, who QAnon believers claim pull the strings. The term “pastel Q” also captures this phenomenon, as Instagram accounts that spread QAnon ideology to women often make use of stylish pastel colours. This goes beyond “mommy Instagrammers” and creeps into the world of lifestyle influencers, fitness and diet channels, and alternative healing.
On these profiles, the antisemitic and anti-democratic conspiracy ideology appears between Insta stories labelled “game tips” and “pregnancy”. The accounts refer to themselves as “woke” or don phrases like “I am awake”, while using popular “Q” hashtags like #DarkToLight, #TruthWins, #wwg1wga (“Where we go one, we go all”) or #TheGreatAwakening. The hashtags #SaveOurChildren and #SaveTheChildren are, of course, also almost always present. These hashtags predate the QAnon conspiracy ideology and were originally used to raise awareness on actual child trafficking, but have since been nearly completely hijacked by the QAnon movement.
Child protection or campaigning against child abuse and trafficking is of course a good thing. However, when conspiracist fans of “Q” discuss these issues, they not only believe that child abuse or child trafficking exists, but that certain evil groups are behind it, for example politicians from the Democratic party in the USA, Hollywood stars and “elites” who often are claimed by believers to be “Jewish”. The focus is not on child protection, but rather antisemitism and anti-democratic tendencies.
The problem with this development is that, by selecting and presenting only the supposedly “most reasonable” parts of the conspiracy belief, the “Save the Children” campaigning of “mommy influencers” offers a soft entry-point into the vast conspiracy universe of “Q”. Communications researcher Whitney Phillips from Syracuse University explains: “You have people entering into this world, thinking it’s about one thing, feeling good about connecting to it, and then it exposes them to all kinds of polluted information.” (see Rolling Stone).
This disinformation ultimately leads to attacks on supposed enemy groups, verbally and symbolically, but also practically. It starts with attacks against alleged or actual child traffickers or paedophiles, but also against Jews, doctors, and scientists. In the USA, there have already been several murders or attempted murders associated with QAnon, which is why the FBI considers QAnon to be a “domestic terror threat” (see The Hill). People resort to violence when they feel compelled to act internally or when they have the impression that nothing other than their act of violence can stop a certain course of events. Followers of delusional conspiracy are highly vulnerable.
“Save the Children” and “Parents Stand Up”
In Germany, many parents have also been left feeling unsettled by the Covid-19 pandemic. Parents who aren’t well and whose children aren’t well seek like-minded individuals, exchanging stories and swapping scapegoats. Those who feel overwhelmed and overlooked by politics can join forces and become “democratically” involved. However, many of these parents have instead decided to take part in “anti-Corona demonstrations” with their children, alongside violent far-right extremists and “Reichsbürger” sovereigntists (see Belltower.News). At these demos, people demand more respect for families in politics, but also spout the emotionally charged QAnon narrative of paedophile child abuse rings and speak of the “elites pulling the strings”.
At one large demonstration on August 29, 2020 in Berlin, several parents wore T-shirts with the phrase “Parents Stand Up” (German: “Eltern stehen auf”). This initiative has a friendly-looking website and a clear mission statement: “So that our children can develop healthily”. The movement has profiles on:
- Facebook (over 22,000 members in a closed group)
- Twitter (163 followers)
- Instagram (2,600 followers)
- Telegram (the main “Info-Channel” has 15,000 followers, but there are also “Info-Channels” for all German federal states as well as “chat groups” for many states, plus extra channels for “vaccination checkers”, “[lockdown] measure checkers”, “meditation” and “document checkers”)
- YouTube (609 followers)
In its self-description (on the podcast site “Let’s Cast”), the initiative claims to have been founded on May 18, 2020 and to have 4,000 members, although the group’s website lists July 7 as its founding date. As its “current goals”, the group “Parents Stand Up” states: “Mask-free, social distance-free, disinfection-free, vaccination-free”. There is an apparent crossover between this group and anti-vaxxers, who also focus strongly on recruiting parents. On their website, it states, rather more toned down, that they want children to live “without compulsory masks”, “without social distancing” and “without compulsory vaccinations”. In other words, members want to live a selfish existence without consideration for the weaker or more vulnerable members of society, but present this as “freedom, justice and self-determination for children, parents, families, people”. Families are to be supported “when dealing with their children’s institutions and in public life”. In other words: when complaining or pursuing legal actions against coronavirus protection measures. To this end, there are many appeals for donations.
Links on the “Parents Stand Up” website lead further down the rabbit hole into a universe of alternative-esoteric anti-vaxxers, conspiracy fans and the “Querdenken” milieu, with a more or less nationalist touch (see Belltower.News). One such website supports lawsuits against schools, while another advertises Telegram channels such as “Teachers for Enlightenment” (similar to the initiative “Doctors for Enlightenment”, which trivialises the coronavirus). The channel shares run of the mill anti-mask content, but also posts such as this which relativise National Socialism.
“Parents Stand Up” seeks to facilitate exchanges between “those affected” in their Telegram chat groups. Here, parents share how their school or kindergarten administrations insist on masks and refuse to hear their “arguments” – and are encouraged in their fight against coronavirus prevention measures. A petition on openPetition was shared by “Querdenken” lawyer Markus Haintz with the comment: “People, please don’t fall for the openpetition financed by George Soros! Do you honestly think that a petition signed by one of the most powerful men in the world can really bring about success?” Presenting George Soros as an enemy is a common antisemitic trope.
Parents Stand Up for Q
But there are also far more explicit Telegram group chats from this parent universe, such as the group “Eltern stehen auf Q”, which shares posts from “Parents Stand Up”, but likely does not originate from the initiative (this German phrase has the double meaning of both “Parents stand up (for) Q” and “Parents are into Q”). “Eltern stehen auf Q” “only” has 377 members, but exclusively shares explicit “Q” content (“The Dalai Lama was a CIA agent”, “The founder of the Getty Museum traffics children”, “The EU controls us via chips in cars” etc.)
Here, the assembled parents, mostly mothers, also express far-right ideas. Videos of right-wing extremist YouTubers are shared, mothers stand in front of black, white and red Reich flags (see Belltower.News) and call themselves “Patriot S [woman’s name]”. Amongst posts about alleged child abuse are hateful messages directed against the German Green party due to its support of refugees. The main poster in the group is also active online in the “Reichsbürger” sovereigntist milieu.
Networking on Instagram
“Parents Stand Up” also maintains a presence on Instagram. The account looks tranquil and its shareable images come across as very “homemade”. The account itself has a relatively small reach with only 2,600 followers and follows only 14 other accounts. Among them are accounts from the “Querdenken” spectrum (“Doctors for Enlightenment”, Samuel Eckert etc.), as well as accounts that clearly reference QAnon ideology, such as “Free the Children”, “Awake Worldwide” and “Red Pill” (a phrase taken from “The Matrix” and used by far-right extremists to symbolise “waking up” and seeing reality for what it “really is”).
Through fan profiles, it’s relatively easy to map the development of networks which people come across through more or less harmless issues of child protection. There, they are then bombarded with “secret” information allegedly only available to “the awakened”, until they begin to post content on a mass scale that is hostile towards the media, political system and journalists, as well as content that is antisemitic and glorifies violence.
From May 2019 to February 2020, this profile posted fantasy fairy drawings, among other things.
In July of 2020, the profile posted this:
In September of 2020, the account posted this:
The account has used hashtags closely related to the QAnon scene, such as the German equivalent of #SaveTheChildren and #FreeTheChildren, as well as #XavierNaidoo (a pop singer and prominent German “Q” believer). The problem is, however, that these hashtags are not exclusive to “Q” followers, but are also used by people who have never heard of QAnon. This allows these hashtags to spread. Additionally, far more general hashtags are also used, such as the German words for #freedom, #love and #awareness, increasing the likelihood these posts will reach unsuspecting Instagram users.
Pastel QAmoms in Germany
In Germany, the anti-corona and pro-Q parent scene on Instagram is not as pastel coloured as in the USA, but the trend has certainly crossed the Atlantic. Among accounts that were initially dedicated to other topics, but have increasingly been posting anti-democratic content or “Q” disinformation over the course of the pandemic, are lifestyle and cooking Instagrammers and a striking number of alternative-medicine practitioners, life coaches and make-up artists. On these accounts, “Q” slogans and demo pictures are displayed next to cooking photos and self-sewn children’s clothes. As in the above example, harmless cloud photos are often posted alongside captions containing outbursts of anger against child trafficking, elites and the media, often complemented by phrases such as “Think for yourself” and “Don’t believe anything”. What is meant, of course, is: Don’t believe the sources you have considered reliable thus far, i.e. scientists, experts, the media, politicians, and others who have dealt with these topics for a long time and who make decisions based on consensus, but instead believe self-appointed specialists on the internet. Other users praise these outbursts of anger in the comments. Others still diligently make memes in which they explain that if children wore masks, they would learn that the government was more important than their own physical wellbeing, implying that this makes children more vulnerable to abuse. And that is one of the more logical interpretations.
What’s this really about?
All the initiatives listed here are only examples. There are other campaigns and groups called “Save the Children” or “Parents Strong Together” which also seek to exploit the concerns of parents in order to spread anti-democratic and antisemitic resentment. At this point, we can only speculate about what effects these groups have on the children of these parents, when parents are riled up against their teachers and children are sent to school without a mask and forced to return home. In the German state of Thuringia, agitated parents threatened a headmaster with murder (he will be “brought to justice” “after the change of (political) system”) because he enforced the compulsory wearing of masks. This episode illustrates that real-life consequences of this ideology are already here.
However, one thing is currently very striking about anti-corona “Save the Children” groups: the children of Moria are simply not an issue. Refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos, many of them minors, have had to flee their home countries and are now forced to sleep in inhumane conditions on the streets after their camp burnt down. Nobody wants to save these children – European racism and self-centredness apparently take the lead when it comes to them.
Translated by W. F. Thomas.