Why is QAnon more obsessed with an imaginary sex-trafficking ring than with Jeffrey Epstein’s real one?

Caitlin Dickson
·Reporter
·7 min read

On Wednesday evening, the anonymous figure known as “Q” took to the fringe message board 8kun to issue one of his signature prophecies: “BOOMS EN_ROUTE TOMORROW. This is not a drill. Q.”

Such vague and ominous forecasts have become a regular feature of the ever-evolving online scripture on which the cult-like conspiracy movement known as QAnon is based. For the past three years, Q — whom disciples believe to be a high-ranking military or intelligence officer or group of officials with access to classified information — has posted thousands of these cryptic messages, known as “Q drops,” for followers to try to decipher.

Very few, if any, of Q’s predictions, starting with the first Q drop posted to 4chan on Oct. 28, 2017, which warned of Hillary Clinton’s imminent arrest and a violent nationwide uprising, have come true. A scan through some of the responses to Q’s latest promise of forthcoming “Booms” indicate a mix of excitement and skepticism from followers who’ve clearly been disappointed in the past.

However, a couple of other drops from earlier that night seemed to offer a clue as to what Q’s latest prediction might be about. The first included an image with faint text displayed over a heavily saturated photo of Jeffrey Epstein, the late financier and convicted sex offender, and his girlfriend, British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell. A message read: “A deep dark world is being exposed. The truth won’t be for everyone. Have faith in Humanity.”

Another Q drop posted roughly an hour later read: “Dearest Virginia -We stand with you. Now and always. Find peace through prayer. Never give up the good fight. God bless you. Q.” The post included a link to a tweet from an account apparently belonging to Virginia Giuffre, who says she was abused for years by Epstein, Maxwell and prominent figures in their orbit starting when she was a teenager.

Giuffre had tweeted to express satisfaction with a ruling by a federal judge in New York ordering the immediate release of a deposition given by Maxwell in 2016, in a defamation lawsuit brought against her by Giuffre in 2015. Giuffre accused Maxwell of recruiting her as a teenager to become part of a sex-trafficking ring run by Epstein, who committed suicide in jail while awaiting trial for federal sex-trafficking charges last year. (He had previously served time after pleading guilty in 2008 to Florida state charges of procuring a minor for prostitution and solicitation of prostitution.) Giuffre has alleged that Epstein and Maxwell directed her to have sex with other men, including prominent figures in politics and academia.

The civil case was settled in 2017, but the depositions gained new relevance after Maxwell was arrested this summer on federal criminal charges of conspiring with Epstein to sexually exploit minors. On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Loretta Preska had ordered the partially redacted depositions unsealed as soon as possible.

Ghislaine Maxwell
Ghislaine Maxwell depicted at her arraignment hearing where she was denied bail for her alleged role aiding Jeffrey Epstein to recruit and eventually sexually abuse minor girls. (Jane Rosenberg/Reuters)

“This journey to justice has taken decades for my fellow abuse survivors and me, including years in which our voices were ignored,” Giuffre tweeted. “Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein did not act alone.” Among the thousands of retweets Giuffre’s post received was one from a QAnon account, which encouraged followers to “RETWEET/SHARE” Giuffre’s news. Giuffre then retweeted that post, which included the popular QAnon hashtags #WWG1WGA and #TheGreatAwakening, adding her own variations of other QAnon-related slogans such as #SaveTheKids and #TheGreatAwakeningWorldWide.

Epstein’s long history of sexual misconduct, on private islands, in his Florida mansion, aboard yachts and and his private jet with a who’s who of powerful elites including former President Bill Clinton (who denies having had a close relationship with Epstein or any knowledge of his crimes), is probably the closest real-world analogue of the global sex-trafficking ring at the core of the QAnon conspiracy theory.

And yet, the unsealing of Maxwell’s 2016 deposition — a significant development in the case against Epstein and, potentially, other high-profile associates — received no mention from Q after it was released on Thursday. Instead, the shadowy leader behind the growing pro-Trump conspiracy movement spent most of the day posting about Hunter Biden’s emails.

Marc-André Argentino, a PhD candidate at Canada’s Concordia University who has closely studied QAnon, said that the Epstein scandal is definitely a big story for adherents of the movement “in the sense that it fits squarely within the QAnon narrative,” in which members of the Clinton family, in particular, are among the biggest villains.

However, Argentino said that is somewhat complicated by the fact that “the elites” whose names have been linked to Epstein come from both sides of the political spectrum, and that among them is Donald Trump.

From left, Donald Trump, Trump's future wife, Melania Knauss, Jeffrey Epstein, and Ghislaine Maxwell
From left, Donald Trump, Trump's then-girlfriend Melania Knauss (later Trump), Jeffrey Epstein, and Ghislaine Maxwell, at Trump's Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Fla., Feb. 12, 2000. (Davidoff Studios/Getty Images)

Though Trump has claimed not to know much about the case against Epstein and Maxwell, he has acknowledged knowing the pair, who socialized with him in Palm Beach, Fla., where Trump’s private club, Mar-a-Lago, is located.

Trump has been photographed with Epstein, and in 2002 he spoke to New York magazine about his friend: “I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy. 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. No doubt about it — Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”

After Maxwell’s arrest in July, Trump acknowledged to reporters that he knew her well. “I’ve met her numerous times over the years,” he said. “I just wish her well, frankly.”

In her earlier defamation suit against Maxwell, Giuffre claimed to have met the British socialite at Mar-a-Lago when she was 17. Trump is not named in the recently released deposition, and Giuffre has not accused Trump of any wrongdoing.

Still, that apparently friendly connection creates “a very precarious balancing act” for a movement that sees Trump as the hero in a secret war against a satanic cabal of Democratic pedophiles.

An adherent of QAnon
An adherent of QAnon proclaims that Joe Biden is a pedophile and baby stealer. (Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

While Argentino admits that “it’s weird” for Q not to highlight newly released material from the Maxwell case, since it “already fits into the QAnon ethos,” he also noted that the deposition is over 400 pages “and Q is generally lazy, so I doubt the person behind that account has read the deposition.”

He suspected that Q is likely “waiting for someone in the QAnon community to start posting about what's in there” so that he can point to it and say “this is the ‘boom’ I was talking about.”

“That happens regularly,” he said, adding, “That's the whole point of Q. It puts concepts out there, but it’s also about ‘do your own research ’cause I’m too lazy to tell you what to think.’”

However, Argentino said that QAnon has made it increasingly difficult for those who want to “do their own research” to access legitimate information about the Epstein case.

“If you don't trust the mainstream media, alternative media sources are just flooded with the narratives from groups like QAnon because that’s what has taken over the Epstein conversation on the right,” he said, adding this is just one example of how QAnon has “muddied the waters” on the issue of child trafficking in general, by spreading misinformation that threatens to undermine the work of legitimate organizations.

This week, a coalition of more than 100 organizations dedicated to fighting human trafficking published an open letter to “candidates, the Media, Political Parties, and Policymakers” about the dangers posed by QAnon conspiracy theories.

“Anybody — political committee, public office holder, candidate, or media outlet — who lends any credibility to QAnon conspiracies related to human trafficking actively harms the fight against human trafficking,” the letter states. “Indeed, any political committee, candidate, public office holder or media that does not expressly condemn QAnon and actively debunk the lies should be held accountable.”

“Though they pretend to care about children, in reality, QAnon doesn’t,” said Argentino. “They just care about portraying a specific group as part of this child-trafficking ring.”

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