Back in April 2019, when QAnon had established itself among the fringe far-right of the internet but had yet to fully spill out into public consciousness, my friend Eric sent me an email with the subject line “Lifting the Veil: The Pedophocracy.” It was a link to Lifting the Veil: An Investigative History of the United States Pathocracy, a 2015 book by Tim Silver of obscure origins that exists primarily as PDFs passed around on the internet. It begins with the history of the CIA’s MK-Ultra project and moves on to increasingly elaborate theories about a sinister cabal of pedophiles based in Oklahoma. Eric knew that I researched conspiracy theories and had sent it to me thinking that it might be useful as an example of something to investigate further.
The story, in brief, was this: In 1990, four young people in Oklahoma alleged that they had been abducted as part of a child sex-trafficking ring; two quickly recanted their allegations under oath, and another was eventually prosecuted for perjury in her grand jury testimony. But the story caught the eye of Noreen Gosch, whose son Johnny had been kidnapped in 1984. Silver’s book, along with the 2014 documentary Who Took Johnny, tells both the story of young Gosch’s abduction and his mother’s unproven allegations that he was taken by this same Oklahoma sex-trafficking ring.
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Eric is my friend. He’s also well-educated, genuinely empathetic, and fails to fit the mold usually ascribed to conspiracy theorists. He’s not a Republican ideologue; his politics, if anything, lean libertarian-ish. Everything about the book he sent me seemed thin, but I was reluctant to simply dismiss it out of hand. Instead, reading through the materials he’d forwarded and doing my own research — I was, at that point, writing a book about the historical origins of conspiracy theories — I lit upon a different set of questions I could ask about these conspiracies. I turned away from knee-jerk dismissals and appeals to…