A couple of weeks ago we passed the second anniversary of the day Sabine released the videos of RD’s children online, kicking off the social media firestorm that would become Hoaxtead. At the time, no one except the original hoaxters realised that an online smear campaign had begun, which would affect the lives of dozens of innocent, unsuspecting people—families, teachers, clergy, ordinary business-folk—all of whom would discover that overnight they had become the targets of people they’d never met.
Something that comes up in almost every conversation about Hoaxtead is, “What sort of person would support something so obviously malicious and false?”
We’ve had two years to think about it, and while we still cannot fully explain what would drive someone to accuse people they’ve never met of the most horrific crimes imaginable, we think we might have a kind of framework to help us understand the Hampstead SRA hoax just a bit better.
In fact, we’ve made one of those Venn diagrams we all loved to draw in primary school to illustrate our point:
At the risk of grossly oversimplifying matters, we think the primary characteristics of the Hoaxtead mob may be boiled down to three main types:
- Fraud artists—these are people who are well aware that their activities are wrong with a capital W, but receive some sort of gain from them. For someone like Belinda, it might be the ever-present “Donate now!” button that inspires her to keep going; for someone like Abraham Christie, it’s the promise of donations, as well as the opportunity to hawk his wacky theories about cannabis.
- People with mental illnesses of one sort or another—these are the Hoaxteaders who exhibit clear signs of various mental illnesses, whether they be paranoid delusions (Neelu), manic episodes (Arfur), or similar issues.
- The sincere but gullible—these are the people who got roped into the hoax by watching the original videos of the two children, but rather than wondering why they seemed so utterly cheerful about the horrors they described, immediately believed that they were, in fact, the victims of a cult of baby-murdering, child-raping cannibals. In this group, we would include people like Kristie Sue Costa, Jim McMenamin, and Sonya van Gelder.
Then there are the people who fall into the overlapping zones between the three main types. We refer to this, overall, as the “Danger Zone”:
- While a personality disorder isn’t technically a mental illness, but rather a “pervasive pattern of behaviour” that puts them at odds with the rest of the world, we’ve played a bit fast and loose, and dropped certain Hoaxtead mobsters into the overlap between “fraud artists” and “people with mental illnesses”. Thus, we find someone like Angela, the poster girl for narcissistic personality disorder, or Sabine, who we consider an excellent candidate for histrionic personality disorder, in this section of the diagram. These people are dangerous in that they tend to have little empathy for anyone but themselves, and feel no compunction about promoting the hoax, since it offers them a sense of purpose and belonging that they can’t seem to get any other way.
- Some Hoaxtead mobsters make excellent sidekicks to the fraud artists who run the show. However, lacking the ambition or cunning to take a lead role, they are content to believe whatever they’re told. We call these people “fraudster sidekicks”, a category that includes the ever-fulminating Deborah Mahmoudieh and the prolific yet painfully gullible Kane Slater, among others.
- In the intersection between “just plain gullible” and “mentally ill” we find some of the saddest cases—those who believe in things like eight-foot butterflies and pendulum dowsing. These people are arguably the most vulnerable of the Hoaxtead mobsters, and the most in need of (dare we say it) compassion. We’d include Barry Lyndon, Lee Cant, and Penny Pullen here.
We’re well aware that like most taxonomies of this sort, our neat little Venn diagram is a bit of a blunt instrument, lacking in nuance and subtlety. But we’ve found it an interesting exercise nonetheless, and hope it will be of some use in trying to understand the personalities behind Hoaxtead.