Although events behind it had been brewing for some time, most people were caught completely off guard when the Hampstead SRA hoax first broke in February 2015.
Prior to the Hampstead allegations, the UK’s most recent allegations of Satanic ritual abuse had taken place in 2011 in Kidwelly, where four adults led by Colin Batley were convicted of multiple sexual offences. No one involved practised Satanism, but that didn’t stop the media from describing the accused as members of a “Satanic sex cult”.
Still, the Batley case stood out as an anomaly at the time; the Satanic panic which had swept through the UK from the late 1980s to the early 2000s had died down as it became clear that false allegations had been coerced via improper interview techniques by over-zealous police and social workers, who were determined to extract claims of SRA from vulnerable children and adults.
By 2015 it seemed to many that the moral panic had swept through, and SRA allegations were now a thing of the past.
So when the Hampstead hoax rolled into town, complete with a seemingly ready-made army of true believers, driven by an elite core group of seasoned UK-based conspiracy purveyors, many people regarded it as some sort of really bad joke.
“How can anyone actually believe any of that nonsense?” was a common reaction from non-troofers. Another was “Just ignore them, this will blow over and the nutters will find something else to do”.
And until November 2016, it seemed possible that the hoax would die a natural death. Multiple arrests had been made, cautions issued and accepted, charges laid against some…and the mood amongst the hoaxers was sombre. Could this really be the end?
And then along came #pizzagate…
Then, thousands of miles away, a whole new hoax emerged.
Pizzagate injected new life into the Hampstead hoax, using the same mythos of “a worldwide ring of elite paedophiles who control world affairs” which underlies the beliefs of the Hoaxtead mob.
While Pizzagate’s roots were firmly planted in the soil of American politics, that didn’t stop true believers from dredging up the Hampstead hoax as “proof” that their deranged allegations were true. It opened up the Hampstead hoax to a whole new set of conspiracy believers, who brought along their own special brand of crazy…all whipped into a delicious froth by news-LARPer Alex Jones and a special infusion of Russian disinfo bots.
Pizzagate lasted just long enough to scupper the election hopes of the U.S. Democratic Party. In December 2016, a conspiracy believer named Edgar Maddison Welch armed himself with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, a .38 handgun, and a folding knife, drove from his home in Salisbury, North Carolina, to a pizza restaurant called Comet Ping Pong in Washington, D.C., and conducted a “self-investigation” of the premises.
As terrified staff and customers fled, Welch fired three shots in the restaurant, mortally wounding a lock and a computer’s hard drive. His search of the premises revealed no trafficked children (and no basement, where said children were allegedly being kept). He surrendered to police and is currently serving a four-year sentence for his trouble.
Avid Pizzagate “researchers” almost instantly disavowed Welch’s actions, claiming he was a “crisis actor” (that’s conspiranoid code for “anyone who does something which might discredit what I believe in). “Pizzagate” morphed quickly into “pedogate”, and seemed to be in its own tailspin, until “QAnon” came along in November 2017.
Conspiracy believers latched onto “Q” and his/her “breadcrumbs” as though they were the last lifeboat on the Titanic. When he or she vanished for three weeks in July this year, followers panicked; and of late, some excellent work by NBC writers Brandy Zadrozny and Ben Collins has begun reveal that “Q” might, in fact, comprise a small group of individuals enacting a deliberate hoax for monetary gain.
The re-animation of pedogate
This week Zadrozny and Collins, whose investigative work we cannot recommend highly enough, looked into recent conspiranoid social media attacks on two businesses, coincidentally also purveyors of popular foods: a chain of ice cream shops called “Sweet Jesus” and a chain of Portland-based doughnut shops called “Voodoo Doughnut”.
The attacks followed a depressingly similar pattern to the 2016 attacks on Comet Ping Pong (sans gunman, at least so far):
Conspiracy theorists littered the Instagram and Facebook accounts of Sweet Jesus with accusations and menacing comments, pointing to the chain’s name, brand iconography and advertising featuring children. They posted the shop’s advertisements to their own social media accounts and tagged them #PedoGate. Others took their campaign offline, calling the company’s shops and threatening employees. …
Voodoo Doughnut, a popular chain based in Portland, Oregon, has received similar calls in recent weeks.
“They’re very persistent,” said Eamon Monaghan, a manager at the company’s downtown Portland store, adding that calls were coming in hourly claiming, “we know what is happening at your place.”
As with Hoaxtead, believers in the current iteration of pedogate are seemingly immune to logic or reason. Monaghan told reporters that he refers harassing callers to the Portland Police Department, where a spokesperson says they’ve been receiving an “enormous” number of emails and calls.
Zadrozny and Collins quote the spokesperson:
“The lead investigator has repeatedly attempted to contact the person who made these allegations and has not heard back,” [Sgt] Burley said. “We take these allegations seriously, but when the complainant won’t come forward with information, it’s difficult for us to continue.”
“Based on what we have seen, there is no information to suggest that any of the allegations against Voodoo are credible,” the sergeant said.
And who is the person who made the allegations? It’s this guy:
(Not Nathan “Dead-eyes” Stolpman, but his guest.) Apparently VeganMikey, aka Michael Whalen, is perfectly happy to collect money on PayPal, but cannot be arsed to actually talk to the police about his “evidence” that a child-trafficking ring is operating out of a doughnut shop.
Zadrozny and Collins have traced the genesis of the new round of pedogate attacks to a secret board on the gamer message site Discord, called ‘Pedo Takedown Crew’. The board appears to be run by Haley Kennington, a writer for Big League Politics, a site founded by former Breitbart News reporter Patrick Howley. Big League News peddles its own brand of conspiranoid fuckwittery, glorifying QAnon and promoting the discredited Seth Rich conspiracy theory.
Just as Charlotte Alton Ward’s short-lived Hampstead Research was the flagship blog of the Hoaxtead mob, “Pedo Takedown Crew” seems to act as a strategising hub for the pedogate set:
On the message board, hosted on the video game-focused social media network Discord, Kennington and some 40 self-described “researchers” crowdsource what they claim are pedophilia investigations. Members of the group have shared maps of “underground tunnels” that they speculate run between elementary schools and small businesses for child sex trafficking. Kennington has asked her team to investigate Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Beyoncé, among others.
Kennington recruited members to her group by posting invitations in private Qanon chatrooms, according to Discord logs viewed by NBC News. “Need help digging,” she wrote to her new group members in July. “Drop what you can find here. Links to any Nambla, pedo/child trafficking/organizations, $, connections. You know what to do.”
When reporters asked Kennington for comment, she initially refused; then she asked on Twitter whether NBC News was “Compliant” or “Involved” in paedophilia.
And when Howley, the editor-in-chief of Big League News, was asked about Kennington’s activities, he responded, “I think you are attacking a research community that I haven’t heard about to defend the doughnut shop. Have you been to the doughnut shop? … Are you associated with [Voodoo Doughnut] in some way?”
Following the NBC News investigation into “Pedo Takedown Crew”, Kennington reacted with the usual group purge, kicking out half the group’s members. However, NBC News notes, on 9 August a group member posted this note: “Time for a road trip”.
Thin edge of a wedge?
When Hoaxtead first kicked off, it seemed singular in its combination of wacky beliefs and vicious actions. Those targeted weren’t sure, at first, whether to laugh or cry: how bizarre, on the one hand, to be accused of murdering babies and dancing round with skulls and plastic willies; and yet how horrifying and frightening that these people really seemed to believe what they were saying, and felt justified in calling, emailing, and pamphleting people they didn’t know over such horrendous allegations.
It’s easy to ascribe patterns—to “join the dots”—in hindsight.
But given the tropes which seemed to originate with Hoaxtead—powerful elite paedophile rings, ritually abused children, child trafficking, mysterious tunnels which allegedly facilitated the spiriting of children from one site to another—it does seem as though the Hampstead SRA hoax served as the thin edge of a wedge.
Did Hoaxtead provide inspiration for its successor hoaxes? Did it offer a template for those with an interest in perverting the course of American politics? Or was it all just a coincidentally synchronous acting out of themes and ideas which had begun to take hold in the slimy underbelly of the internet?