Protests against child trafficking in Scottish cities have links to a far-right conspiracy cult from America called QAnon that believes President Trump is fighting a secret war against an international cabal of Satan-worshippers.
The Ferret has found that demonstrations organised through Facebook, and held in Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen, took place as part of an internationally coordinated series of rallies across the world using the hashtag ‘#saveourchildren’. There have been nearly 250 events wordwide.
The Facebook group Save Our Children Scotland, which has been used to promote the protests, has attracted almost 5000 members. UK protests have been coordinated by a Facebook page called Freedom for the Children UK.
This campaign has been supported by other Facebook pages such as Stand Up For Our Children, which organised an initial protest in Glasgow on 22 August, and Leah’s Hugs.
These pages present themselves as legitimate non-profits working to tackle child sexual exploitation, but posts on these sites contain real information about the issue alongside content about QAnon, which the FBI named as a potential domestic terror threat to the US.
Analysis by The Ferret has found that public posts on Facebook with the hashtag #saveourchildren and Scotland, have garnered nearly 7000 interactions since early August.
A shared Google document circulated on Facebook by event organisers revealed there were 208 protests in the US on 22 August organised under the hashtag ‘#saveourchildren. There were at least 48 protests elsewhere across the world including Glasgow and other UK cities.
The Ferret is not directly linking to this document or many of the social media communities identified in this story, in order to minimise the further spread of misinformation.
In response to The Ferret’s findings, experts have warned that the spread of QAnon to Scotland is concerning.
The anti-racism group Hope not hate said that legitimate concerns about child trafficking are “being mixed with flagrant misinformation, whipping up an intense, dangerous anger” which is motivating some people to take to the streets.
What is QAnon?
QAnon is a conspiracy cult organised around a belief that President Trump is fighting a secret battle against a cabal of Satan-worshippers comprised of prominent world politicians, celebrities and international business leaders.
Followers of the cult believe these people use their powerful positions to engage in child trafficking and human sacrifice.
Q is their nickname for an anonymous user of the website 8chan, who claims to be a US government employee, and whose posts form the basis of the cult’s beliefs. 8chan is a image-based message board which promotes unrestricted free speech. Anyone can post to its boards anonymously, with little to no moderation on the content. It has become a haven for virulently racist, anti-Semitic, and conspiracy theory-related content.
Adherents anticipate an event they call The Storm, which they believe will see the US military destroy the cabal and usher in a new age.
Facebook has sought to remove or restrict the reach of hundreds of accounts on its network that promote QAnon theories.
But despite this we found evidence that ideas linked to the conspiracy theory were still being shared through the network in the UK and Scotland.
Freedom for the Children UK, is an organisation run by Laura Ward who coordinates protests across the UK, with a carefully branded web presence across social media and her own website.
According to its Facebook page, “FFTCUK works to raise awareness of child trafficking and child exploitation. With a strong emphasis on community based activities and work to help provide resources and support to those in need”.
Its associated Facebook group boasts around 12,500 members and claims to have a strict moderation policy against unsubstantiated claims.
However, posts from the official page reference explicit QAnon beliefs such as belief in “Pizzagate” – a conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta, was running a child trafficking ring out of a DC pizzeria, which was attacked in 2016 by an armed gunman.
Furthermore, in an interview on YouTube, Ward endorses the central claim of QAnon that Donald Trump is fighting a clandestine war against deep-state paedophile rings, while her interviewer sits in front of a Q poster.
Photos from protests shared by Ward on her own facebook page foreground show placards referencing Q. Ward did not respond to The Ferret’s questions.
The Facebook group Save Our Children Scotland, which has been used to promote protests in Scotland, was originally created on the 22nd August by a Facebook user called Sean Bradley, claiming to be resident in America under the name, Beanzz Zee Sean.
Administrators for the group have used the hashtag “#WWG1WA” – an acronym standing for “where we go one, we go all” – which is used by QAnon’s followers as a rallying cry. Bradley did not respond to our requests for a comment.
Facebook pages such as Stand Up For Our Children, which organised the initial Glasgow protest on the 22nd August, and Leah’s Hugs, identify themselves as non-profit organisations. Their posts, however, combine real information about child sexual exploitation with graphic memes and Q-related content.
Stand Up For Our Children used the hashtag “#WWG1WA”, and has posted memes referencing ‘The Storm’. Another post said “thankful Q is backing us”.
One attendee of the protests they organised reported explicit discussions of QAnon’s beliefs, posting afterwards on Facebook: “I’d love to hear more being said about the sick shit that’s going on in Hollywood and the satanic cults! Pizza gate, adrenochrome, the underground bunkers where thousands of children are hidden!”
Leah’s Hugs has also used “#WWG1WA”. The page has posted photos purporting to be of the US military rescuing children from a bunker beneath Central Park. It also posted a link to a blog post claiming the American TV Host Ellen DeGeneres had been executed by the Trump administration for her involvement with the cabal and replaced by a clone.
According to social media analysis tool Crowdtangle, public posts on Facebook containing both the hashtag #saveourchildren and Scotland, garnered more than 6844 interactions since early August.
Some of the groups and pages most involved in promoting the #saveourchildren hashtag are also heavily engaged in promoting other widely debunked conspiracy theories, such anti-vaccination campaigns, anti-5G ideas as well as the wider QAnon conspiracy.
These pages include the “Anti-corruption Scotland” page which has more than 1600 followers and the “Stop 5G Scotland” page that has more than 2000 followers.
David Lawrence of anti-racism group, Hope not hate, said: “The spread of QAnon in the UK is worrying. Legitimate concerns about child trafficking are being mixed with flagrant misinformation, whipping up an intense, dangerous anger which is motivating some people to take to the streets.
“It is important to point out that these demonstrations, for the most part, remain small, with the most recent round of Freedom for the Children UK protests receiving lower numbers than previous weeks, and only handfuls turning up in Aberdeen and Glasgow. However, this should not be taken as a sign that belief in QAnon is dwindling, and the spread of the theory is certainly one to watch closely.”
Jacob Davey, a senior researcher on the far right and hate crime at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, called QAnon “a cult” which acts “as a bridge which connects a wide range of conspiracy theories.”
“Although the central tenet of the theory revolves around this satanic global league of paedophiles, what we’ve seen is that QAnon acts as an effective magnet which is able to draw in covid disinformation, or anti-vaccine, and really give it a life of its own”, he explained.
“There are concerns it represents a security threat as well. The FBI named it as a potential domestic terror threat, and we see that the Q community has been actively involved in online harassment, making threats to individuals.”
Davey described the Save Our Children protests as “QAnon light”.
“The movement was clearly promoted by the QAnon community in its early days but kind of grown into this slightly broader movement, and when you look at the UK there is clear support for Q – both in the protests on the ground that you’ve identified, and in online groups”, he said.
While it is slightly removed from the “lurid claims” of “hardcore Q followers”, Davey said Save our Children could bring people who are concerned about child sexual exploitation into the QAnon conspiracy movement.
“Some of our analysis would suggest that it’s been quite effective in bringing new people into the movement”, he said.
“Bringing women into the movement, for example, is something we’ve observed, which brings a gender dynamic to the broader conspiracy theory landscape.
The UK was the second largest amplifier of QAnon hashtags over the past three years, Davey explained.
“QAnon tells you you’ll survive an apocalyptic cataclysm that’s going to befall the world none of us have truly trusted in a long, long time,” says Sarah Hightower, an independent researcher on cults and extremism who has been monitoring the spread of Q since 2018.
“QAnon tell you you’re gonna be a good person, a hero who saves the children and makes the world better.”
She believes this is the reason why what was once a fringe belief on the US far-right has been adopted in Scotland and the rest of the UK.