Syrian youth holds revolutionary flag in front of Syrian flag

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‘Fake news’ is helping conspiracy theorists deny Turkish atrocities

One mistake is lending credence to absurd beliefs.


Mike Rothschild


Posted on Oct 15, 2019   Updated on May 20, 2021, 1:27 am CDT

One of the reasons belief in the QAnon conspiracy theory has persisted is that it is constantly capable of renewing itself. Despite Q having lost its home on 8chan and not posting since Aug. 1, the conspiracy theory that President Donald Trump is leading a secret (yet public) effort to take down the deep state continues to hold the allegiance of its most fervent believers.

This works by followers retroactively connecting current events to QAnon, both through old, specific Q drops and the general feeling that the deep state is orchestrating everything that happens—with only Trump’s inner circle able to fight back. 

So where Trump’s opponents see a presidency under fire due to the American military pullout from Syria and the resulting Turkish invasion, Q followers see the final stage-setting before the glorious mass arrest of the deep state.

The impeachment drive has already been recast as a convoluted conspiracy theory that Democrats hacked their own server with the help of Ukraine, only for Trump to trap them into impeaching him to force “the truth” of their conspiracy into the light. 

This narrative relies entirely on either bogus evidence or wishful thinking, but it’s found a home with both the president and his allies.  

It’s also how conspiracy theorists see the chaos in Northern Syria, which has resulted in a humanitarian nightmare of civilian casualties and freed ISIS prisoners. Because Trump’s moves here are so baffling to experts, and his treatment of America’s former ally the Kurds so bereft of compassion, QAnon followers see the need for an alternate explanation—lest they believe Trump is capable of anything other than greatness.

So they’ve decided the whole thing is fake news.

The conspiracy is complex, and its details vary based on which Q guru you’re reading. But the gist is that the deep state wants endless war, and Trump is removing America from the constant conflict that previous presidents have left us mired in. 

As a desperation move to get public opinion on their side—after the withdrawal—the deep state is faking Turkey’s invasion of Syria. This casts both Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Kurds as the good guys.

To that end, they believe everything you’re seeing from Syria is fake. The footage of military attacks and fleeing ISIS prisoners? Fake or re-purposed from other sources. The graphic photos and videos of dead and gravely wounded civilians? Crisis actors. The international outrage against the Turkish attack on the Kurds, and at the American president who allowed it to happen? Just shills being shills. 

In reality, everything is under control, and only the deep state and its media arm have any interest in pushing some kind of conflict.  

The obsession that Trump fans have with calling whatever they disagree with or don’t like “fake news” means that errors and inconsistencies that come out of a chaotic battlefield environment are transformed into deliberate attacks by the deep state against “the truth” and endless fodder for conspiracy theorists. 

Ergo, the media will twist the events taking place to make it as bad as possible for Trump, instead of showing him as a courageous, America-first president.

So far, there are two incidents that QAnon gurus and more mainstream conservatives alike are frantically pushing as “proof” that the deep state and media are out to get Trump.

One is ABC broadcasting unrelated footage of a shooting range as if it were live video from the front lines in Syria. The other is the horrific video of an anguished Kurdish mother holding what appears to be her dead child and cursing out Trump and Erdogan.

The first video has the easier explanation, which is that ABC likely made a mistake. They played footage of a Kentucky gun range event in 2017 and called it nighttime combat between Kurdish forces and the Turkish military. It’s not clear whether they did it on purpose or accidentally, but they were caught, pulled the video down, and issued an apology.

A plausible, non-conspiracy, explanation is that someone at ABC thought the video was genuine and put it up without vetting. This is a common occurrence in covering breaking news, where mass shootings are often dogged by reports of a second shooter that turn out to be rumors or mistaken eyewitness statements.

It’s also possible someone knew it wasn’t footage from Syria, and put it up knowingly. We don’t know for sure.

The second video is trickier.

It was posted on Twitter at the end of the week and has racked up two million views, even as no mainstream news source has been able to identify the woman, or confirm that the child was dead. There are numerous reports from Syria of civilian casualties, and in particular, dead children. But this is the first piece of video footage that would seem to show the horror firsthand.

Because their conspiracy theory revolves around everything coming out of Syria being fake, Q believers diligently picked apart the video for proof that it’s all a hoax, and they seem to have found it. The girl does appear to blink and move several times during the course of the video, and she doesn’t appear to have been in a bombing, as some reactions to the video have claimed.

Does this mean that the video is the “gotcha” conspiracy theorists need to prove the deep state made the whole thing up?

No. According to reporters on the ground, the girl is not dead—”merely” very sick and likely close to death. And the mother’s anguished cries over her missing husband and dead daughter were mistranslated, with a common Arabic word that means both “dead” and “nearly dead” or “dying” being used in the wrong context.

According to journalist and expert in Kurdish politics Mutlu Civiroglu, the video and the mother’s anguish are genuine, and her husband is missing, but the girl is alive. At least she is for now. Without any way to corroborate her identity, it’s impossible to know for sure. But the mother is likely blaming who she thinks is responsible for her daughter’s illness.

Ultimately, the point of all of this is to both prop up Trump and keep QAnon going without Q. Rumors have been flying in the Q community that 8chan is going to come back online soon, under the name “8kun.” But 8chan creator Frederick Brennan, who sold the site several years ago, is leading the effort to stop 8kun from being activated and thinks the new version will never materialize. 

Until it does, the figures in the Q community who have monetized the conspiracy theory need to find ways to make sure followers don’t drift away or give up hope. Turning the chaos and horror in Syria into just another battle against the deep state is a way to do that. It lets followers do their research and make memes, biding time until Q’s return.

In the meantime, the very real suffering in Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria continues, with very real journalists reporting on it.  


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*First Published: Oct 15, 2019, 10:15 am CDT