For Holocaust Remembrance Day, I Watched a Friend Fall for QAnon and into Anti-Semitism

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the anniversary of when Auschwitz was liberated and the horror of the Holocaust began to truly reveal itself to the world.

Instead of sharing the usual photos of emaciated bodies behind barbed wire and spouting #NeverForget hashtags, I want to offer a personal story—one that’s much more recent and might hit some nerves. However, I think this is a better way to truly honor the meaning of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The story is about a conspiracy theory that became an international superstar in 2020: QAnon. What does QAnon have to do with Holocaust Remembrance, you might wonder? I’ll tell you: I’m Jewish, and I watched an old high school friend get sucked into the spiral of QAnon until she began spouting anti-Semitic propaganda on Facebook, all in the name of Q.

QAnon and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion

Have you ever heard of Genocide Watch? It’s an international non-profit that seeks “to predict, prevent, stop, and punish genocide and other forms of mass murder.” Genocide Watch was founded in 1999 by Dr. Gregory H. Stanton, former research professor in genocide studies and prevention at George Mason University. He also served in the U.S. State Department and drafted the United Nations Security Council resolutions to prosecute genocide in Rwanda.

Dr. Stanton wrote an article on Genocide Watch called, “QAnon is a Nazi cult, rebranded.” In the article, he compares the conspiracy theories of QAnon—a secret, Satanic cabal is taking over the world that kidnaps and smuggles children, controls the media, and has infiltrated high governmental positions of power—to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The similarities are strikingly and eerily similar.

According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is the most notorious and widely distributed antisemitic publication of modern times. Its lies about Jews, which have been repeatedly discredited, continue to circulate today, especially on the internet.”

Essentially, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion postures (falsely, of course) that Jews “made plans to disrupt Christian civilization and erect a world state under their joint rule,” according to Encyclopedia Britannica. “Liberalism and socialism were to be the means of subverting Christendom; if subversion failed, all the capitals of Europe were to be sabotaged.”

The Protocols go on to explain, in detail, how Jews kidnap Christian children and use their blood to make Matzo that they eat during Passover. They claim that Jews forged a deep-state-like cabal to take over and control the world.

The Nazi regime revived and used many of the conspiracy theories purported by the Protocols to spread anti-Semitic propaganda throughout Germany, leading many Germans to believe they needed to rid their country of Jews to protect themselves and their way of life.

My Old High School Friend and QAnon

I first learned about QAnon by accident, around the time of the 2020 Superbowl. Do you remember that awesome halftime show performance by Jennifer Lopez and Shakira? I was dancing all over my living room watching them.

But soon after, I started seeing odd comments pop up on news threads about how disgusting their performance was, and how their dancing was Satanic. I even saw people calling them pedophiles.

Then, my former friend—let’s call her Jane (this is not her real name)—shared a similar sentiment on her Facebook page, followed by a cryptic acronym, “WWG1WWA.” Curious, I Googled this acronym and the QAnon conspiracy popped up, with the saying, “Where We Go One, We Go All.”

I later learned this was the saying of Q followers, and I began researching more about these weird conspiracy theories. I found them fantastical and wrote them off as fringe. “If someone wants to believe that, let them believe it,” I thought to myself.

Jane and I used to hang out with some of the same people in high school. She dated a close male friend of mine. When I was going to college in Flagstaff, my male friend and Jane would drive up to visit me, especially while I was going through a breakup.

I knew Jane had a rough childhood and struggled with some mental health issues, and so as I watched her begin posting more and more memes from QAnon, I passed them over without a thought. The Q-labeled memes talked about how Bill Gates was trying to control the world through vaccines, or how “sources” confirmed Tom Hanks and Oprah Winfrey were pedophiles trafficking children in secret, underground rings. Sometimes, she would post angry memes against the mainstream media, which bothered me because I used to be a journalist.

However, as the COVID pandemic spread and lockdowns became rampant, I watched her escalate. She began sharing QAnon memes about how COVID was a hoax, how it was an excuse for the socialist deep-state to seize control of its people, or how it was a cover led by then-President Donald Trump to rescue trafficked children from the Satan-worshipping cabal of Democrats and Hollywood elites.

And then one day, she shared a QAnon-labeled post from Instagram claiming that McDonalds collaborated with Jews who kidnap Christian children to drain their blood and use it in the Matzo of their Passover bread. She wrote how she was glad she no longer ate at the evil McDonalds.

My heart dropped, and then, the rage followed. Jane had known me since high school. I had offered to help her through some difficult times in life, and all the while, she’d always known I was Jewish. I immediately commented on her post and called out the anti-Semitism. I told her if she didn’t correct that action, we could no longer be friends.

I gave her a week, but Jane never responded to me. No comments. No apologies. No outreach. And the post remained up. I unfriended her and we have not spoken since.

The Fear of Losing Others to QAnon

A friend of mine is Muslim and a survivor of the Bosnian War. She told me that when the genocide happened, it was her childhood friends and their families who turned the guns on her.

For the first time in my life, I can understand the psychology of how hatred against Jews spread in Nazi Germany. People didn’t hate Jews from one day to the next. They slowly turned against them after years and years of hateful conspiracy theories that convinced the German people how Jews, communists, and other “enemies of the state” were plotting against them and their way of life. I now see how even old friends can be convinced to turn against me, by no fault of my own.

Replace “Jews” with any other scapegoated group: undocumented immigrants, asylum seekers, Native Americans, black people, Muslims, the mainstream media—and you can see how the QAnon conspiracies stoke fear in any minority group.

I don’t want to see other friends or connections fall prey to this ideology. It leads to radicalization, as we can see from the insurrection at the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

For International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I want to call out modern-day hatred when I see it. I want to label it plainly and directly, leaving no excuse to enable it. Yes, from my research, I do agree with Dr. Stanton and Genocide Watch that QAnon is Nazi ideology, revived and re-branded. I sternly denounce it. Will you join me?

On a final note, did you know that Genocide Watch listed the United States on its watch page for North America? Mexico is also listed, but not Canada. Yet the United States of America made it to Genocide Watch’s list.

Think about that.

4 Ways to Tell if Information is Real or Fake: Advice from a Former Journalist

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Photo by Aditya Doshi,, https://www.flickr.com/photos/avdoshi/8612921803

When I was a daily newspaper reporter, I always had to navigate through multiple versions of a story before I learned what really happened.

We have a saying in journalism. It goes, “There are three sides to every story: side one, side two, and the Truth.”

The Truth usually falls somewhere between the first two sides, and when I reported the Truth, both sides frequently accused me of bias. That’s how I knew I’d done my job.

In today’s age of information overflow, and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are reading multiple stories and don’t know what to believe. This is causing rampant fear, confusion, and possibly poor decision-making.

When I shared some of the truth-finding strategies I used as a journalist with a dear friend after we discussed the Plandemic movie, she encouraged me to share my tips with the world. “Not many people know this stuff, Shari,” she told me. “Not everyone has a journalism degree, and I think these tips could really help a lot of people in today’s environment.”

So here I am, in hopes that I can help YOU navigate through the waves of information (and misinformation), thus landing on the Truth for yourself. Here are some of the basic building blocks that journalists use when investigating a story and getting down to the bottom of it:

1) Cross-Validation with Multiple Sources

Information should always be validated with a minimum of three independent sources to confirm its validity. As a journalist, you can never go with just one person’s story or perspective, no matter how viable it seems. You need to follow up and interview at least two more sources, check records or documents, and see if everything else backs up the story from your first source.

2) Attribution from Reputable, Primary Sources

Today, the moment I read an article, column, or blog post–or watch a video–where information is stated without citing a reputable and primary source, my radar goes off. THIS MIGHT BE FAKE!

In order to avoid slander and libel lawsuits, reporters must cite their sources. Otherwise, anyone can make any claim and it would be considered truth. Additionally, the sources must be:

  • Reputable. This means you cannot cite a psychic when making claims about a medical condition or the state of the economy. Instead, you would cite a doctor or an economist.
  • Primary. This means you cannot cite another article as your source, or a friend of the cousin who experienced the wrongdoing; the information needs to come directly from the person or entity.

3) Libel — The Accused are Given a Chance to Comment

How often have you read an article from Reuters or the Associated Press where it says, “_____ could not be reached for comment”? Reporters do this to avoid a libel lawsuit. They give the person or entity being accused of wrongdoing the opportunity to comment publicly before running the story. This is a common practice to remain within the bounds of law and avoid defamation, and any reputable news organization will follow it.

4) An Ulterior Motive or Agenda

People will try and use the media to push an agenda. Gee, ya don’t say?! But by this, I mean sometimes, a person has a beef with another person or entity, and his/her motivation for contacting the media is to “get back” at someone or something else (this is different than a legitimate whistleblower). Other times, a public relations representative is trying to sway public opinion in favor of his/her company, or a public policy that would benefit the company (lobbyists, anyone?).

As a reporter, I always had to be wary of someone’s motivation for contacting me with a potential story. This is also why cross-validation with multiple sources is so important in a balanced and well-researched news article.

The Bottom Line

I hope these basic journalism tips help you determine what’s correct and incorrect from all the information floating around the Internet and social media these days.

Remember: the intentional spread of misinformation can be just as dangerous as censorship.

(Shameless plug here: that’s a theme in my book!)

Don’t let yourself become a victim of misinformation. Keep your head on straight. I always tell people that facts drive journalism, while emotions drive propaganda.

If you found this helpful, I urge you to please share it with your friends and family!

Shari Lopatin headshot

 

*Shari Lopatin is a former award-winning journalist, mass communications professional, and author of “The Apollo Illusion,” a science fiction dystopia about a future society’s frightening overdependence on technology. 

 

4 Ways YOU Can Avoid Russian Influence in the Next U.S. Election

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As a former newspaper reporter, and with the recent 13 indictments of Russian nationals who infiltrated our political system during the 2016 U.S. elections, I’d like to offer some advice on how YOU can personally avoid Russian influence during the 2018 U.S. mid-terms. In case you haven’t heard, the FBI warned they would most likely attempt interference again.

I am offering this guide based on knowledge I obtained from my college degree (journalism), as well as my past profession in the same field. My goal is to help U.S. voters come together, whether liberal or conservative, and ensure our political process is truly OURS. I do encourage you to share this post if you find it helpful.

1) Beware of Political Memes (the new propaganda)

First of all, whether you lean right or left, DO NOT SHARE POLITICAL MEMES. Memes are the new propaganda, and propaganda plays into our EMOTIONS, not our rationale. Whether you are liberal or conservative, it is easy to fall into this trap if a message plays to your values or belief system. The Russians who infiltrated our political system used social media and inflammatory memes in many cases.

2) Stick to Legitimate News Stories

Unlike a political meme, a LEGITIMATE NEWS STORY will play to the facts and will appeal to your RATIONALE. Even editorials or opinion columns will cite proven facts as backup to the writer’s viewpoint.

3) Know Real News vs. Fake News

How can you tell REAL NEWS from FAKE NEWS?

  • Follow a variety of reputable news sources from both the right and left. For example, you may follow The Nation, but also The National Review. You may follow the New York Times, as well as the Wall Street Journal. I recommend picking five (5) publications. Scan them all regularly. If you see certain, factual trends being reported, they are true.
  • In journalism, this fact-trend tactic is called VALIDATION. The rule of thumb is to never write an article with less than three (3) sources. If you receive a claim from one source, you must validate it with a minimum of a second source to confirm its truth.
  • Look for ATTRIBUTION in your news stories or social media posts. True journalists always cite their sources of information, and the sources should not be other publications. They must be PRIMARY SOURCES. In other words, the information should not have come from a third-party medium or individual.
  • The only time a journalist will protect his or her source is in the case of ANONYMOUS PROTECTION. This is granted when the person leaking information is doing so in the best interest of the public’s right to know, but that individual may face severe consequences, whether legal or otherwise, for doing so. This is protected under the FIRST AMENDMENT, and is vital to our country’s checks and balances.

4) Don’t Trust Inflammatory Language

Beware of INFLAMMATORY LANGUAGE. I am not talking about your friend who ranted on Facebook out of anger or frustration, or even the grieving parents of a child who was shot at school. I am talking about emotional, inflammatory statements made by individuals YOU DO NOT KNOW OR RECOGNIZE, and whose statements lack attribution, validation, or any of the other points I mentioned above.

LET’S KEEP OUR AMERICAN POLITICAL PROCESS SAFE FROM OUTSIDE INFLUENCES!

Don’t allow yourself to be influenced by propaganda this upcoming election cycle. Vote how you want to vote, based on facts and correct information. PLEASE SHARE to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc., if you want to help spread the word.