Oprah Winfrey became the No. 1 trend on Twitter on Tuesday nights, with numerous reports claiming her house in Boca Raton, Florida, was being raided, and that she had been arrested on sex trafficking charges. The problem with these claims going viral online is that none of it is actually true.
Oprah herself tweeted late on Tuesday night to say none of the conspiracy theories were true. She said, “Just got a phone call that my name is trending. And being trolled for some awful FAKE thing. It’s NOT TRUE. Haven’t been raided, or arrested. Just sanitizing and self distancing with the rest of the world. Stay safe everybody.”
The conspiracy theory surrounding Oprah started with QAnon. The fringe right-wing conspiracy theory, which centers on an anonymous individual known as “Q,” is known for starting wild conspiracy theories and started in 2017. The group began on 8Chan after President Donald Trump was elected, with the person or group of people known as “Q” claiming to be deep inside the government with so-called Q-level access to classified information. The theories posted by Q centered around the idea that Trump was leading an effort to take down the “deep state” and Hollywood elites who had secretly been running a Satanic cannibalistic child-sex cabal in the U.S. and around the world. The debunked conspiracy theory has grown in popularity among Trump fans during his presidency, with QAnon signs and merchandise often showing up at his re-election rallies.
The Oprah theory is just the latest false claim that celebrities were being arrested on child sex trafficking charges. And this story spread quickly. Even a bogus video was posted about her arrest, in which a “news reporter” claims her property was roped off and seized by authorities — “excavating her home” for the underground tunnels used for sex trafficking.
The QAnon conspiracy theory didn’t just implicate Winfrey, it also said Tom Hanks and Charles Barkley were arrested. Their pending charges were also linked to the Pope and the Vatican. Some QAnon followers have been suggesting that coronavirus and the outbreak are a way to provide cover for the arrests of elites.
While the rumors surrounding Oprah’s supposed arrest went viral, it seemed readily apparent that there was no truth to any of these claims. However, as the world hunkers down during the coronavirus pandemic, it seems like possibly anything could be true these days — but it’s not.
The Twitter account Poker and Politics, which has followed and debunked the QAnon conspiracy since early on, tweeted, “Anyone pushing this Oprah sex trafficking nonsense needs to understand it comes from #QAnon an internet cult that claims everyone in Hollywood and all liberals are Satanists who kill children and drink their blood and that Donald Trump will defeat them all and save the world.”
It isn’t the first time that QAnon has connected coronavirus to the expected “Storm,” which is the period when they believe wrongdoers will be rounded up. QAnon debunker Travis View, the co-host of the “QAnon Anonymous” podcast, told BuzzFeed News in February, “Many QAnon followers feel that they’re safe from serious disasters, including global pandemics, because ‘patriots are in control.’ This stems from their belief that serious disasters are engineered by the evil ‘cabal,’ rather than being natural and unpredictable.”
When Hanks announced he and his wife, Rita Wilson, had tested positive for COVID-19, many QAnon followers believed he had secretly been arrested and the illness was being used as cover, as the DailyKos pointed out. Hanks and his wife recently left the hospital, so that theory was easily debunked.
Oprah’s Arrest’ Trended On Twitter Because It Spawned a Series Of Memes & Jokes
Yes, life in America is absoutely surreal while we fight the spread of the deadly coronavirus, but no, Oprah is not part of Hollywood sex trafficking ring. The billionaire mogul is freely living the quarantine life just like everybody else in the nation.
However, because so many people are at home on their computer during quarantine, more users online have time to run with jokes and memes like never before.
The posts about why Oprah was trending and what Oprah supposedly did helped push her name up the Twitter trending board, with many people not even realizing what was behind the claims that she had been arrested.
Renee DiResta, of the Stanford Internet Observatory, tweeted, “A lot of the people asking WTF is going on with Oprah (‘she got arrested?!’) are posting funny reaction memes – and then those are getting a lot of likes and RTs because they’re funny. So it’s an inadvertent meta-trend…but now fringe trafficking rumor will get attention.”
Oprah, along with other celebrities, like Hanks, nd Democratic political figures, like the Clintons, have long been at the forefront of QAnon-related conspiracy theories. While the latest theory about Oprah didn’t come from a “Q drop,” the name for the anonymous messages posted by the leader of the conspiracy theory, it appears to have come from so-called researchers who have jumped on the breadcumbs left for them by Q and greatly expanded the conspiracy theories.
QAnon Started Fueling a Hollywood Sex Trafficking Conspiracy Years Ago
Back in 2016, Edgar Maddison Welch entered a pizza shop in Washington D.C. demanding to see a basement that did’t exist because he believed the restaurant was a front for a child sex ring known as “Pizzagate.”
Afterward, conspiracy theorists posted on websites such as 4chan and Reddit that claimed Bill Clinton’s White House Chief of Staff John Podesta’s emails were hacked, and exposed a secret sex ring made sense if you replaced the word “pizza” with “little girl.”
Then, a person known only as “Q,” who claims to be a military official with access to privileged information, fueled the flames of Pizzagate, saying that Hillary Clinton was involved and that her arrest was imminent.
Jared Holt, a research associate from Right Wing Watch explaining the goal of QAnon, told NBC News, “What the Qanon theory does, as far as political efficacy goes, is it provides Trump’s most fervent supporters a way to explain away any scandal or slip-up the president may face.”
“All of Trump’s mishaps on the world stage, his detractors in the media, his various scandals can all be effectively be framed within the QAnon lore as attacks that are coordinated against him because he’s ever closer to taking down a global conspiracy committing the most atrocious crimes that could be imagined, like Satanic child sex trafficking, and blood sacrifice,” Holt said.
The New York Times wrote about QAnon in August 2018, “Here is the short version: Q claims to be a government insider exposing an entrenched, international bureaucracy that is secretly plotting all sorts of nefarious schemes against the Trump administration and its supporters. The character uses lingo that implies that he or she has a military or intelligence background.”
The Times added, “It’s a stew of various, but connecting, conspiracy theories that generally hold Mr. Trump as a conquistador battling a cabal of anti-American saboteurs who have taken over government, industry, media and various other institutions of public life in a plan to … well, the overarching goals of the nefarious actors are not clear.”
While the QAnon conspiracy theories may seem ridiculous to most, they have caused harm. QAnon followers have been tied to terrorism plots, including one in which a man barricaded himself at the Hoover Dam and called on Trump to release reports Q had mentioned. and even a murder in New York. In February 2019, a man set a fire at Comet Ping Pong, and had posted about QAnon. In January 2020, a QAnon conspiracy theorist was arrested after she was accused of plotting to kidnap her children, who had been taken away from her.
The QAnon messages have often predicted things that haven’t happened. As The Daily Beast pointed out in March 2019, the “Great Awakening” has still not come and many of the deadlines and dates for major events have come and went with nothing happening.
“In a way, it doesn’t matter what QAnon is about anymore. Its authors and adherents have layered it with so many layers of plausible deniability and so many fringe interpretations that they can pivot from a failure or shed an unpopular arm of the theory like a tree dropping a dead limb. Believers variously subscribe to offshoots about time travel, reptilians, and life elixirs made from children’s blood, even if those theories don’t explicitly appear in Q’s posts,” Kelly Weill wrote for The Daily Beast.
Poker and Politics has an extensive list of the claims that have been debunked.
With QAnon connecting coronavirus to Pizzagate, and now this Hollywood sex ring — it’s a lot crazy for just one night.