"Being a sponsor of a child protection association is a commitment, values, seriousness. This is not to echo the carriers of conspiracy theories that serve the cause. Cyril Hanouna is no longer one of our sponsors. Thank you for the journey made together ", wrote, Wednesday March 14 on Twitter, Laurent Boyet, president of the association for the fight against violence against children Les Papillons.
This announcement of separation follows the declarations of the former drug trafficker Gérard Fauré and the columnist Myriam Palomba, on March 9, on the set of "Touche pas à mon poste". Asked about the addictions of comedian Pierre Palmade, Mr. Fauré had mentioned "perhaps a story of adrenochrome".
This molecule, resulting from the oxidation of adrenaline, a hormone synthesized by the human body, is presented in the complosphere as a powerful psychotropic and anti-aging elixir. Myriam Palomba then explained that adrenochrome enthusiasts engaged in "child sacrifice" to obtain it, without Cyril Hanouna reacting to these claims.
Massive disappearances of children, sex trafficking of minors, ritual sacrifices... Countless stories circulate, particularly in conspiratorial circles, around what the ethnologist of rumors Véronique Campion-Vincent describes as the figure of "the child-prey ".
Rumors naming political adversaries
Child crime is a reality: the Interpol database lists 14,500 child criminals and 32,700 underage victims of sexual exploitation, across 68 countries. But the conspiracy hijacks it, evoking powerful high-level networks that exploit millions of kidnapped children.
Supporters of the American conspiratorial movement QAnon are convinced of the existence of a global sex trafficking network run by "pedosatanist elites", such as billionaires Bill Gates and George Soros or even the former Democratic candidate for the election US President Hillary Clinton. The theme appears as early as 2016 with "Pizzagate", a rumor that a Washington pizzeria was home to a child criminal ring involving Democratic leaders. In April 2020, in the midst of the Covid-19 outbreak, another story emerged: the supposed discovery of 100,000 children and dead bodies in a tunnel connecting the Clinton Foundation to New York Harbor. At the end of 2021, it is the turn of the Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden, to be accused of pedophile inclinations by the supporters of his Republican rival, Donald Trump.
The French followers of these theses have found an ambassador in the person of former animator Karl Zéro, author in 2022 of the documentary 1 out of 5, a title which refers to the estimated proportion of minors who are victims of sexual assault in France. "It has the merit of asking the real questions, of highlighting what we don't talk about", insists Laurent Boyet, while distancing himself from Karl Zéro when he takes up several typical overinterpretations of conspiracy theories, based on "strange ceremonies" and fantasized secret organizations. "It wouldn't take much for it to switch to the wrong side," warns the president of the Les Papillons association.
These rumors fight less against pedocrime than against designated adversaries. "If we consider that conspiracy consists in demonizing an enemy, we cannot just say that Macron or Biden are evil, we must manufacture a form of extreme turpitude", analyzes Sebastian Dieguez, researcher at the Laboratory of Cognitive and Neurological Sciences from the University of Friborg and author of Croiver. Why belief is not what we believe (Eliott Editions, 2022).
Accusations fueled by various facts
These accusations have long been the preserve of anti-Semitic literature. The idea of ritual Christian child sacrifice originated in 12th century England. Indestructible, the legend will cause deadly pogroms to post-World War II Poland. “Jews have been particularly targeted by stories of children being bled. But we find the myth of the innocent sacrificed absolutely everywhere,” recalls Véronique Campion-Vincent. Similar rumors were aimed, for example, at Christians in the Roman Empire.
In the contemporary imagination, these accusations feed mainly on news items. In Europe, they thrive on the memory of the Dutroux affair, which revealed the shortcomings of justice and society in the fight against pedocrime. In the United States, the country of origin of QAnon, they date back to the 1980s, and to high-profile cases of missing children mingled with a wave of rumors of satanic rituals in nurseries. There remains the idea that millions of American children are kidnapped each year (in reality, about fifty) and minors exploited in occult ceremonies.
Contemporary conspiracy has made it a central element, going so far as to invent the concept of "child-mole", who would have to be delivered from underground places where they would be held en masse. The slightest news item, whether it is the spectacular eruption of a volcano or the blocking of the Suez Canal by the freighter Ever-Given, in 2021, is reinterpreted as an attempt to free these child prisoners. "We went from one extreme to the other, from denial to obsession", summarizes Véronique Campion-Vincent. To the grotesque: in July 2021, thousands of QAnons accused the American online furniture seller WayFair of selling underage sex slaves in wardrobes.
A parasitization of associations
The stories of pedophile conspiracies, as sordid as they are addictive, have many interests, notes Sebastian Dieguez, in particular that of feminizing the community, while allowing its followers to see themselves as heroes at little cost. In the imaginary QAnon, where President Donald Trump would have set up a Pentagon Pedophile Task Force, the conspirators present themselves as "digital soldiers" invested with a mission of vigilantes.
This is what the associations criticize the conspiracy discourse. On the one hand, it seeks to capture attention: Canadian researcher Marc-André Argentino has identified “114 groups that present themselves as fighting against child trafficking but are in fact dominated by QAnon content”. According to his calculations, between July and the end of September 2020, the membership of these online groups increased thirty times. In 2021, they had managed to appropriate the hashtag "Save the Children". The association of the same name had deplored the "confusion" caused.
On the other hand, conspiracy theories sends back a caricatural and distorted image of paedocriminality. Far from the fantasized theories of a sophisticated network in the hands of a cartel of powerful pedo-sanitary leaders, in the overwhelming majority of cases (94%), the perpetrators of sexual assault are part of the victim's family circle. In a quarter of the situations, they themselves are minors. Finally, all social backgrounds are concerned.
From this point of view, the QAnon imaginary draws attention to a problem as much as it distracts from its reality. “Never a single victim told me about being a victim in the context of ceremonies, insists Laurent Boyet. The real violence is in the family or in the world of sport. Maybe there are real satanist networks, I don't know. But I know where there is real violence. »