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There's something at West Point called the CTC, the Combating Terrorism Center, it's an academic institute within the military academy. This summer, that group published a report called the Kuhnen Conspiracy Theory, A Security Threat in the making. The report cited notable cases linked to the fringe Internet hoax and Gerwel.
Twenty eight of Salisbury, North Carolina, has been arrested and charged with assault with a dangerous weapon, like in 2016, when a man walked into a D.C. pizza shop with an assault rifle looking for a child sex ring.
He allegedly pointed the gun in the direction of an employee and fired the weapon inside the restaurant or in twenty eighteen when a man in Nevada drove an armored truck onto a bridge over the Hoover Dam and refused to leave Arizona DPS as Wright blocked traffic for about an hour before leading authorities on a chase down a dirt road toward the Colorado River.
He was demanding the release of a Justice Department report, which had already been made public. Days earlier, police found two assault rifles and 900 rounds of ammo in his vehicle. And there's a woman who earlier this year drove from Illinois to New York City trying to find and board a Navy ship there. She was arrested on a pier with a box full of knives in the back of her car.
Well, I don't know much about the movement other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate. But I don't know much about the movement. I have heard that it is gaining in popularity. Consider this.
Kuhnen is not the first Internet hoax the president has embraced, but it's the latest and it's spreading within the Republican Party. From NPR News, I'm Audie Cornish. It's Tuesday, August 25th.
At the center of the Kuhnen hoax is the idea that a cabal of Democrats and celebrities are satanic pedophiles running a global child sex trafficking operation and the followers of this hoax believe President Trump is secretly leading an effort to stop it. All the Q in Kuhnen takes its name from a 4chan user from a few years back, someone who posted in that online forum claiming to be an anonymous government official.
I'm going to tell you, I don't know who he is, but I'm just going to tell you about it because I think it's something worth listening to.
And this is the voice of a kuhnen adherent on the path to Congress. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a construction executive from Georgia, won a congressional primary in a very red district, all but guaranteeing her a seat in the House of Representatives.
OK, so there's some really interesting things about this person. Q That was even after videos emerged of her from 2017, like this one expressing support for Kuhnen. It also gives you a sense of how cue supporters arrive at some of their beliefs.
Another thing is Kuis has put out he put out a picture for her. It was like a clue and the photo was from an airplane. And someone figured out the angle from the photograph and it matched the coordinates exactly to the same piece, the same area that Air Force One was flying over. OK, so people believe that Q is someone very close to President Trump.
And we should point out there are a lot of other videos of Green unconnected to Kuhnen, some Islamophobic, others about African-Americans. And while Green just last week backtracked on her support for Q and on telling Fox News she chose a different path. She isn't the only congressional candidate who signaled support for it in the past.
Honestly, everything that I've heard of. Q I hope that I hope that this is real.
In Colorado, there's Lauren Bobert, who defeated a five term incumbent in a primary in June because it only means America is getting stronger and better and people are returning to conservative values.
And an Oregon Senate candidate, Joe Rae Perkins, used a Kuhnen motto in a now deleted campaign video.
Where we go when we go on, I stand with President Trump. I stand with you on the team. Thank you, Anonymous. Thank you, Patriots. And together, we could save our republic.
And when a reporter described to President Trump what the movement is actually about, Trump didn't disavow it because of the theory.
It is this belief that you are secretly saving the world from this satanic cult of pedophiles and cannibals. Does that sound like something you are behind her?
I haven't I haven't heard that. But is that supposed to be a bad thing or a good thing? I mean, you know, if if I can help save the world from problems, I'm willing to do it. I'm willing to put myself out there. Now, the fact that Trump acknowledged the Cuban community is hugely consequential to to the community because they have been waiting this for years. That's Traves view. He's been reporting on Kuhnen and hosts a podcast about it.
The fact that he did nothing to denounce the theory or denounce the followers hugely energized them. I mean, they are they are on cloud nine as a consequence of Trump's statements.
NPR's Juana Lamb has spoken to you about his podcast and the movement he covers and why he and many others believe Kuhnen followers need to be taken more seriously as a domestic threat to a peaceful movement.
And maybe what is true.
That's an episode of the podcast Kuhnen Anonymous.
The show takes a deep, skeptical look into the world of Kuhnen subcu aimlessness.
One of the host, Traves View, says Kuhnen is so outlandish, so ridiculous, that most people didn't take it seriously. Not federal authorities, not social media platforms, at least not until Kieu believers started running for office.
When things go sort of viral on live events, their get out dangerous extremist movements, they might be dismissed as fringe. But once they started walking the halls of Congress, then that that makes people sit up and pay attention.
The watchdog group Media Matters for America counts 19 congressional candidates with links to Kuhnen, who will be on the ballot in November. Many are long shots, not Marjorie Taylor Green. Her primary win in a deep red district means she's all but assured a seat in Congress. Trump has already tweeted his congratulations.
I think Marjorie Taylor Greene started in the bucket where she truly believed in Kuhnen. But now she's probably drifting more towards the political constituency.
Marc-Andre Argentino recently wrote about Kuhnen for the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. He worries Q is fueling extremism. Last year, an FBI memo called it a potential domestic terrorism threat. Several supporters already have been linked to serious crimes if a Gallaher tracks Kuhnen for the London based Institute for Strategic Dialogue. But. Almost like a cult, you know, it really becomes this almost cult like thinking, they have their mantras and their oath and they are so dogmatic in their thinking, Gallaher says the conspiracy now goes well beyond American politics.
International groups have formed. It's sweeping up New Age and anti vaccination types. It's reaching millions across social media platforms, outpacing new efforts by tech companies to contain it. NPR's Hannah Land. Now I want to talk more about the social media part of this, because earlier this month, NBC News obtained internal Facebook documents that revealed there were thousands of active Q and on Facebook groups with millions of members. And following that report, Facebook announced this past week it had removed almost 800 of those groups from the site.
It restricted another 2000 or so, as well as 10000 Instagram accounts. And what does restricted mean? Well, Facebook says it will no longer recommend Kuhnen groups to users based on their algorithmic preferences, something Facebook had been doing just last week.
This is significant because, as Hannah mentioned, the conspiracy is sweeping up people who are New Age adherents, anti vaccination types and apparently white evangelical church goers. My colleague Ari Shapiro has looked more into that.
Ari, is this a surprise? And Howard, church leaders like talking about it?
Well, on one level, it's not a surprise because Kuhnen adherents tend to be Trump supporters and white evangelical churchgoers also tend to be Trump supporters. But I talked to a reporter who says there is a much deeper connection here. Her name is Caitlyn Beedi. She writes for the Religion News Service. And she talked to a bunch of pastors who are seeing this growing phenomenon in their church and trying to talk people out of it.
I mean, because they see it as a problem. Absolutely.
I mean, she said there were a few pastors in small churches who were all in on Kuhnen. But for the most part, these white evangelical pastors are really concerned. Like one of them she talked to is named Jeb Barr. He's a senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Elmont, Texas.
As a Christian is a church where he was spreading the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ, because that's the most important message in the world. So if the people spreading the message are also spreading easily debunked crazy lies, why would the message be believed? Right. Why would we listen to my friend Joe, who is a Christian, telling me about Jesus if he also thinks the time he was taking over America and operating a pedophile ring out of some pizza restaurant.
So Jeb Bush saying that it's difficult as a pastor to see people in your church believing in this stuff because it undercuts the church's ability to deliver a religious message. Absolutely.
And also, it could even rival the church in its, I don't know, seductiveness, you might say.
I mean, the headline on Kaitlynn Babies article was Kuhnen The Alternative Religion that is coming to your church.
And so when I talk to her, I was like, wait a minute, do the people you interviewed really see Kuhnen as a belief system comparable to organized religion?
They do. They are picking up on the overt spiritual language that Cuba is using in his messages, and they see that as connecting directly to the Bible and that they are supposed to take up a spiritual battle to reveal truth.
And your reporting suggests that there's something about this moment that that makes it spread that much faster.
Yeah. So a lot of pastors I spoke with noted the fact that their churches are having to continue to do virtual church to do to the coronavirus. And in that time, the pastors I spoke with sensed that there is this isolation and loneliness that their members are experiencing. The pastors only get one hour a week with people in their church. The people in their church are probably spending hours on Facebook, on other social media forums, taking in this information.
And the pastors I spoke with just felt like they couldn't do enough to counter the false messages that some of their church members were receiving through the Internet.
I guess one question is, if these pastors are the voices of authority within the church community, why aren't they able to talk their parishioners out of this false belief?
The pastors that I spoke with talked about a crisis of authority, that they feel acutely as spiritual leaders. They perceive that we're in this time when there's a lot of mistrust of traditional sources of authority and truth, and they feel that themselves as church leaders. And they're concerned that members of their church are not only accepting falsehood and kind of believing in these falsehoods, but also spreading falsehood to other people in the church. And that's especially problematic when Kuhnen is being espoused by other pastors in a denomination or by leaders in a particular church.
Do you think we would find a growing belief in Kuhnen in any community that includes a lot of Trump supporters, or is there something specific to the white evangelical church that makes it susceptible to these messages? That's a great question, I think about a poll conducted by the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, a prominent evangelical institution in the Chicago suburbs, this was a poll conducted in 2013 that found that over half of evangelicals, as defined by belief, are strongly convinced that the mainstream media produced fake news.
And that opens the door for a lot of evangelicals to turn to alternative and fringe news sources, including those that traffic and conspiracy theories. So I certainly think there's a connection there. But also, again, it's it's that the Kuhnen uses this explicitly spiritual language that sounds Christian if there's a clear battle between good and evil. There's the promise of this great awakening. More people are going to wake up to these prophecies, if you will. That's coming from.
Q And so it's easy for many white evangelicals to read their Bibles and connect the dots between what they read there and what they're hearing from Kuhnen sources.
That's reporter Caitlin Bayti speaking with my colleague Ari Shapiro. Additional reporting for this episode from our colleagues at All Things Considered. For more news, download the NPR one app or listen to your local public radio station. Supporting that station makes this podcast possible. We're back tomorrow. I'm Audie Cornish. With civil unrest, the pandemic and the economic crisis, you want to know what's happening right when you wake up, and that's why there is up first, the news you need in about 10 minutes from NPR News.
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