Morrison’s China push feeds local QAnon theorists who say Satanists rule world

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s focus on China’s handling of the coronavirus has garnered the support of Australia’s leading proponent of the QAnon conspiracy theory who tweets under the name Burn Notice.

Last week Burn Notice — who is also a Morrison family friend — endorsed Morrison’s role in pushing for the inquiry by retweeting a post about it to his carefully-curated Twitter feed, where he has 35,000 followers.

Keira Savage tweet

China has emerged as a central preoccupation for the US-based QAnon conspiracy theory, which has as its central tenet that the US is controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping paedophiles acting as a deep state.

The movement has expanded its remit to include opposition to COVID-19 lockdown regulations, as well as vaccines, under the rubric of individual freedom. It holds US President Donald Trump to be the anointed one to cleanse the world through the coming of “the storm”. 

QAnon adherents endorsed Trump’s early position that the virus was a hoax, that it posed little threat to the United States and that it was essentially a deep state operation aimed at derailing his reelection.

An analysis presented in The Conversation reports that the movement’s anonymous leader Q first posted about COVID-19 on March 23 and described it as a Chinese bioweapon.

Trump’s escalating attacks on China over COVID-19 have also led to a deepening relationship between QAnon and the Chinese dissident movement Falun Gong which has a strong media presence in Australia through daily online publication The Epoch Times.

Reports in authoritative US outlets The Atlantic and NBC News point to an alliance of convenience, which emerged last year and has strengthened as Trump has sought to blame China for concealing its knowledge of the source and spread of COVID-19. The president claimed to have seen evidence that the virus emerged from a lab in Wuhan — in other words that COVID-19 is a bioweapon, as stated by Q.

The Falun Gong movement, through its New York-based company The Epoch Times, has given huge support to Trump in its online publications and its video channel, which gives voice to pro-Trump, anti-China critics.

The Epoch Times was founded in the United States in 2000 in response, it says, to “communist repression and censorship” in China. Falun Gong’s leader Li Hongzhi, a former trumpet player from north-east China, is known as “Living Buddha” to his devotees. 

Li introduced Falun Gong in China in 1992 before he fled, claiming persecution by the state.

He settled in the United States where he has been honoured for his activities by the US government-funded international organisation Freedom House.

Li, 69, has made a number of fanciful claims. These include, reportedly, that aliens walk the earth, that he can walk through walls and that he is a being from from a higher level who has come to help humankind from destruction.

Li has put his now considerable financial resources and world-wide network behind Trump and QAnon, with The Epoch Times advertising heavily on QAnon sites. 

From its offices in the Sydney suburb of Hurstville, Australia’s version of The Epoch Times crusades against the influence of the Chinese communist party in China and in Australia. It claims to be Australia’s leading Chinese-language newspaper in print and digital. It has offered editorial support for the Morrison government’s push for an inquiry into China’s handling of the coronavirus.

Inq asked The Epoch Times to explain how much of its editorial content was aligned with its US parent, and if The Epoch Times in Australia has its own view of QAnon independent to the US Epoch Times. The newspaper has not responded.

The Epoch Times seems to be growing its presence in Australia. Free copies can be founded in supermarkets and railway stations across the country.

When NSW town Wagga Wagga was considering severing its sister city relationship with Kunming in China over the pandemic, locals found their letterboxes flooded with copies of the paper. 

What is the real influence, though, of QAnon?

A survey by the Pew Research Centre in the United States conducted in February and March showed that around a quarter (23%) of respondents had heard or read a lot or a little about QAnon, with 3% saying they’d heard or read a lot.

Pew’s headline conclusion is that QAnon’s conspiracy theories have seeped into US. politics but most people still don’t know what it is.

In Australia, Burn Notice (whose Twitter handle is @BurnedSpy34) now has more than 35,000 twitter followers — an increase from just over 20,000 supporters when Inq reported in October on his relationship with the prime minister. 

Inq revealed Burn Notice’s claims that he influenced Morrison’s 2018 parliamentary apology to victims of institutional child sex abuse by having him use the controversial term “ritual abuse”. 

Burn Notice is the alter ego of Tim Stewart. His wife is a close personal friend of the prime minister’s wife, who has been employed by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Burn Notice adopted his Twitter identity on the same day Morrison became prime minister.

He refused to speak with Inq for this story, alleging we would distort his words.

An incomplete list of Trump’s favourite conspiracy theories

Yesterday, US President Donald Trump announced he has been taking anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine to ward off COVID-19.

For weeks Trump has been praising the drug for its healing powers, based on a study that was admitted to be flawed by the scientists behind it. And even though major studies suggest the drug is useless, the president has continued to spruik it. 

The kind of shameless promotion of conspiracy theories has been a core feature of Trump’s presence in public life well before he trolled his way into the White House.

Here are just a few of the most egregious.

Birtherism

“Birtherism”, the false belief that Barack Obama was born in Kenya and not the US, was the myth that turned Trump from a C-grade reality TV star into a president.

Birtherism had existed in some form for as long as Obama had been in public life. But Trump gave it animus, continuing to push the theory to the delight of Fox News.

The theory was, of course, such a load of nonsense that even the normally measured New York Times called it a lie. Trump eventually backed down on the theory, but by then most Republican voters were questioning Obama’s citizenship.

Obamagate

Trump has had an unhealthy obsession with his predecessor ever since Obama roasted him at the 2011 White House Correspondent’s Dinner.

In the past he’s claimed the Obama administration spied on his presidential campaign to help the Clintons. The latest manifestation of that obsession is “Obamagate” — which seems to refer to the belief the Russia investigation was a hoax orchestrated by Obama.

Trump tweeted out the word several times last week and claimed it “makes Watergate look small time”, but has never actually explained what it means, or laid out any evidence behind it.

Instead, he’s blamed “the media” for not covering it properly. Of course, like most Trump outbursts, the details don’t matter. Obamagate is meant to disorient and distract, at a time when thousands of Americans are dying and when Obama’s vice-president Joe Biden is leading him in the polls.

Climate change

Unsurprisingly, Trump has always denied the science behind climate change, and instead aired a bunch of unhinged conspiracy theories. In 2012, he claimed it was a Chinese hoax intended to sabotage American manufacturing, which he bizarrely later tried to deny.

After becoming president, Trump has since said the climate will “change back”, cast doubt on the science because the planet is “cooling and heating”, accused scientists of having a political agenda, and gleefully tweeted about cold days. He’s also gone on numerous tirades against windfarms and repeated the bogus claim that they cause cancer.

Ukrainian hacking

Trump’s impeachment (remember that) was born from a flurry of disinformation, to which Trump responded with a flurry of disinformation.

He claimed Ukraine had hacked the Democratic National Convention in 2016 in an elaborate plot to frame Russia. Core to this was the patently untrue claim that CrowdStrike, the California-based tech company that investigated the hack, was owned by a Ukrainian businessman and planted false information pointing the finger at Russia.

Mysterious deaths

When billionaire financier and child-sex offender Jeffrey Epstein died by apparent suicide in prison last year, it prompted feverish speculation that foul play was involved.

Trump too got in on it all, sharing a tweet suggesting the Clintons were involved. Supreme Court judge Antonin Scalia’s death was also suspicious, Trump has claimed.

The Central Park Five

In 1989, five black and Latino teens were accused of raping and attacking a woman jogging through New York’s Central Park. Trump, then a real estate mogul, took out a full page ad in four newspapers calling for the death penalty for the boys.

Thirteen years later, DNA evidence and the confession of a jailed sex offender exonerated the Central Park Five. Trump refuses to apologise and back down, telling reporters last year “they admitted their guilt”.

Trump’s list of fabulist claims targeting racial minorities are too long to count. He’s alleged Muslim Americans celebrated 9/11, Mexican immigrants bring crime to the United States, and once told Congress some Native American tribes had made false identity claims.

The pandemic

In the midst of a disastrously-managed pandemic, where Trump’s re-election hopes hinge on him choking the discourse with more disorienting layers of shit, the theories have only ramped up.

First he told us the virus was a democratic hoax. Then he said it was the media’s fault, that the numbers were wrong, that one day it would all vanish (possibly by April), that it was just like the flu.

Now, almost 100,000 Americans have died and Trump continues to make things up. He says America leads the world in testing (not even close); he suggested sunlight, and injecting disinfectant, could cure the virus.

He has repeatedly claim the virus came from a Wuhan lab and, most recently, appeared to boost a claim from his son Eric Trump that Democratic governors are extending shutdowns to stop him having campaign rallies.

Disinformation runs in the family.

Supercharged conspiracy theorists are no longer a laughing matter

Is the current generation of conspiracy theorists any different to those of yesteryear?

Are the virus hoaxers, who think COVID-19 is a Bill Gates plot, or anti-vaxxers, with whom they’re linked, or QAnon adherents, or “replacement theory” white supremacists, or incels, any different to previous generations of anti-Semites (who still blight society, of course) or anti-Communists convinced that Moscow controlled the world, or anti-Catholics who saw all Catholics as agents of the Vatican, or anti-Masons… on and on the list goes.

There have always been conspiracy theorists, a minority of the population who are characterised by, in the words of Norman Cohn, “the megalomaniac view of oneself as the Elect, wholly good, abominably persecuted, yet assured of ultimate triumph; the attribution of gigantic and demonic powers to the adversary; the refusal to accept the ineluctable limitations and imperfections of human existence…”

Richard Hofstadter, in his seminal essay on “The Paranoid Style in American Politics”, argued that

Certain religious traditions, certain social structures and national inheritances, certain historical catastrophes or frustrations may be conducive to the release of such psychic energies, and to situations in which they can more readily be built into mass movements or political parties … Perhaps the central situation conducive to the diffusion of the paranoid tendency is a confrontation of opposed interests which are (or are felt to be) totally irreconcilable, and thus by nature not susceptible to the normal political processes of bargain and compromise. The situation becomes worse when the representatives of a particular social interest — perhaps because of the very unrealistic and unrealizable nature of its demands — are shut out of the political process.

From the perspective of 2020, Hofstadter’s United States of 1964 looks positively benign, and its predominant conspiracy theory — that communists had seized control of the US government, the media and major cultural institutions — seems fairly tame.

But the idea of a society that is highly polarised, unable to compromise with itself, and where significant groups feel themselves shut out of power, feels very familiar, particularly after three decades of neoliberal policymaking that really has shifted the rationale of government to looking after powerful interests rather than the public interest.

What is very different is the internet. There’s long been a broad tendency to blame every social ill on the internet, in the same way that video games, rap, television, rock’n’roll, radio etc were blamed for previous ills.

The internet is technology, entirely neutral in its operation, but likely to amplify existing social characteristics because it facilitates connection and communication. That’s a boon especially for minority groups who can connect with each other on a global basis whereas, in analog times, their connections were limited by geography, family and workplace, or by the analog methods of information distribution.

So the conspiracy theorists of 1964, with their obsession with communists, their hatred of civil rights and their fear of fluoridation, had far less capacity to connect with each other and encourage and influence each other than modern conspiracy theorists, who exist almost entirely online.

This is why a protester at an anti-lockdown rally in Melbourne will hold up a sign devoted exclusively to QAnon and other US and Trump-affiliated conspiracy theories.

Australian conspiracy theorists no longer bother with Australian-made conspiracies — they use fully imported ones, almost always bearing a proud Made In the USA label. Angry opponents of globalisation and fierce patriots, they’ve gleefully embraced the homogenisation and free trade of conspiracy theory that has turned them into protesters indistinguishable from one another in Dallas, Melbourne, London.

But the internet doesn’t just connect ely connects them up, it reinforces them. Unlike analog-era conspiracy theorists, modern day ones can spend their entire lives in a conspiracy bubble, never needing to stir forth into the real world.

They can filter their media feeds to delete any evidence that contradicts the conspiracy, and highlight interpretations of events, however absurd and contradictory, that reinforce it. They can egg each other on, and have their beliefs normalised; the conspiracy theorist in the 1960s was constantly at risk of reading something or talking to someone who might convey how far outside normal life their belief system was.

Now, you can have your irrational beliefs constantly affirmed, to the point where you become convinced that not merely are you the rational one, but that people who refuse to believe the conspiracy are maliciously irrational.  The internet normalises abnormality of all kinds, good and bad.

That may well be a reason why so many conspiracy theorists are now considered actively dangerous. White supremacists, “sovereign citizens” and “Great Replacement” advocates have long been identified by US law enforcement agencies as the major domestic terrorist threat in the US. More recently, incels have been identified as an emerging threat after a number of mass murders carried out by misogynist young men who view feminism as a plot against their right to have sex.

And in 2019 the FBI identified “conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists” as a threat, who likely “will emerge, spread, and evolve in the modern information marketplace, occasionally driving both groups and individual extremists to carry out criminal or violent acts”. Its report specifically mentioned QAnon theorists.

Just because US security agencies identify someone as a terror threat doesn’t make them one — the likes of the FBI and the NSA have a history of identifying peaceful protest groups as potential threats, including Dominican nuns and Greenpeace. But when QAnon members plead guilty to terrorism charges and fire guns in a pizza restaurant crowded with families, there’s a solid base for law enforcement agencies to worry about them. Anti-vaxxers, too, have increasingly shifted from online to real-world harassment.

The issue in Australia is whether ASIO and the AFP — who were taken by surprise by the Christchurch massacre, having believed that far-right extremists were incapable of mass-casualty attacks — are as up to speed on the emerging threat from internet-fueled conspiracy theorists as their US counterparts.

Christchurch prompted ASIO to be a lot clearer about the terrorist threat from the right — to the fury of Peter Dutton, who lied that left-wing terrorism was an equal threat. But the pandemic, and the irrational claims of virus denialists, might serve to focus their minds away from the threat posed by journalists and whistleblowers and toward internet obsessives who not merely peddle conspiracy theories, but are prepared to hurt and kill for them.

How to spot and talk to a COVID-19 conspiracy theorist

This story was originally published by ProPublica.

Stephan Lewandowsky studies the way people think, and in particular, why they engage in conspiracy theories.

So when the cognitive scientist from England’s University of Bristol observes wild speculation related to the COVID-19 pandemic, he sees how it fits into the historical pattern of misinformation and fake news.

I recently wrote about the viral video “Plandemic” as an investigative reporter assessing the range of unsubstantiated COVID-19 allegations put forth by a controversial researcher.

Lewandowsky comes at the video and others like it from a science-based perspective. He is one of the authors of “The Conspiracy Theory Handbook,” which explains the traits of conspiratorial thinking.

Conspiracy theories related to the COVID-19 pandemic seem to be proliferating, and some may even be taking root.

So I asked Lewandowsky to share how he identifies and understands them, and what we can do to sort through the confusion. The interview has been condensed for clarity and length.

What’s the difference between a real conspiracy and a conspiracy theory?

A real conspiracy actually exists, and it is usually uncovered by journalists, whistleblowers, document dumps from a corporation or government, or it’s discovered by a government agency. The Volkswagen emissions scandal, for example, was discovered by conventional ways when some engineers discovered an anomaly in a report.

It was all mundane — normal people having normal observations based on data. They said, “Hang on, something’s funny here,” and then it unraveled. The same is true for the Iran-contra scandal. That broke via a newspaper in Lebanon. True conspiracies are often uncovered through the media. In Watergate, it was journalists not taking “no” for an answer.

A conspiracy theory, on the other hand, is discussed at length on the internet by people who are not bona fide journalists or government officials or whistleblowers in an organization or investigative committees of regulators.

They’re completely independent sources, individuals who self-nominate and put themselves forward as being in possession of the truth. In principle, that could be true. But then if you look at the way these people think and talk and communicate, you discover their cognition is different from what I would call conventional cognition.

What are some differences between conventional and conspiratorial thinking?

You can start with healthy skepticism vs. overriding suspicion. As a scientist, I’m obviously skeptical. I’m questioning anything people say. I look at my own data and other people’s data with a skeptical eye.

But after skeptics have been skeptical, they are quite capable of accepting evidence. Once something has withstood scrutiny, you accept it. Otherwise you’re in a state of complete nihilism and you can’t believe anything.

That crucial second step of acceptance is absent in conspiracy theorists. That is where conspiracy theorists are different. Their skepticism is a bottomless, never-ending pit of skepticism about anything related to the official account.

And that skepticism is accompanied by extreme gullibility to anything related to the conspiracy. It’s an imbalance between skepticism for anything an official may say and complete gullibility for something some random dude on the internet will tweet out. It’s that imbalance that differentiates conspiracy thinking from standard cognition.

Conspiracy thinking is immune to evidence. In the “Plandemic” video, the absence of evidence is twisted to be seen to be as evidence for the theory. They say the cover-up is so perfect that you will never find out about it. That’s the opposite of rational thinking.

Usually when you think of a hypothesis, you think of the evidence. And if there’s zero evidence, you give it up or say there is no evidence for it.

Conspiracy theorists may also simultaneously believe things that are contradictory. In the “Plandemic” video, for example, they say COVID-19 both came from a Wuhan lab and that we’re all infected with the disease from vaccinations. They’re making both claims, and they don’t hang together.

More generally, conspiracy theorists show this contradictory thinking by presenting themselves as both victims and heroes. They see themselves as these heroes in possession of the truth.

But they also see themselves as victims. They feel they are being persecuted by this evil establishment or the deep state or whatever it is.

Why do you think some conspiracy theories are so popular?

Some people find comfort in resorting to a conspiracy theory whenever they have a sense of a loss of control or they’re confronted with a major adverse event that no one has control over.

So every time there’s a mass shooting in the US, I can guarantee you ahead of time that there will be a conspiracy theory about it.

So you would expect conspiracy theories related to the pandemic. That doesn’t make them any less harmful. Here in the United Kingdom, people are burning 5G cell towers because of this extreme idea that 5G has something to do with causing COVID-19. More than 70 cell towers have gone up in flames because of this conspiracy theory.

Is conspiracy thinking at an all time high?

Historical records show that there were rampant conspiracy theories going on in the Middle Ages when the plague hit Europe. It was anti-Semitism at the time. That tends to be part and parcel of pandemics. People engage in conspiracies that involve some sort of “othering” of people.

During previous pandemics, people chased doctors down the street because they thought they were responsible for the pandemic. In Europe, now a lot of antagonism is directed at Asians, because the pandemic started in China. The internet is helping the spread of conspiracy theories. It’s much easier now than it was 30 years ago. But it’s difficult to say we have more now.

Are conservatives or liberals any more likely to engage in conspiracy thinking?

There is a lot of research on this and political conspiracy theories tend to be most associated with extreme political views, on the right or the left. But if you quantify it, you frequently find more on the right than the left.

How do we talk to the conspiracy theorists in our lives?

It’s extremely difficult. In terms of strategy, the best people to talk to are people who are not conspiracy theorists. The vast majority of people are grateful for the debunking and responsive to it. That should be your target of communication if you have a choice.

The hardcore conspiracy theorists are unlikely to change their minds. They will take what you say and display considerable ingenuity in twisting it and using it against you. On Twitter, I block them immediately because I’m concerned about my ability to have a rational conversation and I don’t want others to violate that right.

How do we prevent the spread of conspiracy theories?

By trying to inoculate the public against them. Telling the public ahead of time: Look, there are people who believe these conspiracy theories. They invent this stuff. When they invent it they exhibit these characteristics of misguided cognition.

You can go through the traits we mention in our handbook, like incoherence, immunity to evidence, overriding suspicion and connecting random dots into a pattern. The best thing to do is tell the public how they can spot conspiracy theories and how they can protect themselves.

Are you aware of any cases where the conspiracy theorists turned out to be right?

There are tens of thousands of conspiracy theories out there, so I haven’t checked them all. But if you look at actual conspiracies, Volkswagen, Iran-contra, Watergate — the real conspiracies — they were uncovered by conventional cognition.

There weren’t people there who took the absence of evidence to be evidence for the theory, or who reinterpreted contrary evidence to somehow support their theory. I’m not aware of any conspiracy theorists discovering something where they turn out to be correct.

Scott Morrison’s conspiracy-theorist friend claims he has the PM’s ear — and can influence what he says

As Crikey today looks at the proliferation of conspiracy theories during the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re republishing this Inq investigation into how an Australian promoter of the far-right QAnon conspiracy claims to have influence over the prime minister.

Standing in parliament last October, less than two months after becoming prime minister, Scott Morrison was visibly moved as he delivered the nation’s formal apology to the survivors of institutional child abuse.

“Look at the galleries, look at the Great Hall, look outside this place and you will see men and women from every walk of life, from every generation, and every part of our land. Crushed, abused, discarded and forgotten,” he told a packed house of parliamentarians, survivors and their supporters, some of them holding back tears. 

“The crimes of ritual sexual abuse happened in schools, churches, youth groups, scout troops, orphanages, foster homes, sporting clubs, group homes, charities, and in family homes as well.” 

“Ritual sexual abuse”? This was not a phrase used by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse — yet it had made its way the PM’s historic address to the nation. 

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Why “ritual” abuse, and what does it mean?

Tim Stewart is a 51-year-old family man, Cronulla Sharks supporter, one-time operator of an online health food venture called Fruit Loop, a former bankrupt who came out of insolvency in 2015… and long-time friend of Scott Morrison. 

Stewart is also a prominent promoter of the US-based far-right “QAnon” conspiracy movement that believes there is a secret “deep state” plot against Donald Trump and a cabal of Satan-worshiping paedophiles who rule the world and control politicians and the media. The FBI has identified fringe conspiracy theories, including those promoted by QAnon, as a domestic terrorist threat in the US.

Stewart’s wife is best friends with the prime minister’s wife, Jenny Morrison, a relationship which goes back to teenage years. The two women have been bridesmaids at each others’ weddings and, since August, Stewart’s wife has been employed by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet on the recommendation of the prime minister’s office, working at the PM’s Sydney residence Kirribilli House.

In the days before Morrison’s apology speech, Tim Stewart — who tweets as “Burn Notice” under the Twitter handle @BurnedSpy34 — claimed to have influenced the prime minister to make a reference to “ritual” abuse. In the hours before Morrison’s address to parliament Stewart sent a text to a colleague foretelling that it would happen: “I think Scott is going to do it!!”.

While sex abuse survivors waited for Morrison to deliver words of contrition, Stewart and key supporters specifically wanted Morrison to use the word “ritual” as applied to sex abuse because it introduced the idea of secret ceremonies with satan’s involvement, which aligns with QAnon’s theory of global threats.

Morrison’s use of the word “ritual” — instead of “systematic” or “repeated” which are factually accurate — was picked up by an international blogger who specialises in exposing religion-based conspiracy theories, but otherwise the reference went largely unremarked in Australia.

For the Stewarts, though, it was a triumph. 

“Great moment,” tweeted Stewart’s son, Jesse, as @jesse_onya_m8. “You know #theGreatAwakening is in full swing when the Australian Prime Minister @ScottMorrisonMP mentions #RitualAbuse.” Jesse described it as a “big step in a good direction for Australia”. “Scott is a patriot”, he remarked.

“A new conversation began today in Australia,” Tim Stewart AKA Burn Notice tweeted out to his 20,000-plus followers. “It was a stepping stone to be sure, but we took the step. @ScottMorrisonMP took control of the narrative powerfully and commenced phase 1 of our restoration.”

A prominent QAnon figure from the US was thrilled: “Do my ears deceive me?,” asked Joe M. “The new Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison must be a rider in #TheStorm.”

Richard Bryant, a professor of Psychology at UNSW and an expert in PTSD, told Inq that “ritual sex abuse is a term that sprang up in the 1990s in the context of satanic cults”.

“In the modern iteration people have sometimes used the word ‘ritual’ instead of common or habitual. But the word ritual relates to rites. We can’t say it didn’t happen in institutions but there is no evidence of ritual abuse in the sense as initially intended, though there may be some instances of habitual sexual abuse in a church setting.

“It’s a furphy that people should get excited about ritual abuse. We can’t make claims that this is a common occurrence.”

Likewise, Ian Coyle, a forensic psychologist and adjunct professor of law at La Trobe University, told Inq that “the prevalence of [ritual sexual abuse] is vanishingly remote at best. Cases where cases [of] ritual sexual abuse have been reported have been thoroughly discredited. Indeed I am not aware of any verified cases of ritual sexual abuse in Australia.” He added that “this is not to deny the plague of child sexual abuse that the royal commission identified”.

A spokesperson for the PM told Inq that “the term ‘ritual’ is one that the Prime Minister heard directly from the abuse survivors and the National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse Reference Group he met with in the lead up to the Apology, and refers not just to the ritualised way or patterns in which so many crimes were committed but also to the frequency and repetition of them”. The PM’s office made no comment on the alleged influence of Tim Stewart.

A conspiracy of satanic paedophiles

For Stewart and his supporters, Morrison’s apology speech was an important moment because, according to QAnon, there is a conspiracy of paedophiles at the highest levels of the judiciary and government who behave in a way more grotesque than the common understanding of child sex abuse. 

In his guise as Burn Notice, Stewart refers to “Luciferian” or satanic ritual abuse. He depicts elaborate ceremonies where children are prepared for sacrifice by groups of adults operating in secret.  

One document posted by Stewart purports to show key dates in the calendar of satanic ritual abuse categorised according to the type of ceremony conducted. These include human sacrifice of children, orgies involving the rape of children and drinking of animal blood.

Burn Notice reveals his mission in his Twitter bio to be “Justice. Building new networks. Promoting truth and transparency. Dark to Light” — code words which hold particular meaning for other QAnon followers, who believe there is an anonymous operative in the White House known only as “Q” who has a secret, all-encompassing plan to save the world against a conspiracy of deep state actors. Critically, Burn Notice and other followers believe “Q” will triumph over a cabal of satanic, or Luciferian paedophiles who secretly control everything from government to banking to the media.

A Stewart family affair

The coming-to-power of Scott Morrison has been hailed by Tim Stewart. Stewart marked the day — 24 August, 2018 — by launching his new Twitter identity, Burn Notice. Address: Miami. Message: “Totally burned. Dropped in a new city.” His first tweet cryptically announced “A fresh start. Rebuilding a new identity.”

Those in the know would recognise the reference: Burn Notice is a US television series about a covert intelligence operative who has been “burned”, or identified as a dangerous agent. 

Stewart’s 22-year-old son, Jesse, is also an enthusiastic promoter of the QAnon conspiracy. 

And Stewart’s wife has publicly signalled her support for “The Awakening”, a key QAnon concept in which the world turns away from “the Dark” — and likely a reference to the revivalist Christian movement of the 18th century aimed at revitalising an individual’s personal relationship to God at a time when the rise of rationality posed a threat to religion. 

A post on Stewart’s wife’s Instagram points to a website operated by her husband, where followers can read a four-part book called Feeding the Egregore, effectively a QAnon manifesto which explores “oneness with God, the power of consciousness, quantum energy, belief systems [and] the teachings of Christ”.

“The Great Awakening is revealing that dark forces have found their way into the highest levels of influence,” the site explains. “This book helps illuminate the true battle-lines and the insidious nature of this deception.” 

The world of conspiracy theorists

Inq’s investigation reveals that behind the scenes Stewart and his son worked in tandem with one of Australia’s most notorious conspiracy theorists, Fiona Barnett, as part of efforts to have the prime minister endorse the idea of ritual abuse in the national apology.  

Barnett’s lurid claims include that the late Kim Beazley Sr. (father of  former ALP leader Kim Beazley) had taken part in “a well documented, CIA-backed psychological operation” and that, as a member of parliament, Beazley Sr. was “the man who oversaw the trafficking of Fiona Barnett to VIP’s at Parliament House in Canberra — as part of a ‘dirty tricks’ operation to compromise and control politicians”. Barnett has claimed that as part of a government operation she was supplied as prostitute to US president Richard Nixon and forced to have sex with him at Fairbairn air force base.    

Barnett’s website conflates the ideas of ritual abuse and CIA mind control, a common link made by the ritual abuse community. And like Stewart, Barnett alleges there is a powerful conspiracy of “Luciferian paedophiles” at work in the world. In one video she offers eye-witness testimony of what she claims was a satanic child sacrifice ceremony held in Bathurst NSW where the late Beazely Sr., aided by late cricket legend Richie Benaud among others, beheaded children before an orgy took place involving adults.

On the day of the national apology, Stewart was quick to acknowledge Barnett’s help in getting the prime minister’s official endorsement of the term ritual abuse. “Well played,” he tweeted to a trio including Barnett and his son.

The role of paedophilia in the “deep state”

Tim Stewart’s tweets reveal a deep concern, bordering on obsession, with the idea of paedophilia and child sacrifice. He charges that the media is doing the work of the “deep state” in “conditioning us” to “ritual” child sacrifice.

This September, Stewart again had occasion to back Morrison on paedophilia when the government moved to legislate for the mandatory sentencing of convicted sex offenders, covering federal offences such as internet grooming or downloading child pornography (most paedophilia offences are covered by state laws). 

The Law Council of Australia is sceptical of the government’s case for the law — the government claims 28% of convicted paedophiles receive no prison time, though it will not reveal the data publicly. The council opposes the law because it takes away the court’s power to exercise discretion in individual cases. Studies also show that mandatory sentencing (for any crime) results in higher incarceration rates, but does nothing to reduce crime rates.

The prime minister has championed the tough new laws which introduce life imprisonment “for the most serious offences” and mandatory minimum sentences. He has recorded an impassioned video announcement, posted to his Facebook pages, and has dared Labor to oppose them. “These offenders are the lowest of the low,” Morrison said, “and we’re going to ensure they go to jail with new mandatory sentencing laws. We owe it to our kids to protect them.”

Burn Notice immediately backed in Morrison’s announcement with a well informed tweet at the ready for his QAnon community. “Australia has had notoriously short sentences for pedo’s [sic] for decades. Many have watched in shock as sentences measure months or 2-3 years,” he claimed. “It seems that light is finally being shone on this issue.”

Another QAnon supporter, known as Corruption Detector, tweeted his delight at Morrison’s “coming war on pedophiles [sic]”. “Take a look,” he says, “Making Australia Great Again.”

Stewart and the PM

Tim Stewart has denied that he uses his access to Scott Morrison to influence the prime minister on policy. In early October, speaking as Burn Notice, he told The Guardian, “I have never spoken to Scott about anything of a political nature. I’m not an adviser. The idea of me talking to him about this … it’s just not true.” 

Yet that is the opposite of what he has told at least one close confidante. In the past few weeks a former fellow traveller, Eliahi Priest, has published his text exchanges with Stewart, conducted through encrypted messaging app Signal.

Priest points to more than 50 mentions of “Scott” in text exchanges with Stewart. He has signed a statutory declaration which claims Stewart told him he had passed on “several” letters to Morrison via Stewart’s wife. Stewart is on the record telling Priest of a “massive connection with Scott tonight”. “We are moving fast,” he texted. “Scott is awakening.”

In one exchange Priest points out a reference in the Victorian schools curriculum that 13 year olds will be taught about anal intercourse. “I am in shock,” Stewart responds. “This is going straight to Scott.” 

In better days Priest and Stewart together hosted a leading US proponent of the QAnon movement, Isaac Kappy, an actor who alleged that Hollywood was run by paedophile rings. Priest is no stranger to the world of conspiracy theories and he has been the subject of counter-terrorism investigations. Yet he shakes his head at the idea that Stewart has any influence at all with Scott Morrison.

“He is embroiling the prime minister of Australia in a conspiracy theory that exists on [defunct extremist-linked site] 8chan,” he says, “the very same 8Chan that Scott Morrison banned because of [the shootings] in New Zealand. 

“This is happening outside official process.”

Inq approached Tim Stewart for comment but he declined to respond.

Inq has also established that tweets by both Tim Stewart and his son Jesse which refer to Morrison’s apology speech have now been deleted. This occurred after Inq put questions to the Stewarts and the Prime Minister’s office.

Inq took the precaution of saving copies of the relevant tweets and will publish these as needed and can share them with other journalists.

Additional reporting by Amber Schultz.