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Experts worry QAnon conspiracies are overshadowing fight against child trafficking

By Kristina Davis and Joshua Emerson Smith, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in News & Features

SAN DIEGO - Rallying in the center of Santee's busy shopping district on a recent Saturday, men, women and children waved signs condemning the sexual exploitation of children.

"Standing 4 children" read one, and "End human trafficking" another. They received honks of support as drivers passed by.

There were other signs, though, that raised fears among some child-victim advocates that their long-standing efforts to fight trafficking are being hijacked and radically politicized by backers of conspiracy theories.

The Santee rally included hand-lettered support for "WWG1 WGA," an abbreviated version of the slogan "Where we go one, we go all," adopted by those who ascribe to the belief system known as QAnon.

One man carried the message: "FBI FBI FBI. INVESTIGATE PIZZA-GATE," a nod to the debunked conspiracy theory that powerful Democrats were running a child sex trafficking ring out of a Washington pizza parlor.

And another: "#PIZZAGATE IS REAL. SAVE OUR CHILDREN."

 

Similar protests have played out on street corners across the country and other parts of the globe in recent weeks, including another one in downtown San Diego organized by a different group.

The rallies were in response to calls to action that have spread virally through social media hashtags such as #SaveTheChildren, #SaveOurChildren and #Wheresthechildren.

While the front-facing message of the hashtag campaign confronts the all-too-real horrors of children being sold for sex and pedophilia, many of the ideas it promotes are rooted in conspiracy theories at the center of QAnon.

Advocates for child victims have been working for years to expand public awareness surrounding sexual exploitation and trafficking, but the narrative that is being constructed around the latest viral movement has many of them worried.

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