Conspiracies grown in the online white garden


Curator's Note

During the past few years renewed attention has been paid to the rising popularity of conspiracy theories, especially those connected to the ubiquitous QAnon movement. Part of this interest concerns avenues of access, or gateway spaces, that might act as indoctrinating sites for such theories. One area that has puzzled and confounded many is the developing links between the holistic health communities with these conspiracy narratives. I argue that one thread that runs through online conspiracy theory culture is an emerging (or continuing) space where the white mother and the white child are material icons of a fanspace built around whiteness, while simultaneously bearing characteristics of an anti-fandom around government.   

While the image of the Capital Insurrection Shaman might provide a great metonymy of this seeming contradiction between naturalist rhetoric and far-right anti-government rhetoric, the white mother/mother earth aesthetic has helped to shape a part of a conspiracy-laden narrative that finds its home in libertarianism. Through the white mother persona, we can see connections to the growing parental rights movement that has led to a wave of libertarian-tinged legislation across the country focused on intruding into education, health, and other areas of the common good. Part of this intrusion stems from a story that puts government assistance into direct conflict with individual rights, yes, but what is even more disturbing is the ways in which this story is told: the endangered child, more specifically, the endangered white child, which I argue is an extension of Rottenberg’s notion of neoliberal feminism where these social media influencers, in particular, are using the mother persona as capitalist empowerment while at the same time deferring to a patriarchal mode of familial bonding. It is through this persona building that the white child emerges as the capital project.

Among the soft-lighted pictures of meadows and almost romantically lit photos of families and children found on the feeds of many of these influencers to help sell products, there are the occasional punctuation posts warning of missing children, calling for the protection of the family under fire, and pointing to the ever-present threat of the state taking away the family. It is clear from the aesthetics of these feeds that the endangered family is the white family.

Selected References

Banet-Weiser, Sarah. “Influencer Management Tools: Algorithmic Cultures, Brand Safety, and Bias.” Social Media + Society. January-March 2021, 1-13.

Dickson, EJ. “The Birth of QAnon.” Rolling Stone. September 2, 2020.

Jaffe, Sarah. “Why did the majority of white women vote for Trump?” New Labor Forum. 27:1, 18-26, 2018.

Rottenberg, Catherine. The Rise of Neoliberal Feminism. Oxford University Press, 2018.

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