In July 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic had already spread around the world and people panicked (understandably so). Amidst this general anxiety, President Trump thought it would be a good idea to share his ‘little secret’ by promoting the use of hydroxychloroquine to ward off the virus. He explained that the malaria medication was only rejected as a COVID-19 treatment because he had recommended its use and that he was currently taking it himself. As a result, his own public health officials warned that the drug was in fact ineffective against coronavirus and could cause heart problems.
But Trump didn’t listen to them, instead, he took Houston-based doctor Stella Immanuel’s word for it by sharing a viral video of fringe doctors—Immanuel included—touting the controversial anti-malarial drug as “a cure for COVID.” The video, which also featured the doctors dismissing mask-wearing, was eventually taken down by Facebook for “sharing false information” about the virus, after racking up millions of views in a matter of hours.
Several right-wing outlets and personalities, however, continued to promote the clip of the doctors’ press conference on Twitter, eventually reaching the president’s timeline. Trump not only shared this video a couple of times on Twitter, but he also went on to share several other posts promoting hydroxychloroquine.
Trump then shared a tweet directly from Immanuel, one of the physicians who took part in the press conference. Immanuel, a paediatrician and a religious minister, has a history of making bizarre claims about medical topics and other issues. She has often claimed that gynaecological problems like cysts and endometriosis are in fact caused by people having sex in their dreams with demons and witches.
She also alleges alien DNA is currently used in medical treatments, and that scientists are cooking up a vaccine to prevent people from being religious. And, despite appearing in Washington, D.C. to lobby Congress on Monday, she has said that the government is run in part not by humans but by “reptilians” and other aliens. Immanuel also challenged CNN anchors and top infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci to provide her with urine samples.
In her viral speech on the steps of the Supreme Court, which was organised by the right-wing group Tea Party Patriots (which is backed by wealthy Republican donors), Immanuel alleged that she had successfully treated hundreds of patients with hydroxychloroquine. Studies failed to find proof that the drug had any benefit in treating COVID-19, and in June 2020, the FDA revoked its emergency authorisation to use it to treat the deadly virus, saying it hadn’t demonstrated any effect on patients’ mortality prospects.
“Nobody needs to get sick,” Immanuel said. “This virus has a cure.” She added that the supposed potency of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment means that protective face masks aren’t necessary, claiming that she and her staff had avoided contracting COVID-19 despite wearing medical masks instead of the more secure N95 masks.
Toward the end of her speech, the event’s organiser and other participants could be seen trying to get her away from the microphone. But footage of the speech captured by Breitbart was a hit online, becoming a top video on Facebook and amassing significantly more views than Plandemic, another coronavirus disinformation video that became a viral hit online in May.
Both Facebook and Twitter eventually deleted videos of Immanuel’s speech from their platforms, citing rules against COVID-19 disinformation. But Immanuel responded in her own way, declaring that Jesus Christ would destroy Facebook’s servers if her videos weren’t restored to the platform.
Although it was never explicitly stated by Immanuel, one could only assume that she also believes in other major conspiracy theories such as Frazzledrip and QAnon. But among the other ludicrous medical claims the doctor has posted about online, two stood out.
In articles published on her website, Immanuel claims that medical issues like endometriosis, cysts, infertility, and impotence are caused by sex with “spirit husbands” and “spirit wives”—a phenomenon she describes as witches and demons having sex with people in a dreamworld.
“We call them all kinds of names—endometriosis, we call them molar pregnancies, we call them fibroids, we call them cysts, but most of them are evil deposits from the spirit husband. They are responsible for miscarriages, impotence—men that can’t get it up,” says Immanuel in her sermon.
She claims real-life ailments such as fibroid tumours and cysts stem from the demonic sperm after demon dream sex, an activity she claims affects “many women.” According to her, demons turn into women and then sleep with the man to collect his sperm. After that, the same demons turn into men and sleep with women to deposit the sperm collected previously and reproduce more of themselves.
The Daily Beast reports, “According to Immanuel, people can tell if they have taken a demonic spirit husband or spirit wife if they have a sex dream about someone they know or a celebrity, wake up aroused, stop getting along with their real-world spouse, lose money, or generally experience any hardship. Alternately, they could just be having dream-sex with a human witch instead of a demon, she posits.”
Sometimes, those spirits can be witches and not demons: “There are those that are called astral sex. That means this person is not really a demon being or a nephilim. It’s just a human being that’s a witch, and they astral project and sleep with people.”
And Immanuel’s strange claims don’t stop at sperm-stealing demons; in a sermon posted in 2015 that laid out a supposed Illuminati plan hatched by “a witch” to destroy the world using abortion, gay marriage, and children’s toys, Immanuel claimed that DNA from space aliens is currently being used in medicine.
In another video posted that same year, Immanuel claimed that scientists had plans to install microchips in people, and develop a “vaccine” to make it impossible to become religious. “They found the gene in somebody’s mind that makes you religious, so they can vaccinate against it,” Immanuel said.
Her wild claims extend to politics too, and the doctor has also claimed that “people that are ruling this nation are not even human,” describing them instead as “reptilian spirits” that are “half-human, half-ET.”
Her clear religious beliefs have also led her to promote anti-LGBT views. Shortly before the Supreme Court legalised gay marriage in the US, Immanuel warned her ‘followers’ that gay marriage meant that “very soon people are going to be seeking to marry children” and accused gay Americans of practising “homosexual terrorism.” She continued by praising a father’s decision to not love his transgender son after a gender transition.
“You know the crazy part?” Immanuel said. “The little girl demands he must love her anyway. Really? You will not get it from me, I’d be like ‘Little girl, when you come back to be a little girl again, but you talk—for now, I’m gone.’”
The cherry on top? Immanuel has praised corporal punishment for children. “Children need to be whipped,” she declared in a 2015 sermon, before adding that she didn’t think children should be “abused.”
As worrying as Immanuel’s claims sound, this should be a reminder of exactly what Trump supporters choose to believe in and proclaim online. My aim is not to attack Immanuel personally but more to highlight the important part Trump played in the spread of lies and conspiracy theories. 20 January can’t come soon enough.
Adrenochrome is an easy-to-access chemical compound usually found as a light pink solution, which is produced by the oxidation of adrenaline (the stress hormone). While doctors in other countries sometimes prescribe a version of the drug to slow blood loss by promoting clotting in open wounds, Adrenochrome is not approved for medical use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Only researchers are allowed to buy 25 milligrams of it for just £50 or 250 milligrams for £304.
Although the so-called ‘Adrenochrome harvesting’ long predates these groups, the compound has now become a favourite topic of the interconnected QAnon, Frazzledrip and Pizzagate conspiracy theories. The conspiracy theory resurrected during the COVID-19 pandemic when Google Trends saw significant spikes in searches for adrenochrome in March and June of 2020.
Remember Q, the ‘well-sourced government agent’ who first started leaking top-secret intel about a global cabal of Democratic and Hollywood paedophiles through cryptic messages known as ‘Q-drops’, which were first posted on 4chan, 8chan and 8kun? Well, by first introducing other users to his conspiracy theory, Q also started something bigger: communities of believers started growing, one QAnon follower stumbled upon the theory of ‘Adrenochrome harvesting’ and shared it with more conspiracy theorists.
The earliest recorded posts about Adrenochrome harvesting on 4chan’s /x/ and /pol/ boards were posted in 2013 and 2014 respectively. According to Wired, in the antisemitic 4chan /pol/ thread, an anonymous poster linked a restricted, unsearchable video titled Jew Ritual BLOOD LIBEL Sacrifice is #ADRENOCHROME Harvesting. It is within these exact same online communities that Pizzagate formalised and grew in 2015 before spreading to more mainstream social media and leading to Frazzledrip and QAnon.
In 2016, this same video was shared in a Pizzagate thread about the artist Marina Abromovich and her ‘spirit cooking’ ceremonies. The next several months saw more wild claims appear online about the compound, such as the idea that the Pixar film Monsters Inc. was a cryptic reference to Adrenochrome harvesting and proof of Hollywood ‘telling on itself’. As some Pizzagate adherents first joined the burgeoning QAnon community in 2017, they brought the Adrenochrome conspiracy with them.
Today, QAnon is one of the biggest conspiracy theories ever—thanks in part to the tacit encouragement of Donald Trump. According to The Daily Beast, in August 2020, a QAnon promoter named Marjorie Taylor Greene won 57 per cent of the vote in a Republican primary for Georgia’s 14th congressional district, all but ensuring her victory in November.
“There’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take this global cabal of Satan-worshiping paedophiles out, and I think we have the president to do it,” Greene once said in a video from 2017. President Trump applauded Greene’s primary victory…
For conspiracy theorists, Adrenochrome represents a mystical psychedelic favoured by the global elites for drug-crazed satanic rites, which would be derived from torturing children to harvest their hormonal fear. See where the link to Monsters Inc. came from now?
It’s this exact same idea that the Frazzledrip conspiracy theory is based on. In 2018, when Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai was questioned by the House Judiciary Committee about Frazzledrip, it was explained that it initially came from a mythical video, supposedly taken from Anthony Weiner’s laptop, that if leaked, would show Hillary Clinton and her one-time aide Huma Abedin performing a satanic sacrifice in which they drank a child’s blood while wearing masks carved from the skin of the kid’s face.
This non-existent video was supposedly depicting Adrenochrome harvest. Of course, it never materialised, but the drug has since become a common reference in conspiracies of the far right. 3In the past year, the compound has been name-checked by German soul singer Xavier Naidoo, right-wing evangelical and failed congressional candidate Dave Daubenmire, and ex-tabloid writer-turned-QAnon conspiracy theorist Liz Crokin,” says The Daily Beast.
The theory is prevalent on TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram. Reddit even had to ban a dedicated Adrenochrome subreddit on 30 July 2020. In a YouTube video posted in March 2020 by Crokin, the QAnon conspiracy theorist said, “Adrenochrome is a drug that the elites love. It comes from children. The drug is extracted from the pituitary gland of tortured children. It’s sold on the black market. It’s the drug of the elites. It is their favourite drug. It is beyond evil. It is demonic. It is so sick. So there is a theory that the white hats tainted the adrenochrome supply with the coronavirus.” The video has since then been deleted.
The rise of conspiracy theories has enabled the rapid growth of anti-vaxxers communities, COVID-19 disinformation, and the prevalence of the Adrenochrome harvesting theory. And who is to blame for those? No one in particular, although social media and search engines play an important role in this incredibly rapid spread.
Until recently, Adrenochrome was so unimportant that not many websites were competing to rank first for the term. Scientists, journalists, or academics—sources that can be trusted—didn’t write much about the compound. As a result, conspiracy theorists managed to completely take over the searches for anything related to Adrenochrome, flooding the internet with false information.
Pizzagate, Frazzledrip and QAnon encourage newcomers to Google obscure phrases designed to lead down rabbit holes. This takes them to obscure publications or reports that were not penalised by the search engine because they managed to slip through the cracks. New conspiracies spread effortlessly across platforms via hashtags and comments, but also because they usually use part of the truth.
“The most effective conspiracy theories are built around kernels of truth,” wrote Brian Friedberg in Wired. Take Pizzagate for example, which promotes the idea that references to food and a pizza restaurant located in Washington DC in the stolen emails of Clinton’s campaign manager were actually a secret code for a child trafficking ring. It wasn’t, but Clinton did go regularly to the pizza restaurant in question.
The same can be said for Adrenochrome; the compound clearly exists, and it even was frequently used by the writers Aldous Huxley and Hunter S. Thompson, who were both big fans of mind-altering substances. Huxley described it as a clue that was “being systematically followed.”
Scientific interest in the drug dates back to the 1950s, when Canadian researchers Humphry Osmond and Abram Hoffer developed what they called the “Adrenochrome Hypothesis.” After a series of small studies between 1952 and 1954, the two concluded that excess Adrenochrome could trigger symptoms of schizophrenia.
In 1971, Thompson published his book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. In it, the writer casts adrenochrome as a psychedelic that must be violently extracted from human glands. This scene appears in Terry Gilliam’s 1998 film adaptation of the book. On YouTube, a clip of Johnny Depp’s character taking adrenochrome has more than 2 million views, as well as thousands of comments referencing the conspiracy.
“They put the truth right in front of our faces to mock us,” reads one of the top comments, while another user commented, “I would bet that the ‘pure adrenochrome industry’ and the disappearance of about 400,000 children a year, are connected.”
The compound’s supposedly psychedelic properties have been debunked in part by Thompson himself who reportedly told Gilliam that he had invented its effects. Regardless of that, Thompson was mentioned in the earliest recorded posts about adrenochrome harvesting on 4chan mentioned previously. From there, the conspiracy theory surrounding the drug just took off.
Although Adrenochrome had been surrounded by a slew of misinformation for many decades already, 2020 was the year it skyrocketed. As the COVID-19 pandemic began, it created an unprecedented level of mistrust and anxiety about inequality. This opened society to all kinds of conspiratorial thinking, especially to medical misinformation.
In March 2020, interest in the drug first spiked after people got upset that celebrities and athletes seemed to have access to testing while most people did not. Shortly after that, attitudes to proposed treatments against the virus became politically polarised, and at the same time, the US saw a rise in mainstream conservative acknowledgement of QAnon as well as some Republican candidates signalling their attachment to the movement.
The damage was done. QAnon conspiracy theorists (and many other people online) believe that a huge amount of celebrities have come down with COVID-19 due to a tainted batch of adrenochrome, and there’s no way to convince them otherwise.