In May 2020, Shaun Attwood, a former ecstasy trafficker turned YouTuber, released a 90-minute documentary titled UK’s Hidden Shadows. Marketing his film as having been “inspired by Out of Shadows”, referring to a Pizzagate propaganda film released in April, Attwood explores numerous historic cases and allegations of child abuse amongst the British establishment, including Prince Andrew’s involvement with Jeffrey Epstein, Jimmy Savile’s influential connections, and accusations made against former Prime Minister Edward Heath and other MPs. One of the key voices in the film, however, is David Icke, who has labelled Heath a “Satanist” as well as “a shape-shifting reptilian” in print.
QAnon’s spread in the UK has taken many by surprise, but the theory draws from a number of ideological tributaries, repackaging conspiratorial notions that have existed for decades. Few have done more to lay the groundwork for the theory than Icke, the most famous professional conspiracy theorist in the UK. Whilst Icke has derided QAnon, believing President Trump to be a “fraud” and “the equivalent of a Hollywood actor”, he has also spent decades promoting the notion that a single, global ring of Satanic elites are trafficking, ritualistically abusing and cannibalising children, often in terms strikingly similar to QAnon rhetoric today.
Icke has gained a new prominence during the age of COVID-19, headlining conspiracy theory-driven demonstrations that have brought thousands into Trafalgar Square. Understanding his significance and his theories is one way to understand the spread of QAnon into the wider conspiratorial milieu, in the UK and elsewhere.
The “Web of Paedophilia and Satanism”
Icke is today most associated with outlandish claims about a “Brotherhood” of extraterrestrial reptilians who have enslaved humanity and created powerful “hybrid human-reptile” bloodlines, such as the House of Windsor and the Rothschild banking dynasty, through crossbreeding. However, in recent years Icke has largely forgone direct references to reptilian theory, which is just one element of the hugely complex narrative developed over his 30 year career. Ickism incorporates chemtrails, vaccinations, microchips, mind control, radio waves, 9/11 trutherism and a barrage of paranormal and New Age beliefs; it is, like QAnon, a “superconspiracy”, capable of rolling any event, real or imagined, into its overarching narrative.
There are few wholly original aspects of Ickism, which borrows heavily from pre-existing New World Order (NWO) narratives, many of them drawn from American far-right militia movements of the 1990s, with his most notorious inspiration being the noxious antisemitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Icke also draws from a spate of false allegations of Satanic ritual abuse made during the moral panics of the 1980s and 1990s. However, Icke’s talent for communication and self-promotion, alongside his prior celebrity as a sports broadcaster, have enabled him to spread his blend of NWO narratives, antisemitism and the paranormal to a wide audience.
Whilst his writings have developed over the years, his notion of a global, elite Satanic paedophile cult has remained a consistent theme from the 1990s to today. To take a statement from his 1999 book The Biggest Secret:
““[…] the Brotherhood hierarchy today are seriously into Satanic ritual, child sacrifice, blood drinking and other abominations that would take your breath away. Yes, I am talking about some of the biggest royal, political, business, banking and media names on the planet.”
For Icke, as with many QAnon followers, this evil cabal has been exploiting children for millennia under different guises. He uses the term “Satanism” to refer to a “highly destructive, negative force” previously known, among other names, as “Moloch”, who he describes as “an ancient deity to which children were sacrificed thousands of years ago and still are today in the vast Satanic ritual network”. Discussion of Moloch, commonplace amongst NWO theorists, has been adopted by some QAnon followers today. “Moloch Is The GOD The Elite Serve and They Do As Moloch Does”, wrote an admin of the UK Facebook group-turned-street movement Eyes Wide Open. “How quickly many unknowingly surrender their own children at the altar of Moloch”, wrote Martin Geddes, the most significant orthodox QAnon influencer in the UK, after referencing a number of COVID-19 procedures.
Strikingly, Icke also helped to popularise the notion that this cult is harvesting “adrenochrome” from its victims. For many QAnon believers, the naturally-occurring chemical compound is at the heart of the conspiracy, a potent drug/elixir of youth harvested by the cabal from the adrenal glands of children, who are tortured to intensify the drug’s effects. Adrenochrome has been a feature of Icke’s writing since the 1990s, claiming in The Biggest Secret: “Many Satanic initiates have the same addiction to the adrenalchrome [sic] which is released in the body just before a person is sacrificed. It is produced by the pineal gland during periods of terror”, he writes, later claiming that it “is, apparently, most potent in children”. He went on to reaffirm the notion during the peak of his reptilian obsession, writing in in his feverish 2001 book Children of the Matrix:
“Blood, the physical expression of the life force, is a key aspect of the rituals […] the reptilians also feed off the adrenaline that enters the bloodstream at times of extreme terror. The ritual is performed to increase this terror to its maximum at the time of death. This is the way the blood they drink is full of this desired adrenaline.”
There are numerous other antisemitic tropes common amongst Ickism and QAnon, with Jewish individuals and organisations playing a central role in the many malevolent plots both Q and Icke describe. Both George Soros and the Rothschild family, arch-fiends in the QAnon worldview, have long been demonised by Icke as supernaturally evil puppeteers. Among other references, it is possible to discern shades of Icke’s hybrid bloodline theory in early posts from Q; when referencing Soros and Rothschild, Q makes allusions to “puppet masters”, Satanism and elite paedophiles, but also asks readers to “follow the bloodlines” and “trace the bloodlines”. Again, whilst Icke has done much to popularise such sentiment, he is by no means its originator – the Rothschilds have been the target of antisemitism for over 200 years – and, like many QAnon supporters, he stringently denies that his views are antisemitic. However, the coded terms employed by both Q and Icke function as a prop to allow plausible deniability, while both continue to promote this ancient form of prejudice.
Whilst Icke has distanced himself from QAnon, he has also linked his ideas to related conspiracy theories which have since been incorporated into QAnon. Icke has demonised Hillary Clinton since 1999, reiterating his claims in 2016 as the Pizzagate conspiracy theory gathered steam. In a video titled “Pizzagate: The Context”, he urged a degree of caution about details of Pizzagate, questioning whether “all the detail about Pizzagate [is] supportable”, but reaffirmed his belief in “a massive elite paedophile network operating out of Washington DC”, and Clinton’s role in “the sexual abuse and torture of young women”. He went on to state that: “Whether every aspect, assumption or detail of Pizzagate is true or not true, it changes not one thing in relation to this: there is a global network of empathy-deleted, psychopathic paedophiles and Satanists”.
Whilst Icke remains controversial among QAnon believers due to his anti-Trumpism and his extreme supernatural beliefs, he is receiving increasing recognition from the British QAnon scene and conspiratorial circles more widely. A common sentiment, expressed by one user of a British QAnon Facebook page, is: “The reptilian side, nah! But the rest I totally get!”. Others are more effusive in their praise, for example Geddes claiming that “AFAICT [as far as I can tell] Icke is a courageous hero who has been consistently right on this issue for a very long time”. The 49,000 strong Eyes Wide Open Facebook group recommends new members watch Icke’s presentations in order to “understand” the group, with one member posting: “Remember in 1991 when David Icke told us all that the world was run by a satanic paedophilic cult. How we all laughed”, with dozens of replies affirming support.
Icke has effectively exploited the COVID-19 pandemic to gain a new prominence, denying the existence of the virus in videos viewed millions of times. At the time Icke was removed from Facebook in April following consultation with HOPE not hate, he had nearly 800,000 followers, and was perhaps the single largest promotor of such content on the platform. Our polling that month found that 51% of respondents had heard of Icke, with 12% having read a text by Icke or watched one of his videos in the last six months. Icke has also emerged as a central figure in a series of large street protests in the UK, the headline speaker in protests in August and September which each attracted upwards of 10,000 attendees, with QAnon signs plainly visible in the crowds.
Whilst Icke’s views may seem niche, we should not underestimate his ability to introduce dangerous notions to new audiences. During a friendly 3-hour interview on the True Geordie podcast in September 2019, which has received 982,000 views to date, he alleges “a very common theme of paedophilia” among elites, alongside “Literally human sacrificing and animal sacrificing Satanism. And you can chart these bloodlines, if you like, back into ancient history […] The cement that holds this web together is paedophilia and Satanism”. The London-based podcast primarily produces sports and comedy content, and has built up 1.88million subscribers, many of whom are young people. In disseminating these lies, Icke has helped to sow the seeds from which QAnon has grown.