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Tawny Kitaen's brother reacts to her cause, manner of death: 'There's a peaceful closure'

Tawny Kitaen's brother says he's comforted by some of the revelations surrounding the cause and manner of her death.
Read full article on: foxnews.com
Chelsea star Sam Kerr barges pitch invader to the ground, gets yellow card in Women's Champions League game
Sam Kerr knocked a pitch invader to the ground on Wednesday evening during Chelsea's 0-0 draw with Juventus in the Women's Champions League and was shown a yellow card for it afterwards.
6 m
edition.cnn.com
Fox Square All-American Christmas Tree arson suspect free on no bail
The 49-year-old suspect who was arrested Wednesday in connection with the alleged torching of a Christmas tree outside the New York City headquarters of Fox News and other News Corp. units has been freed on no bail, according to a report.
9 m
foxnews.com
'Let's Go Brandon' Boat Wins Christmas Lights Contest But Gets Disqualified
Organizers said the boat, which had an anti-Joe Biden theme, was stripped of first place as the competition can't be political.
9 m
newsweek.com
First on CNN: New FEMA plan puts climate crisis front and center after Trump administration erased it
The Trump administration erased all mention of the climate crisis from FEMA's previous plan.
edition.cnn.com
She became friends with her Uber passenger. They became like family, and she took a large pay cut to be his caretaker.
Their relationship feels like “father and daughter,” said Jenni Tekletsion.
washingtonpost.com
Editorial: How to get our sad and anxious kids from traumatized to OK
Good for the U.S. Surgeon General, who pointed out that kids are in crisis emotionally and need immediate and comprehensive attention
latimes.com
'Build Back Better' is Democrats' down payment on socialism
My Republican colleagues and I believe the Democrats' Build Back Better bill is a reckless tax-and-spending spree, and it is.
foxnews.com
We aren't moving fast enough. We must reassess the race to vaccinate the world for COVID.
It's not just how many people you vaccinate against COVID-19 that counts, but how quickly you get there.       
usatoday.com
‘And Just Like That ...’ is ‘Sex and the City’ for 2021: A bloated, laugh-free comedy about grief
"Sex and the City" was HBO's zippy, intimate, charmingly featherlight landmark series. "And Just Like That..." is its ungainly, overly apologetic sister.
washingtonpost.com
Christmas car decorations: What you need to know to be stylish and safe
With the holiday season in full swing, car owners might feel tempted to decorate their vehicles as a form of festive cheer. But, before you dig into your holiday box or stop by your favorite craft store, you’ll want to make sure your decoration plans are safe.
foxnews.com
The fall of the Cuomo brothers: How the one-time media darlings spiraled downward in 2021
Former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his younger brother, former CNN star Chris Cuomo, were beloved media figures who could do no wrong in the eyes of liberals when 2021 began, but a scandal-plagued year has seen the siblings fall swiftly from grace.
foxnews.com
Russia Angered by Senator Roger Wicker's Nuclear Strike Remarks on Ukraine
The Russian embassy in Washington issued a rebuke over the GOP lawmaker's "irresponsible" comments on Fox News.
newsweek.com
Letters to the Editor: How much longer can Democrats scorn progressives and still get their votes?
Liberals are in a worse mood than conservatives these days because the party they support doesn't fulfill its promises to them.
latimes.com
How cute animal videos are used to spread misinformation -- and more news literacy lessons
From the News Literacy Project.
washingtonpost.com
Letters to the Editor: Mater Dei should know: Toxic masculinity and hazing can destroy men for life
A therapist warns that the kind of masculinity underlying the locker-room hazing detailed in a lawsuit can have lifelong harm.
latimes.com
FBI may shut down police use-of-force database due to lack of police participation
The FBI has long said it wants definitive statistics on how often police kill citizens, but as of September only 41 percent of agencies have submitted data this year
washingtonpost.com
Tips for Buying a Used Car
Top dealerships offer reassurances, but better prices might be found elsewhere. Check the Carfax, and offer to meet in a police station parking lot.
nytimes.com
Who Should Worry? | Opinion
On Iran, it has been Biden policy to have Tehran return to the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal.
newsweek.com
'Don't Look Up': How to Watch Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence's New Movie Online
Adam McKay's latest movie "Don't Look Up" is heading to theaters and onto streaming services. Here's how you can see the star-studded cast in action.
newsweek.com
Your Money Worries Might Be Hiding Something Deeper
“How to Build a Life” is a weekly column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness. Click here to listen to his new podcast series on all things happiness, How to Build a Happy Life.Money is one of the things Americans worry about most in the world. Even in 2018, when the economy was expanding, a survey by the life-insurance company Northwestern Mutual found that more than half of Americans felt anxious or insecure about money sometimes, often, or all the time. And during the pandemic, another survey found that workers were almost five times more likely to worry about money than their health.That’s not to say that so many of us need to worry about money: A far smaller portion of Americans—11.4 percent, according to 2020 data from the U.S. Census Bureau—live in poverty. And yet, according to a 2015 survey fielded by the financial-management firm UBS, more than half of Millennials with a net worth greater than $1 million feared losing their wealth “a great deal” or “somewhat,” as did more than a third of similarly wealthy Baby Boomers.For millions of people, then, worrying about money is not a reflection of whether their basic needs are being met. In fact, this anxiety reflects deeper concerns that money can’t solve.Worry has a nearly infinite ability to make our lives worse. In his 1948 book, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie wrote, “Those who do not know how to fight worry die young.” The data support his claim: Researchers have found that psychological distress from sources including worry is associated with early mortality. Daily worrying can also lead to clinical anxiety, depression, and physical ailments such as lower-back pain, breathing difficulties, and stomach pains.By contrast, money has only a limited power to make our lives better. Consider the hierarchy of needs proposed in 1943 by the psychologist Abraham Maslow. Maslow believed that people tend to focus on meeting their needs in a particular order of urgency. We start with survival needs such as food, shelter, and safety. Once these have been met, we turn our attention to social and emotional needs, such as love and belonging. Finally, we focus on higher-order needs such as self-actualization and transcendence—in other words, looking for life’s meaning.[Read: The meaning of life is surprisingly simple]Of these three levels, money is only truly helpful for the first. This is why economists often find that well-being doesn’t improve much once a person reaches the relatively modest financial means that meet those needs. The “middle needs” of love and belonging—family, friends, romance—can’t be met with money, and pursuing money with too much gusto can even cause people to neglect their relationships. Focusing too much on money is also actively opposed to Maslow’s highest-level needs, because doing so can lead people into a trap that researchers call “financial contingency of self-worth,” which happens when a person’s self-esteem is conditional on her financial success.Not surprisingly, basing your self-image on your bank account can lead to unhappiness. In a 2020 study, my colleague Ashley Whillans and four co-authors asked a sample of 345 adults to react to statements such as “My self-esteem is influenced by how much money I make,” and “I feel bad about myself when I feel like I don’t make enough money.” Those who agreed were more likely to be lonely and socially disconnected. They also, not surprisingly, spent more time working alone than average.[Read: Why so many Americans don’t talk about money]Perhaps financially contingent self-worth is one reason stress is high both when money is tight and after people reach a higher income threshold. A 2018 survey conducted by LinkedIn found that stress at work falls when people earn more than $50,000, but then starts to rise significantly when people earn above $200,000. One 2016 study in China showed that unhappiness follows a gradual U-shaped curve, declining with moderate income and then increasing again as income rises to higher levels.At low income levels, worrying about money can be perfectly rational. As I have written in the past in this column, insufficient income to meet one’s material needs is a major source of unhappiness. Sometimes, spending less time on family, friends, and faith is necessary in order to support yourself. In such situations, money still can’t buy happiness—but it can remove sources of unhappiness.[Read: How to buy happiness]But what if, after assessing your life circumstances honestly, you find that you have passed through the zone of low-income worry and are still worried about money? Perhaps you have some extenuating circumstances, such as a lot of other people who depend on you for support, or a high level of debt. But if these cases don’t apply, your focus on money might be disguising other anxieties.Perhaps your parents always put a lot of pressure on you to succeed financially, or you tend to be insecure about your self-worth and rely a lot on social comparison. One way or another, you might be measuring yourself in money, and implicitly hoping that at some point you will be “expensive” enough to earn others’ love and respect. Your instincts might be telling you to earn more, more, more in order to find peace and satisfaction. Your instincts are lying, and you could get much happier by reassessing your priorities.[Read: The link between self-reliance and well-being]One practice that can help in this project is to give more of your money away, instead of accumulating it or spending it on conspicuous goods. This time of year, you can find no end of good causes competing for your generosity. The voluntary act of giving is a way of demonstrating to yourself that you are not your money, that money is merely a means by which you can create value in your life and others’. Giving is an act of rebellion against your grasping, attached self.You could also try working less while redirecting your time toward non-remunerative activities that give you benefits that are further up on Maslow’s hierarchy. Many hardworking people work constantly, including on their nights and days off. If that describes you on Saturday or Sunday, for example, start dedicating one of those days to self-actualization instead by reading works of wisdom, walking in nature, or engaging in meditation or prayer. Find a good cause and volunteer your time. Attend worship services. At first you might feel like you don’t have time for this. Soon you will find that you can’t afford not to do these things.Backing off on your financial ambitions may feel like closing the door on prosperity, which might be a lifelong dream. But actually, it doesn’t mean that at all. “He who knows he has enough is rich,” Lao Tzu said in the Tao Te Ching. In other words, you’ll be happiest if you’re rich in what really matters. Maybe that means you wind up with a lot of money, and maybe it doesn’t. The key is to remember that money can never be what makes you truly prosperous.
theatlantic.com
Éric Zemmour's Reconquest
In October, Éric Zemmour, the best-selling French author and media personality who has won a devoted following by applying a throwback intellectual sheen to a familiar populist xenophobia, overtook France’s far-right standard-bearer, Marine Le Pen, in the polls for this April’s presidential election. He officially declared his candidacy at the end of November and held his first campaign rally in Paris last Sunday. The event, originally scheduled for the 9,000-seat Zénith arena, quickly needed to be relocated to the much larger Parc des Expositions, a massive conference center in the Parisian suburb of Villepinte, a short cab ride from Charles de Gaulle Airport and half an hour by train from Gare du Nord.As I made the trek with two American friends, I reflected on a time several years prior, when I had recognized Zemmour in the street: a small and slender man with dark, thinning hair and tanned skin, dressed in a quality navy suit, a cellphone pressed against his ear. Paris is a small and dense capital that comprises for France all the various functions—politics, finance, fashion, art, media, entertainment—that in the United States are divided among New York, Washington, and Los Angeles. Sooner or later, you see everyone. The memory underscored just how improbable the speed and magnitude of Zemmour’s transformational ascent has been, from a provocative but mainstream journalist the sighting of whom did not elicit tremendous emotion to the figure I was about to witness electrify a seething and violent mob.[Read: Can France’s far-right reinvent itself?]We’d approached the hall from the wrong direction and found ourselves wandering the immense property in the rain, past a bend in the parking lot where a dozen black rams stood incongruously on a grassy hillside. I fell into conversation with the sole other attendee in sight, an older man who identified himself as Gabin Abina, a native of Cameroon, a Gaullist, and a member of a group called The Friends of Éric Zemmour. Abina appreciated the politician’s ability to tell the truth, he was happy to explain. As an outsider, Zemmour was not a product of “la bouillabaisse politique” (a more appetizing-sounding version of “the swamp” in Washington, D.C.). “He is saying things that we’ve been saying since the ’90s,” Abina continued—quite simply that immigrants must assimilate, must “adapt themselves” to France. “French culture has been mine since I was in Africa.” In Abina’s view, the media, in deeming Zemmour (who is Jewish) an anti-Semite and a xenophobe, have tried to paint him as something he is not. “Racism is everywhere in France, but it’s also in Africa,” he answered when I asked him what it was like to be a Black supporter of Zemmour. “You have racists there. I was born there. There’s racism everywhere. There is also racism on the left.”It turned out Abina would be the first and the last supporter of African descent I noticed that day. On the way inside the venue, I bought a student newspaper from a group of volunteers. The headline read: “Immigration With Regard to the National Interest.” The cover image was an improbable illustration of a boatload of confused-looking people representing all manner of nonwhite ethnicities, huddled together, a blazing sun setting ominously behind them. Doors had opened at 1 p.m. The event was set to begin at 2:30. It was approaching 3 now. Thousands of attendees gripping or draped in tricolor flags milled about. The crowd skewed surprisingly young and middle-class, evincing none of the scruffiness of the gilets jaunes uprisings, the previous populist movement that shook the French establishment for a solid year prior to COVID-19. Norah Jones sang lazily through the loudspeakers. It would have been easy to forget we were at a right-wing political gathering were it not for the bands of wound-up young men who periodically combed through the crowd, surrounding and questioning, it seemed, anyone who looked like an Arab.At nearly 5 o’clock, stylish promotional videos—footage of pre-campaign rallies Zemmour had held recently in the provinces—began to play. In Bordeaux, a group of high-school students displayed a banner reading ZEMMOUR MEILLEUR CRU 2022 (“best vintage”); in Corsica, speaking before a glistening Mediterranean backdrop, Zemmour declared that France is “already plenty diverse.” Listing Savoy, Brittany, Normandy, and other regional cultures, he assured his audience, “We have all the diversity we need!” Soon, a hodgepodge of speakers came to the stage. The first, a brown-skinned “son of immigrants,” generated an ovation with the line “Assimilation is anti-racism.” Another accused President Emmanuel Macron of being a “progressivist, multiculturalist, transhumanist who liquifies our society.” A 22-year-old noted the need to “return to France her pride.” All referred to the country as some variation of “the most beautiful nation on earth.” One politician, Paul-Marie Couteaux, noted that in his 27 years of friendship with Zemmour, the two have only ever “spoken about books about the history of France.” He concluded that Zemmour, who is “not a political man but a man of the state,” must be made “king of France,” which met with surprising approval.[Read: France knows how this ends]The French tend not to like kings, or even presidents who get too “Jupiterian.” They certainly don’t hold politicians in reverence. Last summer, at a meet-and-greet in Tain-l’Hermitage, a man who claimed to be incensed over France’s “decline” impulsively slapped Macron across the face. In a similar situation, another man in a handshake line once violently yanked then-President Nicolas Sarkozy by his jacket, nearly dragging him to the ground. That evening, as Zemmour at last made his way to the stage via a path cut directly through the center of the audience, a young Arab man lunged forward and seized him in a powerful headlock before security could release him. Zemmour composed himself quickly, continuing to the stage and even winking at Sarah Knafo, his 27-year-old campaign director—but something in the atmosphere shifted.“No false modesty,” he began. “The stakes are immense.” Almost immediately, an enormous commotion broke out. It was impossible to see everything that was happening. Dozens of supporters streamed to the back of the hangar-like space in pursuit of something. Like the audience members all around us, we stood on chairs to get a better look. Zemmour pressed on, without reacting, but no one in my vicinity was listening. One of my friends reported that he’d seen people thrown under what looked like black tarps and then beaten. A cordon of the young enforcers prevented onlookers from approaching. As people began streaming out of the exits, we were overtaken by a wave of young men, some of whom had removed their leather belts and fashioned them into weapons. They were repelled by an even larger number of police officers in riot gear at the building’s entrance. It was then that we noticed the objects of pursuit: a young man and two young women, all three bleeding profusely from head injuries, and now flanked by police officers and relentless TV journalists. These were nonviolent protesters from the group SOS Racisme.We were steered by the police into the train station and onto the RER platform, where we boarded alongside Zemmour supporters who had moments ago been whipped into a frenzy over the prospect of halting immigration. Stop by stop, as we commuted back to the Gare du Nord, the composition of the car was physically reconfigured as it filled with precisely the kinds of faces that Zemmour had warned symbolized a new reverse colonization. Here was a microcosm of “replacement” happening in real time as white faces were dispersed, surrounded, then rendered almost invisible by the time we reached Paris. I wondered what those supporters were now thinking. What would they like to do to these people should they have their way in April? Back at home, catching the rest of the speech that we had missed, we heard the beginning of a not-so-subtle answer. Zemmour had named his new political party Reconquest, evoking the medieval expulsion of Muslims from the Iberian Peninsula.
theatlantic.com
Why I Speak Out
When I first arrived in the United States, I had to adjust to a new language, new norms, and new traditions. But I was perhaps most stunned by a simple comment a teammate made. He criticized President Barack Obama, which I feared could have landed him in prison. He simply smiled and said: “This isn’t Turkey, brother. You have the freedom to say whatever you want.”Americans might find the thought absurd, but the threat of prison is all too real for those living under authoritarian rule around the world. Since Recep Tayyip Erdoğan became president of Turkey in 2014, after more than a decade as prime minister, at least 12,881 people have been convicted of the crime of insulting the president. Thousands have been sent to prison, including children, for offenses as trivial as posting something on social media that might hurt the feelings of an emotionally fragile dictator.Over the past five years, Erdoğan has all but stamped out free expression in Turkey. He’s made Turkey one of the world’s worst jailers of journalists, imprisoning hundreds. Erdoğan’s regime has shut down more than 160 media outlets and hundreds of human-rights groups. Turkey’s dystopian new internet law gives the regime complete control over users’ data and enables online censorship. A current proposal would criminalize the spreading of so-called fake news online with up to five years in prison. Erdoğan has targeted every defender of freedom in my country. His regime has persecuted, jailed, and even tortured tens of thousands of educators, lawyers, judges, public officials, and activists after labeling them “terrorists.” And it has targeted me.[From the December 2021 issue: The bad guys are winning]Erdoğan went after my family because I dared to speak up. He forced my parents to publicly disown me. The words in a handwritten note from my dad in 2016 cut me to my core: “With a feeling of shame, I apologize to our president and the Turkish people for having such a son.” My siblings were blocked from employment. My dad was fired, later jailed, and then ultimately released in 2020. But he emerged from his cell a completely different person, unable to speak about his experiences. I have not seen or spoken with my parents since 2015. Any contact with me could have them arrested.I could have fallen victim to Turkey’s ruthless campaign of transnational repression as well. Erdoğan’s regime is infamous for hunting down dissidents across the globe. In 2017, on a basketball trip to Indonesia, I received a tip to leave the country immediately, to avoid a suspected kidnapping attempt by Turkish agents. On the next leg of our trip, in Europe, I was informed by border control that Turkey had revoked my citizenship. I would later learn that the regime had also issued an international arrest warrant against me.I was stranded. I had no family. I had no nationality. I had no home.That’s when America welcomed me with open arms.This country has given me all the opportunities in the world. Friends, teammates, journalists, politicians, and activists became my new family, united in our struggle for justice, equality, human rights, and democracy. When I started the process of becoming an American citizen, I realized that life is bigger than basketball. I decided to dedicate the power and privilege of my platform to the causes that matter—to be a voice for the voiceless.I listened to victims and stood in solidarity with the oppressed. I marched for Black lives. I prayed with Tibetan Buddhists. I stood by democracy activists from Hong Kong and Taiwan. I heard from Uyghurs who had lost relatives or survived the torture of China’s concentration camps. I fought against all forms of hate. I took to the streets. I took to the podium. I raised awareness. I used my platform. I used my voice.[Jemele Hill: Enes Kanter Freedom is letting himself be used]Human rights and democracy are under threat. Around the globe, authoritarian strongmen are getting stronger. Yet far too many celebrities, athletes, and corporations still choose their money over their morals. Speaking up for victims of authoritarian violence has somehow become controversial, just because it might alienate the perpetrators. It shouldn’t take the disappearance of a former No. 1 world-tennis star for some of us to make a statement. Freedom is not about staying silent in the face of a tyrannical dictatorship that commits genocide against the Uyghurs because you prefer to preserve your business deals.For six long years, I was without a home. I know what it’s like for a people to have their freedom stripped away. And I know what it’s like to have my own freedom stripped away. But this week, I’m reclaiming my Freedom. I just became an American citizen, and I’m making America and its freedoms a part of my very identity.I’m overwhelmed with emotion just writing these words: I, Enes Kanter Freedom, am proud to be a citizen of the United States of America, the land of the free, and home of the brave.
theatlantic.com
How Americans Became Obsessed With Missing Children—Again
Illustrations by Vanessa SabaA poster in the window of Cahoots Corner Cafe—great potatoes, good coffee—advertised a family event at the Oakdale, California, rodeo grounds. There would be food trucks, carnival games, live music, a raffle, and the opportunity to support the cause of “freeing child sex slaves.”The event, called the Festival of Hope, was a fundraiser for the anti-child-sex-trafficking group Operation Underground Railroad, which was founded in Utah in 2013 and has achieved immense popularity on social media in the past year and a half, attracting an outsize share of attention during a new wave of concern about imperiled children. It is beloved by parenting groups on Facebook, lifestyle influencers on Instagram, and fitness guys on YouTube, who are impressed by its muscular approach to rescuing the innocent. (The nonprofit group is known for taking part in overseas sting operations in which it ensnares alleged child sex traffickers; it also operates a CrossFit gym in Utah.) Supporters commit to “shine OUR light”—the middle word a reference to the group’s acronym—and to “break the chain,” which refers to human bondage and to cycles of exploitation.Oakdale, a small city near Modesto, is set among ever-dwindling cattle ranches and ever-expanding almond farms. By 9:30 a.m. on a Saturday in late summer, more than 100 booths lined the perimeter of the rodeo arena. Vendors sold crepes and jerky and quilts and princess makeovers and Cutco knives. (They paid a fee to participate, a portion of which went to OUR, as did the proceeds from raffle tickets.) Miniature horses with purple dye on their tails were said to be unicorns. A man with a guitar played “Free Fallin’ ” and then a twangier song referring to alcohol as “heartache medication,” which was notable only because it was so incongruously depressing; everyone else was enjoying a beautiful day in the Central Valley. The air was filled with the perfect scent of hot dogs, and with much less wildfire smoke than there had been the day before.At the OUR information booth and merchandise tent, stickers and rubber Break the Chain bracelets were free, but snapback hats reading Find Gardy—a reference to a Haitian boy who was kidnapped in 2009—cost $30. Shellie Enos-Forkapa had planned the day’s event with help from three other Operation Underground Railroad volunteers, two of whom she had originally met through the local parent-teacher association. She was wearing an official Festival of Hope Benefiting Operation Underground Railroad T-shirt and earrings shaped like red X’s, a symbol often paired with the anti-trafficking hashtag #EndItMovement. “Oakdale has been so welcoming,” Enos-Forkapa told me. “They’re behind the cause.”The women were busy dealing with festival logistics, but during a brief lull another volunteer, Ericka Gonzalez, drew me over to a corner of the tent to show me a video on her phone, which she thought might be called “Death to Pedos” but wasn’t. It was called “Open Your Eyes,” and Gonzalez pulled it up in the Telegram messaging app. “From the time we were little kids we revered the rich and famous,” the voice-over began, as images of celebrities and of battered children flashed on the screen. As I started to take notes, she pulled the phone away and wondered aloud if she had done something she shouldn’t have.I watched the rest of the video a few minutes later, on my own phone. “We are digital soldiers, fighting the greatest war the world has never seen,” the voice-over explained. The bad guys: Barack Obama, Ellen DeGeneres, Lady Gaga, Chuck Schumer, Tom Hanks, Oprah Winfrey, Hillary Clinton. The good guys, a much smaller team: Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump, Barron Trump, Jesus, and an unidentified soldier holding a baby swaddled in an American flag. And, by implication, me, the viewer. “Our weapon is truth,” the voice-over continued as music swelled in the background. “We’ll never give up, even if we have to shake everyone awake one by one.”The provenance of the video was unclear—it was not affiliated with Operation Underground Railroad and bore no resemblance to the official materials its volunteers had been handing out—but the term digital soldier rang a bell. It was a reference to a QAnon conspiracy theory that emerged in 2017 on an out-of-the-way message board and describes Donald Trump as a lone hero waging war against a “deep state” and a cabal of elites who are pedophiles and child murderers; these conspirators will soon be exposed—and perhaps brutally executed—during a promised “storm.” Notably, the video isn’t asking for money, and isn’t presenting an argument. It’s more like a daily devotional for people who already believe in its premise, or something like it.Anxiety about the nation’s children, which is at a steady simmer in the best of times, boiled over in the summer of 2020, when the digital soldiers of QAnon occupied the otherwise innocuous hashtag #SaveTheChildren. Around the same time, major social-media platforms had started blocking overt QAnon accounts and hashtags. From their new beachhead, the digital soldiers were able to disseminate a cascade of false information about child trafficking on Instagram and Facebook: Children were being trafficked on the hospital ship USNS Comfort, then docked in New York City, and through tunnels underneath Central Park.As outrageous as these allegations were, their timing may have made them sound less fantastical to some. They coincided with the release of popular documentaries about the real sex-trafficking crimes allegedly committed by Jeffrey Epstein, the disgraced financier who was arrested in July 2019 and committed suicide that August, and who was known for his wide circle of rich and famous acquaintances. (His death had set off a new slew of conspiracy theories.) In this context, the suddenly ubiquitous #SaveTheChildren posts created the illusion of an organic movement rising up to confront a massive social problem. Americans who knew little about QAnon became heavily involved, and when QAnon moved on to other concerns—a stolen election, a poisonous vaccine—these volunteers stayed devoted to the cause of opposing child sex trafficking.Today, buying a raffle ticket to support this effort feels as natural to many people as picking up a Livestrong bracelet at a car-wash cash register did 15 years ago. Small businesses sponsor fundraisers. Happy couples add Operation Underground Railroad donation links to their online wedding registries. All over the country, community volunteers promote awareness of child sex trafficking: In Colorado, at a Kentucky Derby party. In Arkansas, at an Easter bake sale. In Texas, at a “Big A$$ Crawfish Bash.” In Idaho, at a Thanksgiving-morning “turkey run.” In Utah, at an annual winter-holiday fair.In some ways, this is just the most recent expression of a fear that has been part of the American landscape since the early 20th century—roughly the moment, as the sociologist Viviana Zelizer has argued, when children came to be viewed as “economically useless but emotionally priceless.” As in previous moral panics, messages about the threat of child sex trafficking are spread by means of friendly chitchat, flyers in the windows of diners, and coverage on local TV news.But the present panic is different in one important respect: It is sustained by the social web. On Facebook and Instagram, friends and neighbors share unsettling statistics and dire images in formats designed for online communities that reward displays of concern. Because today’s messaging about child sex trafficking is so decentralized and fluid, it is impervious to gatekeepers who would knock down its most outlandish claims. The phenomenon suggests the possibility of a new law of social-media physics: A panic in motion can stay in motion.“PEDOPHILES CAN BE ANYONE,” Laura Pamatian, at the time a Palm Beach–based volunteer team leader for Operation Underground Railroad, wrote on Facebook in June. “They look just like you and me. They work with us … they sit next to us at our favorite restaurant … they are shopping with us at the grocery store.” To raise awareness, and funds, for Operation Underground Railroad, Pamatian helped organize a statewide motorcycling event. “It’s about saving children who are being raped and abused by pedophiles 10, 20, 30 times a day!” she wrote. “And I don’t say that to sensationalize the topic, I say it because it’s TRUE and it’s happening and NO ONE is talking about it!” Her volunteer chapter claimed that “upwards of 300,000” children are victims of sex trafficking in the United States every year.All over the country, well-meaning Americans are convinced that human trafficking—and specifically child sex trafficking—is happening right in their backyard, or at any rate no farther away than the nearest mall parking lot. A 2020 survey by the political scientists Joseph Uscinski and Adam Enders found that 35 percent of Americans think the number of children who are victims of trafficking each year is about 300,000 or higher; 24 percent think it is “much higher.” Online, people read that trafficking is a problem nobody else is willing to discuss: The city they live in is a “hot spot,” their state one of the worst in the country. Despite what the mainstream media are saying, this is “the real pandemic.”Of course, child sex trafficking does happen, and it is horrible. The crime is a serious concern of human-rights organizations and of governments all over the world. Statistically, however, it is hard to get a handle on: The data are often misleading, when they exist at all. Whatever the incidence, sex trafficking does not involve Tom Hanks or hundreds of thousands of American children.[Read: When sex trafficking goes unnoticed in America]When today’s activists talk about the problem of trafficking, knowing exactly what they’re referring to can be difficult. They cite statistics that actually offer global estimates of all forms of labor trafficking. Or they mention outdated and hard-to-parse figures about the number of children who go “missing” in the United States every year—most of whom are never in any immediate danger—and then start talking about children who are abducted by strangers and sold into sex slavery.While stereotypical kidnappings—what you picture when you hear the word—do occur, the annual number hovers around 100. Sex trafficking also occurs in the United States. The U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline has been operated by the anti-trafficking nonprofit Polaris Project and overseen and partially funded by the Department of Health and Human Services since 2007. In 2019, it recorded direct contacts with 14,597 likely victims of sex trafficking of all ages. (The average age at which these likely victims were first trafficked—“age of entry,” as the statistic is called—was 17.) The organization itself doesn’t regard its figure for direct contacts as one that should be used with too much confidence—it is probably low, but no more solid data exist.[Read: Exchanging sex for survival]There is a widely circulated number, and it’s even bigger than the one Laura Pamatian and her volunteer chapter publicized: 800,000 children go missing in the U.S. every year. The figure shows up on T-shirts and handmade posters, and in the captions of Instagram posts. But the number doesn’t mean what the people sharing it think it means. It comes from a study conducted in 1999 by the Justice Department, and it’s an estimate of the number of children who were reported missing over the period of a year for any reason and for any length of time. The majority were runaways, children caught up in custody disputes, or children who were temporarily not where their guardians expected them to be. The estimate for “nonfamily abductions” reported to authorities was 12,100, which includes stereotypical kidnappings, but came with the caveat that it was extrapolated from “an extremely small sample of cases” and, as a result, “its precision and confidence interval are unreliable.” Later in the report, the authors noted that “only a fraction of 1 percent of the children who were reported missing had not been recovered” by the time they were counted for the study. The authors also clarified that a survey sent to law-enforcement agencies found that “an estimated 115 of the nonfamily abducted children were victims of stereotypical kidnapping.” The Justice Department repeated the study in 2013 and found that reports of missing children had “significantly decreased.”Plenty of news outlets have pointed out how misleading the 800,000 figure is. Yet it has been resilient. It appeared on colorful handmade posters at hundreds of Save the Children marches that began taking place in the summer of 2020, many of which were covered credulously by local TV news. Narrating footage of a march in Peoria, Illinois, a reporter for the CBS affiliate WMBD did not mention the QAnon hashtags on some of the signs and passed along without comment information from the organizer, Brenna Fort: “Fort says her research shows that at least 800,000 children go missing every year.” The segment ended by zooming in on a plastic baby doll wearing a cloth diaper on which someone had written NOT FOR SALE in red marker.The last moral panic centered on widespread physical dangers to America’s children began in the early 1980s. Several high-profile and disturbing stories became media spectacles, including the 1981 murder (and then beheading) of 6-year-old Adam Walsh, who was abducted from a Sears department store in Hollywood, Florida. The Adam Walsh story was made into a TV movie that aired on NBC in October 1983, the same year that the 1979 disappearance of 6-year-old Etan Patz was fictionalized in the theatrically released movie Without a Trace.Adam’s father, John Walsh, who later spent more than two decades as the host of America’s Most Wanted, claimed that 50,000 children were abducted “for reasons of foul play” in the United States every year. He warned a Senate subcommittee in 1983: “This country is littered with mutilated, decapitated, raped, strangled children.” In response, Congress passed two laws—establishing a nationwide hotline and creating the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The panic prompted the building of shopping-mall kiosks where parents could fingerprint or videotape their children to make them easier for police to identify. According to the sociologist David Altheide, it also led to the advertising of dental-identification implants for people who did not yet have their permanent teeth, as well as the creation of a cottage industry of missing-child insurance to cover the cost of private detectives in the event of an abduction. As a 1986 story in The Atlantic recounted, the nonprofit National Child Safety Council printed photos of missing children on 3 billion milk cartons; a person would have had to be paying close attention to notice that all the photos were of the same 106 faces. (The photos also appeared on grocery bags, Coca-Cola bottles, thruway toll tickets, and pizza boxes.) “Ordinary citizens may have encountered explicit reminders of missing children more often than for any other social problem,” the sociologist Joel Best wrote in 1987.The fear of stranger abduction was partly a product of the cultural environment at the time. “Family values” political rhetoric drove paranoia about the drug trade, pornography, and crime. Second-wave feminism had encouraged more women to enter the workforce, though not without societal pressure to feel guilt and anxiety about leaving their children at home alone, or in the care of strangers. The divorce rate was rising, and custody battles were becoming more common, leading to the complicated legal situation of “family abduction,” or “child snatching.”Yet there was still a backstop, a way for the panic to end. The Denver Post won a Pulitzer Prize for its 1985 story laboriously debunking the statistics that had caused such widespread alarm. The actual number of children kidnapped by strangers, according to FBI documentation, turned out to be 67 in 1983, up from 49 in 1982. A two-part PBS special explained the statistics and addressed the role that made-for-TV movies and media coverage had played in stoking the fire; a study conducted in 1987 by Altheide and the crime analyst Noah Fritz found that three-quarters of viewers who had previously considered “missing children” a serious problem changed their minds immediately after watching it. With the arrival of better information, the missing-children panic faded.[Read: When bad news was printed on milk cartons]But decades later, fears have flared again. “You know how they used to have the kids on the milk cartons way back in the day?” Jaesie Hansen, a Utah-based mother of four who sells Operation Underground Railroad and #SaveOurChildren decals on Etsy, asked me in July. “That wouldn’t even be a possibility now, because there’s so many kids. There’s not enough milk cartons to put them on.”“The government can control a vaccine and a virus, but they can’t control this,” Ashley Victoria, a sixth-grade teacher and designer of rhinestone-covered denim jackets, told me at her booth at the Oakdale festival. The powerful are failing, or the powerful don’t care, or the powerful are part of it all, she suggested. “I am a conspiracy theorist,” she went on, before referencing persistent internet rumors of Hillary Clinton’s involvement in sex crimes committed by Jeffrey Epstein. “I’m not going to sit here and say it’s all true, but it’s going to come out somehow.”As I looked over a display of hoop earrings decorated with giant pom-poms at a neighboring booth, Victoria chatted with their maker about the supposedly suspicious deaths of the celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, the fashion designer Kate Spade, and the DJ Avicii. “They were trying to expose Hollywood, and they all committed suicide,” she said. “Mm-hmm.”The earring designer promised to send Victoria a copy of the 10-part documentary The Fall of the Cabal, which is full of QAnon-related theories and has been scrubbed from social-media and video-hosting platforms but still circulates in group chats and Telegram channels. The conversation then turned to a popular conspiracy theory about the online home-goods retailer Wayfair, which had spread across social media in the summer of 2020. The two of them discussed it excitedly, the way a pair of friends might riff on an underrated TV show or a deep cut from a beloved album. “Nobody talks about it anymore,” the earring designer complained. Victoria countered that she had been talking about it just the other day. Illustration by Vanessa Saba. Sources: Anton Petrus / Getty; Harold M. Lambert / Getty; Jens Kalaene / Picture Alliance / Getty; Stephen Maturen / Getty The Wayfair rumor they were referring to had taken flight in response to confusing listings on the retail site; some throw pillows were priced absurdly high due to an error, while industrial-size cabinets appeared overpriced to those with little knowledge of that market. On Twitter, some suggested that the listings were actually for the purchase of children. That notion—that a major American corporation was selling children online, more or less in plain sight—was also discussed in conspiracy forums on Reddit, where it was subsumed into the broader QAnon mythology about a ravenous sex-trafficking cabal. (“There is, of course, no truth to these claims,” a Wayfair spokesperson said at the time.)QAnon may have catalyzed the spread of the Wayfair speculations, but the story had independent sources of energy. It was passed along by mom influencers who might otherwise post about manicures or nutritional supplements; it was shared among circles of women marketing essential oils or specialty shampoos, and on Instagram, where friends happily reposted one another’s well-designed Stories or infographics. Many of these women, when I spoke with them, emphatically denied supporting QAnon or even having a good understanding of what it was.[Read: Why multilevel marketing and QAnon go hand in hand]Jaesie Hansen, the Etsy seller, traced her interest in the child-sex-trafficking cause to the Wayfair theory, which she had come across mostly because she’d been stuck at home during the pandemic and was spending more of her day on social media. “I have no idea if that was true,” she said. “But I do know that that went viral, and that was when I started to look into it a lot more … If I hadn’t dove deeper into the whole Wayfair scandal last year, I probably wouldn’t have understood how big of a problem [child sex trafficking] actually is.” While Hansen acknowledges that the coronavirus is a serious issue, child sex trafficking around the world seems at least equally serious to her, and she doesn’t feel that it’s receiving adequate attention from the media. “I want to hear as much about that as I do about people dying of COVID,” she said.Yet the panic and the pandemic are inextricably intertwined. Rumors of child sex trafficking shot across the internet during the months when pandemic shutdown measures were first implemented, a time when parents and children alike found themselves with more opportunities for idle digital browsing and emotion-led sharing. Referring to the dangers of kids being out of school and chattering online all day, Operation Underground Railroad’s founder and president, Tim Ballard, has regularly described this period as a “pedophile’s dream,” and claimed that predators were thinking of it as “harvest time.” The threat of trafficking became a pet cause for anti-vaccine groups that recruit by exploiting every kind of parental concern. (As a Florida state senator noted in August 2020, some in the anti-mask movement falsely claim that “wearing a mask increases the risk of kidnapping and child sex trafficking.”)The new panic also provided an alternative to the Black Lives Matter protests happening around the country last summer, for those who may not have been sympathetic to that movement or its methods. (One Facebook graphic showed the phrase “Defund the police” altered to read “Defend the children.”) More recently, the panic has intersected with paranoia about immigration and the increase of migrants at the southern border, echoing arguments that a wall between the United States and Mexico would be a humanitarian effort to prevent child trafficking.Though social-media platforms have made significant progress in removing QAnon from spaces where a well-intentioned person might stumble across it, disproportionate concern about child trafficking has already been absorbed and normalized—sustained by shocking rumors on social platforms (Were children being trafficked on the Walmart app? Were they suffering, hidden, on the container ship Ever Given, stuck in the Suez Canal?) and by word of mouth among circles of trust. This past August, in Magnolia, Texas, a suburb northwest of Houston, Tisha Butler and her family celebrated back-to-school season with a chili cook-off to benefit Operation Underground Railroad, hosted in the front yard of the martial-arts school they own and operate. Butler conducts women’s self-defense workshops every Saturday and invites survivors of domestic violence to take private lessons for free. “I’ve worked with survivors of trafficking,” she told me. “It’s very empowering for someone that survived something like that to learn the skills to protect yourself.” The chili-cook-off teams were mostly local business owners or the parents of students at the dojo; one was a group of moms who had started taking their kids to tae kwon do. Some of them had learned about OUR through Butler and were willing to support the cause because of their belief in her as a person who genuinely cares about helping children and women stay safe.“We always think, Oh, it’s not me; I live in a good neighborhood; I come from a safe area, but it happens every day,” Butler told me, sitting in her office after a secret round of voting to determine the winner of the cook-off. “If you’re not aware, then you are a prime target.” Like many other volunteers, Butler brought up her own children when discussing her interest in the child-sex-trafficking cause. “Having daughters, imagining them being forced to have sex with 10 to 50 people a day—it’s sickening.”Amid normal conversations about an understandable worry, startling pieces of misinformation can appear without warning. In July, I attended a benefit motorcycle ride in Clearwater, Florida, organized with the help of a women’s biker group called the Diva Angels. The members meet weekly at a Quaker Steak & Lube, in part to raise awareness about the charity group rides. Rebecca Haugland, a Diva Angel and an OUR supporter, talked with me straightforwardly about her long-standing concern for her son and daughter and, now, her two granddaughters; she’d raised her kids to understand that she’d support them if they spoke up about an adult who was making them uncomfortable, and she wants to help make the state of Florida a better place. “One of the biggest things that’s going on right now,” she also told me, “is the organ harvesting—children’s organs. They’ll take them and feed them and take care of them and raise them for their organs.”The reliance of the present panic on social media suggests a largely leaderless phenomenon. But Operation Underground Railroad has won out as a favorite of the new activists, and serves as an authority, a common reference point, and a center of gravity. The group was founded by Ballard almost a decade ago, well before the crescendo of interest in child trafficking. In his early career, Ballard says, he spent a short time working for the CIA, then 11 years as an undercover operator and special agent for the Department of Homeland Security, partly as a member of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. (Spokespeople for the CIA and DHS said they could not confirm Ballard’s employment record without his written permission, which he did not provide.) Ballard has frequently explained that he became frustrated with the limitations of American legal jurisdiction and decided to strike out on his own. Operation Underground Railroad would not be confused for a government operation; it quickly made its name conducting sting operations overseas in which Ballard or a colleague posed, often hammily, as an American pedophile. The team coordinated with local law enforcement, then contacted suspected traffickers, arranged a meeting, and lay in wait. When the marks arrived and accepted payment, law enforcement stormed in and arrested the suspects. The entire episode was generally captured on film, and much of the footage has been posted on YouTube or has appeared in feature-length documentaries. (In its early years, the group was known for inviting minor celebrities, including The Walking Dead star Laurie Holden, to participate in rescue operations.) Illustration by Vanessa Saba. Sources: Davidoff Studios / Getty; Hadi Nurseha / Getty; MRS / Getty; Stephen Maturen / Getty While no one doubts Ballard’s enthusiasm for the work, critics have questioned the efficacy of OUR’s “raid and rescue” approach, which was popularized in the 1990s by various anti-trafficking NGOs, notably the Christian nonprofit International Justice Mission. Trafficking experts note that, while dramatic, such operations fail to address the complex social and economic problems that create the conditions for trafficking. If the goal is to stamp out international child trafficking, they argue, the raids are of little value. As OUR’s own footage demonstrates, the group’s strategy involves asking targets to bring it the youngest children possible in exchange for large amounts of cash—in other words, potentially provoking the very behavior the group is ostensibly attempting to curb.In the United States, OUR does not conduct “missions”—it is careful to avoid coming off as a vigilante group—but it does donate money to police departments. The funds are earmarked for child-trafficking-related resources, including dogs trained to sniff out hidden portable hard drives (because they might contain child-sex-abuse material). But as Vice’s Tim Marchman and Anna Merlan detailed in a recent investigation, police departments have not found OUR’s contributions particularly useful. Many of the donations are insubstantial, and one state law-enforcement agency told the reporters that the money wasn’t worth the trouble of being associated with OUR. A more significant challenge to OUR’s reputation: The district attorney of Davis County, Utah, opened a criminal investigation into the organization last year; according to a source close to the investigation, one focus of the probe is on potentially misleading statements made in OUR fundraising materials, including exaggerations about the group’s involvement in arrests made by law enforcement. The Utah attorney general’s office—which had received $950,000 over four years from OUR for a wellness program for personnel in its Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force—cut all ties to the group when it learned of the Davis County investigation. (An Operation Underground Railroad spokesperson declined to answer in detail a list of questions related to its record, and Ballard did not return requests for an interview. With respect to the ongoing Davis County investigation, the organization provided this response: “O.U.R. has not been asked to cooperate with any investigation regarding its business operations but will do so if asked.”)Still, over the past year and a half, OUR has become the go-to organization to invoke when planning an awareness-raising golf tournament or bake sale or 10-mile truck pull. As John Walsh did in the 1980s, Ballard commands attention with graphic, emotional appeals; he peppers speeches with terms like child rape and pedophiles and bad guys, and apologizes for not apologizing for saying what he means. He is the author of several books, including one arguing that Abraham Lincoln was able to win the Civil War because he had read the Book of Mormon. (Ballard is himself a Mormon.) Fans regard him as an action hero: a real-life Batman, or a real-life Captain America. These are natural comparisons, because Ballard is charismatic and physically imposing—his extreme biceps, extreme blue eyes, and extreme bleach-blond hair represent a notable update of Walsh’s furrowed brow and Joe Friday cadence. “He’s just a badass,” Rhandi Allred, a Utah mother of five, told me. “When I grow up, I want to be like Tim Ballard.”Ballard is now a celebrity with a national fandom. In his capacity as OUR’s founder, he was invited by President Trump to join a White House anti-trafficking advisory board. He has been the CEO of Glenn Beck’s Nazarene Fund, which purports to rescue Christians and other religious minorities overseas from captivity and refugee camps. He has been befriended by the Pittsburgh Steelers head coach, Mike Tomlin, who wrote the foreword for Ballard’s 2018 book, Slave Stealers. OUR’s annual fundraising has risen steadily with its founder’s profile, from $6.8 million in 2016 to $21.2 million in 2019, the last year for which tax records are available.At the end of July, Ballard was the star of Operation Underground Railroad’s second annual Rise Up for Children event, for which volunteer teams across the country organize marches and fundraisers. He spoke during a concert held in Lehi, Utah, which I watched via a livestream available on YouTube. The comments section quickly filled with heart and prayer-hand emoji. Onstage, he announced that OUR would soon be releasing another documentary, about its rescue missions in Colombia, and then played the trailer, which was cut like an action thriller—guns, beaches, boats, a crack of thunder, the puff of a cigar. “There are people out there who would mock us and point at us, ‘Oh, you’re just trying to be famous,’ ” Ballard said after it finished, “those with other agendas that would put obstacles in our way to rescue children, which is absolutely insane to me.”Ballard clearly relishes the role of the hero, and he cannily repays his followers for their admiration. Their participation in the cause is framed as itself heroic, even historic. At the Rise Up concert, Ballard explained to the audience that the abolitionist movement of the 19th century had been driven by people just like them. “They got loud. Then they got louder. Then they got so loud that it reached the ears of leaders like President Abraham Lincoln.” For a monthly $5 donation, OUR boosters can earn the designation “abolitionist”; missing children are pointedly described as victims of “modern-day slavery.” This, too, seems to provide relief for supporters who may take issue with the Black Lives Matter movement but still yearn to be on the right side of history.Another key to OUR’s appeal is its capacious attitude toward truth. After the Wayfair conspiracy theory surfaced, dozens of anti-trafficking organizations signed an open letter stating that “anybody—political committee, public office holder, candidate, or media outlet—who lends any credibility to QAnon conspiracies related to human trafficking actively harms the fight against human trafficking.” Operation Underground Railroad was conspicuously not among the signatories. Rather than dispel the Wayfair rumor, Ballard flirted with it. In July 2020, he posted an Instagram video in which he spoke directly to the camera while an American flag rippled behind his right shoulder. “Children are sold that way,” he said. “For 17 years, I’ve worked as an undercover operator online. No question about it, children are sold on social-media platforms, on websites, and so forth.” The video has been viewed more than 2.7 million times.This August, a spokesperson for Operation Underground Railroad wrote in an email: “O.U.R. does not condone conspiracy theories and is not affiliated with any conspiracy theory groups, like QAnon, in any way, shape, or form.” Yet Ballard himself seems at home in this milieu. A forthcoming Ballard biopic, Sound of Freedom, will star Jim Caviezel, the actor who played Jesus in The Passion of the Christ. In the spring, Caviezel appeared at a “health and freedom” conference alongside various right-wing figures—including L. Lin Wood, a lawyer and key architect of the 2020 election-fraud conspiracy theories, and Mike Lindell, the MyPillow founder and a major Trump donor, who famously tried to pitch the former president on a COVID-19 miracle cure made from a highly poisonous shrub. Video of Caviezel’s speech was shared by OUR supporters on YouTube and Facebook. In it, Caviezel told the audience that Ballard had planned to come with him for the interview but was unable to attend, because he was “pulling kids out of the darkest recesses of hell right now.” He then explained how adrenaline can be harvested from children’s bodies as they scream and die.The sociologist Stanley Cohen coined the term moral panic in his 1972 book Folk Devils and Moral Panics. Cohen presented panics as intense but temporary—specifically, as “spasmodic.” (His interest in the phenomenon was piqued by an overreaction, on the part of the British media, to youth subcultures that favored motorcycle jackets and beachside fistfights.) He posited that moral panics run out of steam because people get bored; or they go out of fashion, like a cut of pants or a type of salad; or it becomes clear that the instigators are crying wolf; or whatever they’re saying is accepted as a fact that most people can live with.Yet even fleeting moral panics can have lasting consequences. The white-slavery panic of the early 1900s led to the passage of the Mann Act—a law that criminalized transporting across state lines “any woman or girl for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery.” It was wielded against Black men who traveled with white women, and later against sex workers who were accused of trafficking themselves. The 1980s hysteria about child sex abuse preceded the Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement Act, which made sharing child-sex-abuse material over a computer illegal, but also broadened the list of crimes for which the government could obtain wiretaps. Today, the difficult problem of child-sex-abuse material on the internet is being offered as a rationale for law enforcement to obtain backdoor access to encrypted communication, or for Congress to obligate social-media companies to constantly surveil their users’ posts and private messages.A panic can leave a mark even if it falls short of changing the law. Among other things, as Cohen wrote, it can change “the way the society conceives itself.” What does it mean that a deluded understanding of child trafficking is now the pet cause of the local florist and law firm and mortgage brokerage and foam-insulation contractor? What does it mean if American communities are cleaved along a neat divide, separating those who see themselves as caring about the lives of children from those who, because they reject the conspiracy theories and inflated numbers, apparently do not?And what does it mean if a moral panic doesn’t prove to be spasmodic? Cohen floated the idea of “a permanent moral panic resting on a seamless web of social anxieties,” then swatted down his own suggestion, pointing out that permanent panic is an oxymoron. Cohen died in 2013 and never had the opportunity to consider the way the internet gives each of us the power to take on work as champions of morality and marketers of fear. His analysis of prior panics can tell us only so much about what to expect from this one.I don’t want to panic about a panic. Not all, or anywhere close to all, of the organizers or attendees of events like the Festival of Hope are invested in the issue of child sex trafficking because of sinister rumors they’ve heard or inflated statistics they’ve repeated. Many of them are expressing casual support for an obviously correct moral position—the same way you might buy a brownie to help homeless vets or drop a canned good in a collection box to help poor families. Most of the people I met were simply happy to support “anything to do with kids” or “goodness in the world,” which they seemed to feel was in short supply. They were warm and friendly, the kind of people you’d hope to have around if you got a flat tire or had a fainting spell.If there was a sentiment that almost everyone shared, it was that child trafficking is a disgusting problem at any scale, and that ignoring it speaks ill of us all. The undeniable truth of that statement points to another reason this panic may not soon recede. There are too many issues on which Americans can’t agree, such as how (or whether) to manage a deadly pandemic and how (or whether) to confront racism. But one type of justice isn’t complicated, and one definition of freedom is clear. If children are disappearing from all over the country, how could we possibly think about anything else?This article appears in the January/February 2022 print edition with the headline “The Children Are in Danger!”
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