Offering recognition to victims of child sex abuse, the Prime Minister’s speech was well received by survivors and the wider nation when he made the apology in Parliament.
But according to a controversial Four Corners episode that almost didn’t make it to air, he also uttered a phrase some conspiracy theorists claim was a dog whistle to the far-right fringe group QAnon.
During the speech, the prime minister described the long history of sexual crimes committed at institutions such as churches and children’s homes across Australia as ‘ritual sexual abuse’.
The Four Corners episode, which aired on Monday, claimed a friend of Mr Morrison, Tim Stewart, who is deeply embedded in the bizarre QAnon movement, lobbied the nation’s leader to get those words in the speech.
The baseless internet cult gained worldwide prominence during the Trump presidency and assert that ‘leftist’ politicians, celebrities and elites are satanic paedophiles who operate through a ‘deep state’.
Tim Stewart (right) had known Scott Morrison since the 1990s, long before his radicalisation by QAnon. But the ABC has since claimed he tried to gain influence with his powerful friend
The group also bizarrely claims, without evidence, that New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and former First Lady of the US Michelle Obama are men in disguise.
Elise Thomas, an open source intelligence analyst for the Institute of Strategic Dialogue, said the term ‘ritual’ for QAnon followers denotes the satanic elements of their beliefs, rather than the ordinary meaning of something occurring regularly.
‘The use of the phrase “ritual sex abuse” will have been taken as validation of the conspiracy theory by QAnon followers because it’s a person in authority using this phrase which appears to directly reference the conspiracy theory,’ she told the program.
The Prime Minister’s office has vehemently denied he used the words as a subtle nod to the QAnon group.
‘The term “ritual” is one that the Prime Minister heard directly from the abuse survivors and the National Apology victims and Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse Reference Group he met with in the lead up to the apology,’ an earlier statement said.
The Prime Minister’s wife Jenny Morrison (left) is pictured with Lynelle Stewart (right) – who is QAnon believer Tim Stewart. The women have been friends for many years
‘It refers not just to the ritualised way or patterns in which so many crimes were committed but also to the frequency and repetition of them.’
The man at the centre of the alleged push to get the term included in the apology, Mr Stewart, who had been friends with the prime minister since the 1990s, was recently banned from Twitter for engaging in ‘coordinated harmful activity’.
He also ran a blog on which he claimed ‘elites’ in Western nations were running a paedophile ring ‘designed to harvest children’s blood’.
His family have now become so concerned about his spiraling obsession with QAnon that they phoned the the national security hotline several times.
A 2018 post from Mr Stewart’s Sideways Step blog. The title of the Four Corners episode is ‘The Great Awakening’
Mr Stewart’s wife, Lynelle, has been friends with the Prime Minister’s wife, Jenny, since they were teenagers, and was given security clearance in mid-2019 to work as an attendant at the Prime Minister’s Sydney residence, Kirribilli House.
It is not suggested, however, that Mr Stewart’s wife posed any security risk. She also did not raise the alarm about his views as his mother and sister did.
The airing of the program was previously delayed by senior ABC news figures, with managing director David Anderson telling a Senate estimates hearing last week that he had ‘queries and concerns’ about the program.
Mr Morrison was also asked about the program in a press conference.
‘I find it deeply offensive that there would be any suggestion that I would have any involvement or support for such a dangerous organisation,’ Mr Morrison said.
‘It is also disappointing that Four Corners would seek to cast this aspersion not just against me but members of my own family. I just think that is really poor form.’
Mr Stewart’s sister Karen told the program that her brother believes the world had been taken over by this supposed group of paedophiles.
QAnon blogger Tim Stewart is pictured with his wife Lynelle Stewart – a close friend of Jenny Morrison
Tim Stewart’s mother Val and his sister Karen spoke to Four Corners about the radicalisation of their loved one
The QAnon group claims without evidence that New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (right) and former First Lady of the US Michelle Obama (left) are men in disguise
Among his more radical beliefs, she said, Mr Stewart believed he could talk to cockroaches and that both former American first lady Michelle Obama and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern were really men.
Ms Stewart claimed her brother told her that if people wore red shoes, it’s so they could disguise the splatter of blood from slaughtered babies as it falls to the ground.
He also supported online the theory that last year’s US election was stolen from Donald Trump via his blog.
‘Tim believes that the world has really been taken over by satanic paedophiles, or Luciferian paedophiles,’ Karen told Four Corners.
On Mr Stewart’s blog, Sideways Step, he wrote: ‘The true nature of these crimes shows that humans are being treated as a commodity and human energy is being harvested without permission.’
‘Furthermore, it is focused on children, who are more innocent and unaware,’ he said.
‘Why do evil people wish to rob a young child of their virginity?… Why do they drink blood? Why do they need to sacrifice humans?’
Ms Stewart said her family felt it was their ‘civic duty’ to report the radicalisation of her brother by the QAnon conspiracy community.
‘I’m not a psychologist, I’m his mum and I hope that one day, some of this might be in the past,’ his mother Val said.
‘But I know that there are just concerns that we would have in hearing and watching some of what has happened over particularly this last year or so.’
The baseless internet cult gained worldwide prominence during the Trump presidency and assert that ‘leftist’ politicians, celebrities and elites are satanic paedophiles who operate through a ‘deep State’. Pictured: Jacob Anthony Angeli Chansley, known as the QAnon Shaman, is seen at the Capital riots on January 6
Karen, a candidate for The Greens, said disagreements over her brother’s extreme views tore their family apart.
‘I think almost all of us have broken down on the phone trying to explain the loss of a family member,’ she said.
‘And I know my mother has viewed it, she’s described it as grieving. Grieving the loss of someone who’s still alive and that’s – it’s a very confusing emotion.’
The program included an interview with Miles Taylor, former chief of staff of the US Department of Homeland Security, who urged Mr Morrison to condemn Qanon.
‘It wasn’t just a law enforcement concern, we started to view it as a real national security threat,’ Mr Taylor said of QAnon.
‘I think it’s important for the prime minister and any other national leader to disavow individuals either within their orbit or outside of their orbit who harbour these types of extremist views.’
QAnon flags and insignia were seen during the January 6 attack on the US Capitol building earlier this year. The ‘QAnon shaman’, Jake Angeli, who stormed the building with a US flag and a horned fur hat, became an instant symbol of the movement.
Supporters of US President Donald Trump, including member of the QAnon conspiracy group enter the US Capitol Building on January 6
There had been speculation over whether Mr Stewart wielded any influence over the prime minister since he claimed Mr Morrison’s use of the word ‘ritual’ in the 2018 parliamentary apology to survivors of institutional sex abuse reflected QAnon beliefs.
Tim Stewart responded to questions from Four Corners by describing reports about him as ‘hit pieces’.
‘I am too busy to read questions relating to the nonsense that’s been put out there, which are just hit pieces,’ he said.
In a statement to the program, the Mr Morrison said its focus was ‘a politically motivated slur’.
‘This is a politically motivated slur against the prime minister and his family by a Four Corners program that is already facing serious questions about the accuracy, bias and credibility of its journalism,’ a statement from his office said.
‘[It] is now giving credence to irrational Twitter conspiracy theorists and raising the profile of what the Prime Minister clearly deems a discredited and dangerous fringe group.’
Mr Stewart’s wife, Lynelle (right), has been friends with the Prime Minister’s wife, Jenny (left), since they were teenagers, and was given a security clearance in mid-2019 to work as an attendant at the Prime Minister’s Sydney residence, Kirribilli House
HOW QANON STARTED IN THE CORNERS OF THE DARK WEB AND EXPLODED UNDER TRUMP
QAnon exploded in the final months of Donald Trump’s presidency, bolstered by the unproven theory that widespread voter fraud won the election for Biden amid widespread conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 pandemic.
It had been gradually gathering steam throughout Trump’s presidency after being founded in 2017 or thereabouts.
It started with a few posts that had been put on 4Chan, by Q, that were picked up on and promoted.
Q claimed to be a high ranking military official with knowledge of what Trump was up against – a secret ring of pedophiles and child sex traffickers.
Trump never endorsed the movement, although he is its hero.
He has, in the past, described some of its followers as ‘people who love our country.’
Facebook and Twitter have taken down or restricted countless QAnon posts which only feeds supporters’ believes that big tech is also in bed with the pedophile ring.
At one time, the conspiracy theorist set their sights on the Robert Mueller Russia probe.
They believe that it was a cover for a bigger investigation into the pedophile ring.
When Mueller’s investigation concluded to no avail other than clearing Trump of wrongdoing, QAnon’s focus shifted.
Jim Watkins attended the January 6 riot and took the filmmaker with him. It’s unclear whether or not Ron was there.