THE INFANTICIDE FACTOR: SERIOUSLY, NOBODY IS EATING BABIES
Does politics really boil down to nothing more than infanticide fantasies?
A week ago in Green Bay, alleged President of the United States Donald Trump made this baffling allegation in a speech:
“The baby is born. The mother meets with the doctor. They take care of the baby, they wrap the baby beautifully. And then the doctor and the mother determine whether or not they will execute the baby.”
Between you, me, and the wall, I’m starting to think they might not be making these claims in good faith–imagine that. In fact, this is one of the very oldest bad faith myths that there ever was.
Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers responded to Trump’s trumped-up malarky in explicitly religious terms: “To say that doctors in the state of Wisconsin are executing babies is just a blasphemy,” Evers told the Milwaukee Press Club.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists President Dr. Lisa Hollier was more clinical: “The rhetoric used to describe abortion care was offensive, wrong, and dangerous. Claims of this sort undermine the public’s trust in ob-gyns and stigmatize necessary health care for women.”
Whereas Planned Parenthood just read the writing on the wall: “Trump’s claims are dangerous misinformation. His falsehoods are part of a deliberate strategy to criminalize doctors and shame women.”
Just like every other time, these infanticide fallacies are swiftly debunked and rebunked and just plain bunked. And just like every other time, the bunk won’t stick.
Because this lie is not just a few months old or a few years old. It’s a lie that’s lived for centuries. If there was a Hall of Fame for lies, this one might be the first inductee. I say “might” because of course you could never be sure whether it was really inducted or if that was a lie; nature of the beast.
In his 1994 paper Eating People: Accusations of Cannibalism Against Christians, Notre Dame grad student Adam McGowan noted that ritual infanticide was one of the smears leveled at early Christian cultists in the Roman Empire:
“According to Minucius, Christians are accused of initiating converts by tricking them to stab to death an infant. The resulting spilt blood and divided limbs are then consumed.”
Well at least confirmation in those days wouldn’t be boring.
Skip ahead some centuries and the now ascendant Christian institutions leveled the same smear at their own outgroups. “When a Christian child went missing, it was not uncommon for local Jews to be blamed,” the Anti-Defamation League says of the spread of “blood libel” rumors against Jewish populations in medieval Europe.
“Some Christians believed that the four cups of wine that Jews drink at the Passover Seder celebrations were actually blood,” ADL adds, a smear that persists to this day in some corridors.
Infanticide fabrications presented a natural fit for the witchcraft hysteria of later centuries. “During the height of the European witch hunting craze, witches were accused of procuring abortions, devoting themselves to infanticide, or feeding upon children’s flesh,” Jessie Kindig wrote in the Boston Review in 2018.
In 17th century France’s infamous Affair of the Poisons, Louis XIV’s mistress Athénaïs de Montespan sat accused of the most colorful charges of witchcraft, including ‘that she had called for a bloody Black Mass in which, entirely naked, she conjured the King’s love with diabolical rites, including infanticide,” as Atlas Obscure describes it.
And of course this same myth manifested centuries later in the Satanic Panic. In his 1992 report debunking the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare, FBI profiler Kenneth Lanning noted that, “Until hard evidence is obtained and corroborated, the public should not be frightened into believing that babies are being eaten.”
Which, I mean, yeah.
And yet the belief persists even to this very week, when conspiracy assholes on Twitter declared without a hint of irony, “Sorry you don’t get to eat kids this week, bro,” after #Qanon qooks have insisted for years that we’re all eating babies en masse somehow.
All of these moral panics have two things in common: There wasn’t a speck of truth to any of them, and sooner or later they seemingly had no choice but to play the baby eating card.
You might not even have realized that was a card to play, but we see that historically it’s always been there. It’s what you might call the fool’s gold standard for a nascent wrong idea.