What Does “Never Again” Mean When it Comes to the Uyghurs?

Guest-blog by David Malamud (Third-year PhD student in the BU Graduate Program in Religion) 

This summer, Buzzfeed’s four-part series of articles exposed the gargantuan extent of the Uyghur and Kazakh concentration camps in western China. The articles reignited coverage of the humanitarian and human rights crisis in the US media. Buzzfeed’s reports have inspired the editorial boards of other news outlets across a wide political and ideological spectrum, including the Washington Post and the New York Post, to take a stance against the human rights violations perpetrated by the Chinese government. These atrocities have been recognized in the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020 passed by the 116th Congress and signed into law by President Trump. I remember first reading rumors about these atrocities several years ago, while working on my undergraduate degree. I have since watched with horror and felt frustrated by my inability to do anything about it.

Like many Americans, I grew up hearing the tales of Nazi atrocities committed during the Holocaust. It always disturbed me to hear about the indifference that allowed the Nazis to act with impunity. The world watched and did nothing. How could the whole world stand by as the Nazis exterminated my people and attempted to erase the very memory of our existence? Many people and politicians invoke Holocaust comparisons to describe current events, but I think in this case, the comparison is particularly apt. 

A recent BU conference showed the link between discrimination and economic exploitation of Jews during the Nazi period. Like the Nazis, the Chinese government and businesses are profiting economically from the forced labor of the imprisoned Uyghur population. This exploitation extends to their very bodies. In July, a thirteen-ton shipment of Uyghur hair was seized by US Customs and Border Patrol. In many ways, we are complicit in this exploitation. Uyghurs have been forcibly detained in work camps to produce PPE for COVID-19 exported to the US. As this fact became clear, US House of Representatives responded by passing a bipartisan bill 406-3: the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which would “prevent certain imports” and “impose sanctions” on products from Xinjiang. But this is not enough to stop the Chinese government-sponsored exploitation and mistreatment of entire populations that are persecuted, incarcerated, tortured, and forced to live under subhuman conditions.

I cannot, in good conscience, stand silent while I watch an oppressed ethno-religious minority destroyed by a powerful authoritarian regime intent on ethnic and religious purity and obedience to the state. I was taught in Hebrew school to say, “Never Again.” As some of our fellow Jews claim with regard to the American immigration crisis, “Never Again is now.”

I am heartened by the growing number of Jewish institutions, including Bnai Brith Canada and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum who are calling for a vigorous response to the Chinese repression of the Uyghurs. Jewish individuals, such as Ephraim Mirvis, the chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, have denounced China’s actions as well. For the past year and a half, a British Orthodox Jew (“Andrew”) has protested every Tuesday and Wednesday at the cultural office of the Chinese Embassy in London. I am proud to have joined the nascent Jewish Movement for Uyghur Freedom. We are an international and interdenominational Jewish organization which seeks to foster student advocacy, lobby Jewish organizations, and support Uyghurs in their diaspora.

What can we do for people suffering under a powerful authoritarian regime halfway around the world? If you would like to stay up to date on current news or join the fight for Uyghur freedom in a Jewish context, please subscribe to JMUF or learn how to take action lobbying for the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. Join with Uyghur activists like Ziba Murat and Jewher Ilham’s who have called on us to #boycottMulan, Disney’s latest Live Action film. Not only was it filmed in Xinjiang, but it also credits the “publicity department” or the Chinese government’s propaganda wing in Xinjiang, and the “bureau of public security” of Turpan, a city in Xinjiang, and an organization directly responsible for the Uyghur genocide. Uyghur activists have also recently called on the ICC to deny Beijing the honor of another Olympics in 2022. 

Join me! Never Again is Now.

David Malamud is a PhD student in the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean tract. He graduated magna cum laude with a BA in Jewish Studies, a BA in History, and a BA in Classics from the University of Maryland, College Park (2018). His research interests include sectarianism and messianism in Second Temple Judaism, the development of canon in early Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism, and broader questions of religious and cultural identity and exchange in the Eastern Roman Empire.

Confronting Conspiracism After a Failed Insurrection

Benjamin Austin CU by Benjamin J. Austin, a PhD candidate at Boston University specializing in the philosophy of digital religion.


Wednesday morning (1/6/2021), prior to the Trumpist insurrection, I was preparing the syllabus for my undergraduate writing seminar on “Tricksters and the Invention of Religion.” The title is an intentional provocation to students. It is based on Carole Cusack’s notion of “invented religions,” a category with origins in mid-century American counterculture, live-action role play (e.g., Dungeons & Dragons), fan fiction, and the complex, intertwined worlds of game and film-based subcultures. Some prefer to call such phenomena “consumer religion,” “postmodern” or “meta modern” religion, or “remix religion,” all with good reason. The fun in calling them “invented religions” lies in the fact that students tend to read Cusack as implying that there are religions that are not invented. The traditions we often call “world religions” retain a special degree of authenticity, if simply because their historical narratives and truth claims are so far in the past as to be impervious to allegations of “fake news.” My goal is not to convince students that ancient or “axial age” religious figures were every bit as coercive and corrosive as Jim Jones or Osama Bin Laden, but to expose a peculiar contemporary bias against invention as a religious act. Too many assume that if a religious movement is so new that we can trace its emergence, it is a fad at best, and a cult at worst. This is a strange assumption; imagine thinking that access to blueprints would render a house uninhabitable. Cusack’s invented religions are nothing more or less than religious movements that implicitly understand, and sometimes explicitly emphasize, that their recent vintage and countercultural orientation are no impediment to meaning-making, community organizing, mystical exploration, and spiritual fulfillment. Our mistake has long been to insist that religious traditions are, or ought to be, in the business of uncovering and preserving “truths,” or, more recently, “facts.”

This way of thinking blinds us to a reality that we can no longer afford to ignore: new religious movements are everywhere, especially online. The prominence of conspiracy theory and unbridled groupthink has rendered the Internet, to borrow a phrase from Henri Bergson, “a machine for the making of gods.” The novelty of such gods does not mean that they will not take hold, or that their devotees are not perfectly capable of waltzing into the U.S. Capitol through ranks of sluggish and/or sympathetic law enforcement officers, leaving menacing notes on Nancy Pelosi’s desk, and sabotaging vital democratic processes. The late Robert Anton Wilson – a prominent proponent of Discordianism, which is perhaps the prototypical invented religion – used to say that “reality is what you can get away with.” This appears to be truer of political reality than many of us might have anticipated, even just one week ago.

Americans saw unfamiliar flags, symbols, and slogans alongside more familiar Christian nationalist insignia like the ichthys (Jesus fish) at the Capitol on January 6th. We also listened to news anchors decry the “crackpot” and “baseless” QAnon conspiracy theory. QAnon’s currency with the Trumpist rioters was evident for those who know what to look for – a sweatshirt bearing a large “Q,” a banner inviting us to “Trust the Plan” or “Save the Children,” and, at the front of the unruly mob a bare-chested, heavily tattooed figure wearing face paint and a horned fur hat. This man - Jake Angeli – is known in QAnon circles as “the Q Shaman.” Thus the question arises: are we confronting a neo-shamanic fascist cult born in the digital wilderness or perhaps a more familiar iteration of American Christianity fallen prey to the temptations of chauvinism?

American conspiracy theory is a strange genre, perhaps best thought of as a kind of secular eschatology (reasoning about “last things,” i.e., the end of the world or at least the status quo). As such, it draws at once on contemporary (“secular”) and ancient (“religious”) sources for inspiration. QAnon is no exception here. Beginning in October of 2017, QAnon emerged on the online message board 4Chan as a kind of meta-conspiracy or “big tent” conspiracy theory intended to identify the root cause of governmental corruption and social degeneration. The basic QAnon thesis is that the world is run by a cabal of Satanic pedophiles who harvest the adrenalized blood of their young victims in order to consume a concoction – “adrenochrome” – which allows them to live (and therefore rule) in perpetuity. Major figures accused of belonging to this class of elites include Bill and Hillary Clinton, Bill Gates, George Soros, and the Rothschild family. Q supporters stormed the Capitol last week (alongside more cynical and opportunistic comrades) because they sincerely believe President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to be members of this vile coterie.

In many respects, QAnon is an outgrowth of the patriot movement, which sprang up during the 1990’s in response to the Clinton administration’s push for increased gun control as well as two disastrous showdowns between federal agents and Christian/White Nationalist extremists at Ruby Ridge (1992) and the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas (1993). The patriot movement drew mythological and eschatological inspiration from the work of Milton William (“Bill”) Cooper, especially Behold a Pale Horse. Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh considered himself a “patriot” in Cooper’s sense, a guerilla warrior combatting excessive federal overreach into the lives of American citizens. Cooper himself espoused a kind of libertarian equality for Americans, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc. and denounced McVeigh’s violence and racism. Still, Cooper’s decision to reprint the notoriously anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion in Behold a Pale Horse has only fanned the flames of ethnonationalism in the patriot movement since his death in 2001. To this day, the movement only partially overlaps with White and Christian nationalist movements in the United States; Bill Cooper, in fact, enjoys a certain cachet in segments of the black community, notably the Five-Percent Nation. I would encourage anyone interested in the history of the patriot movement to check out Mark Jacobson’s Pale Horse Rider: William Cooper, the Rise of Conspiracy, and the Fall of Trust in America.

I attribute QAnon’s success as a conspiracy theory to its participatory character as well as a certain complicity on the part of producers of popular culture. “Q” refers to an anonymous poster on 4Chan (subsequently migrating to 8Chan and then 8Kun) who periodically posts “Q drops” – highly cryptic and sometimes entirely nonsensical missives concerning an ongoing attempt on the part of Donald Trump and his allies in the upper echelons of government to sabotage the “deep state” and expose the Satanic cabal. Q followers coordinate to decipher and interpret (or “bake”) Q drops to discern what is happening behind the scenes of the political arena and the corrupt corporate media. QAnon gives adherents the opportunity to participate in a detective drama and Armageddon – a final battle between forces of good and evil – at the same time. Followers often explicitly celebrate that their lives become more meaningful, interesting, and cinematic upon joining the movement. A couple prominent QAnon slogans – “Where We Go One, We Go All” (WWG1WGA) and “the Calm Before the Storm” – are in fact ripped directly from Ridley Scott’s 1996 film White Squall. In general, Q supporters display little self-awareness about the extent to which their cinematic experience of the movement follows dependably from the movement’s reliance on cinematic narratives for structure. In other words, QAnon blatantly models its narratives on (certain kinds of) blockbuster films, and yet Q supporters are routinely mystified and enchanted when “reality” turns out “just like a movie!”

All this indicates that QAnon’s factuality is less important than its galvanizing, participatory function. Above I indicated a certain complicity on the part of corporate producers of popular culture. Much of this is accidental – the eschatological structure of Q’s narrative allows supporters to reach back into the annals of film and television and conclude that pretty much any representation of a hero taking on shadowy government forces on behalf of democracy (think: The X-Files, National Treasure, Outbreak, etc.) was a prophetic warning, or perhaps an early attempt at public disclosure. More insidious is the ongoing decision of media outlets such as History Channel and Gaia.com to capitalize on generic, formulaic, and vague insinuations of conspiracy. The narrator of Ancient Aliens, for instance, might not explicitly say that the Satanic pedophile deep state is responsible for suppressing information about extraterrestrials, but someone certainly is. In other words, the show’s formula is successful precisely because it allows armchair historians to fill in the conspiratorial blanks episode after episode in any number of idiosyncratic directions. The viewer is encouraged to feel both more intelligent and less trusting of established academic and political authorities. The result of such programming, as QAnon hero General Michael Flynn so darkly puts it, is that “the American people [have] decided to take over the idea of information.” One wonders which Americans he means.

I mentioned QAnon’s demonization of the Rothschilds above, which ought to set off familiar anti-Semitic alarm bells. Somewhat more difficult to discern is the fact that QAnon is ultimately a contemporary iteration of “blood libel.” The blood libel was a family of medieval conspiracy theories alleging that Jews ritually sacrificed Christian children every Easter in order to ensure return to Jerusalem. QAnon is deeply anti-Semitic at its core, though many followers lack the historical awareness to identify this, and many opponents are (rightfully) concerned with the various other modalities of hate (anti-black racism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, etc.) endemic to the movement. The erasure of this anti-Semitism in some ways speaks to the “ancient” inspiration of QAnon’s eschatology. Many contemporary American evangelical readers of the Book of Revelation– with ahistorical blinders supplied by e.g., Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, authors of the Left Behind series – assign a marginal role to Jews during the End of Days, one largely contingent upon their conversion by some admixture of rhetoric and violence. More proto- than anti-Christian to the evangelical QAnon mind, the Jewish people remain peripheral to the drama unfolding between Christian patriots and the Deep State. This is in contrast to other more urgent and “evil” threats posed by LGBTQ+, Islamic, and racial justice activist communities. What makes QAnon all the more disturbing, then, is that card-carrying, blood-libelous Neo-Nazis can march alongside relatively oblivious evangelicals, Instagram wellness gurus, and Reptilian-fearing new agers* without anyone experiencing a modicum of cognitive dissonance. The “Satanic pedophiles” trafficking our children are Jewish for those who want them to be, and “elitists,” “globalists,” or “Illuminati” for those who would rather not think of themselves as anti-Semitic.  By dint of historical ignorance, this modern blood libel expands to encompass ever more non-Christian, non-White groups.

Is QAnon a new digital religious movement or an extremist sect with deep historical roots in mainstream Christendom? The answer is yes. We can attribute its existence to the effects of the post-truth media environment and/or we can perceive the strong resonances of Tertullian’s “prorsus credibile est, quia ineptum est” (“it is certain because it is absurd”) and Paul of Tarsus’ conviction that the proclamation of “Christ crucified” would be “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23). I recommend Tara Isabella Burton’s theory of “remix religion” in Strange Rites: New Religions for A Godless World as a tool for thinking through this bizarre duality and the convergence of ancient and modern religious sensibilities on this belief in absurdity for its own sake. In any case, we must recognize that QAnon does not care whether its theories are “real” or “invented.” The price of ideological admission– believing patent absurdities – is high enough to create an uncommonly strong sense of camaraderie in the face of persecution. Q’s predictions and supporters’ interpretations will have been proven real and true (for them) in all relevant senses if and when QAnon assumes power and squashes dissent. We shouldn’t assume that they won’t; it has happened before. More and more otherwise “normal” and “respectable” people are falling under its spell and, in truth, I don’t know what to do about it. That said, education is never a bad start. What follows is a list of resources that you might find useful for understanding what’s happening in our country right now, and perhaps also for deprogramming friends and family members who may be succumbing to the lure of easy answers, empty revolt, and corrosive hatred.

*Prominent British conspiracy theorist David Icke circumvents the anti-Semitism of the Protocols by claiming that the text actually refers to shape-shifting Reptilian extraterrestrials.


Jerusalem Post –  “Capitol Riots – What Far-Right Hate Symbols Were on Display?” by Laura E. Adkins and Emily Burack

The Atlantic – “The Prophecies of Q: American Conspiracy Theories Are Entering a Dangerous New Phase,” by Adrienne LaFrance

The Conversation –  “QAnon and the storm of the U.S. Capitol: The Offline Effect of Online Conspiracy Theories,” by Marc-André Argentino

Anti-Racism Daily –  “Condemn QAnon,” by Nicole Cardoza

Teen Vogue – “QAnon Conspiracy Theories Are Driving Families Apart,” by Fortesa Latifi

“How to Convince Loved Ones to Change Their Political Perspectives,” by Sophie Vaughn


QAnon Anonymous

  • The first episode of this podcast provides an excellent overview of QAnon and their most recent episode covers the events at the Capitol. I cannot recommend their work enough for those interested in developing a holistic and critical understanding of contemporary conspiracy culture.



A lot of People are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy, by Nancy L. Rosenblum and Russell Muirhead

Alt-Right: From 4Chan to the White House, by Mike Wendling

Antisocial: Online Exremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation, by Andrew Marantz

A Rumor about the Jews: Conspiracy, Anti-Semitism, and the Protocols of Zion, by Stephen Eric Bonner

Blood Libel: On the Trail of an Antisemitic Myth, by Magda Teter

Conspiracies and Conspiracy Theories in the Age of Trump, by Daniel C. Hellinger

Culture Warlords: My Journey Into the Dark Web of White Supremacy, by Talia Lavin

Cyber Racism and Community Resilience: Strategies for Combating Online Race Hate, by Andrew Jakubowicz, Kevin Dunn, Gail Mason, Yin Paradies, Ana-Maria Biluc, Nasya Bahfen, Andre Oboler, Rosalie Atie, and Karen Connelly

Cyber Racism: White Supremacy Online and the New Attack on Civil Rights, by Jessie Daniels

Everything You Love Will Burn: Inside the Rebirth of White Nationalism in America, by Vegas Tenold

Handbook of Conspiracy Theory and Contemporary Religion, Edited by Asbjørn Dyrendal, David G. Robertson, and Egil Asprem

Hate in the Homeland: The New Global Far Right, by Cynthia Miller-Idriss

Neoreaction a Basilisk: Essays On and Around the Alt-Right, by Elizabeth Sandifer

Pale Horse Rider: William Cooper, the Rise of Conspiracy, and the Fall of Trust in America, by Mark Jacobson

Plots, Designs, and Schemes: American Conspiracy Theories from the Puritans to the Present, by Michael Butter

Proud Boys and the White Ethnostate: How the Alt-Right is Warping the American Imagination, by Alexandra Minna Stern

Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code, by Ruha Benjamin

Race After the Internet, Edited by Lisa Nakamura and Peter A. Chow-White

Red Pill, Blue Pill: How to Counteract the Conspiracy Theories That Are Killing Us: by David Neiwert

Republic of Lies: American Conspiracy Theorists and their Surprising Rise to Power, by Anna Merlan

Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World, by Tara Isabella Burton

The Accusation: Blood Libel in an American Town, by Edward Berenson

The Ambivalent Internet: Mischief, Oddity, and Antagonism Online, by Whitney Phillips and Ryan M. Milner

The Nature of Conspiracy Theories, by Michael Butter

You Are Here: A Field Guide for Navigating Polarized Speech, Conspiracy Theories, and Our Polluted Media Landscape, by Whitney Phillips and Ryan M. Milner (forthcoming)

Benjamin J. Austin is a PhD candidate at Boston University specializing in the philosophy of digital religion. He works in the areas of continental philosophy, phenomenology, aesthetics, media theory, ritual theory, and esotericism. He holds a B.A. in International Relations and Religious Studies from Boston University as well as an M. Phil in Interreligious Studies from Trinity College Dublin. Benjamin’s dissertation research brings together media theory, ritual theory, and phenomenology in order to theorize the transition from analog to digital life as a traversal of a liminal state or space—a rite of passage.

Image: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The Jew and the African American Who Saved America

by Michael Zank, Director EWCJS

Next year, at this time, when the pandemic of 2020-21 will be a distant memory and the vivid impressions of the violent assault on the nation's Capitol we are still processing now will have receded, we should remember this: on January 5, 2021, Georgia turned blue. Georgia, formerly a solid red state, now resembles the rest of America: a state with an increasingly diverse population concerned with the major issues threatening our common future: healthcare, the environment, and economic justice.

I am writing to celebrate the election of the first African American senator from Georgia, the Reverend Raphael Warnock, and the election of the first Jewish senator from Georgia, Jon Ossoff.

I am also writing to celebrate the durability of the rule of law and its institutions that make the United States of America the beacon of liberty that it is and remains. Every attempt to subvert the results of a fair election has been foiled by the judges and officials, no matter their party affiliation, who determined the groundlessness of the many legal and illegal challenges launched by the president and his enablers. Men and women stood their ground, calmly and with determination. The institutions held because the people did.

One of those who literally stood his ground, Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, paid with his life. Our heart goes out to his family. May his memory be for a blessing!

While some elected representatives opportunistically exploited the chaos that followed the November elections and culminated in the January 6 storming of the Capitol building that many have called an insurrection, most have condemned it. Many have found clear and heartening words to strengthen the nation's resolve to resist the attempts of a few to destroy this democracy.

The election of two democratic senators from Georgia flipped the Senate and, with any luck, much good will come from it. But not everything will be well by January 2022. All of us need to be vigilant and remain engaged. We cannot go back to sleep. Liberty, the right to vote, civil and human rights, including reproductive rights, the functioning of democratic institutions, and the rule of law are precious goods to be defended and further developed, not just at home but also abroad.

The rule of law is fragile. It can be easily undermined, hollowed out, overturned by would-be autocrats who stoke the emotions of a violent minority and exploit the lethargy of an indifferent majority. Indifference, as the late Elie Wiesel has warned, inevitably allies itself with hate. It enables the fear-mongers and conspiratists. We must not be indifferent. History, including Jewish history, offers us countless lessons. Ignoring them will only force us to repeat them.

For now, let us thank the good people of Georgia for renewing our confidence that change is possible. I am particularly heartened by  Republican voters who turned their backs on the extremist rhetoric and over-the-top populism of one of their party's candidates. They made the right choice, the choice for what is right.

I want to end with a note about the people who broke into the Capitol on Wednesday, January 6. Many of them believed they were patriots defending the republic. They clearly did not know that they had placed their trust in a con-man and a liar. Do they understand it now? They are the one's who are losing their jobs and going to jail. The rioters committed criminal acts and should be prosecuted. But they should not be dismissed as "deplorables." They were a small group but they represent a significant minority. Only because they don’t look like us or think or speak or act like us, they are no less part of America; a part, some of us may not like or wish to exist, but they are still fellow citizens. We are all obliged to engage, to listen, to hear out one another's grievances and, if possible, find common ground on which to move forward, together. Those who represent a danger to the rule of law must be contained. But those who have been misled by a cunning demagogue and trapped in a web of disinformation  need our compassion. And, of course, our republic needs to strengthen its institutions and brace itself for future onslaughts. But perhaps, by January 2022, you and I will have met and spoken with one or two of those we don't usually want to hear or speak to, and perhaps we may have learned something new about ourselves and about our own “bubbles,” the safe spaces of privilege we live in and cherish, but that also prevent us from seeing others as fully human.