On January 8, police in the Brooklyn neighborhood arrested Hebrew students who had drilled the beginning of a tunnel at Synagogue 770 against the advice of authorities. The episode captured the imagination of conspiracy circles. BRUCE SCHAFF / AP
The scene takes place on January 8, 2024 in Brooklyn, in the “770” synagogue (so called because of its address: 770 Eastern Parkway), one of the most influential in the United States. There were clashes between some believers and the police. The unusual picture went around the world: Orthodox Jews locked behind mattresses in a false partition were being brought out manu militari.
However, the story told by many media outlets, including the Jewish Chronicle and the New York Times, is not unusual. Believers who found the synagogue too small wanted to enlarge it by boring a tunnel to an adjacent annex. The work was carried out without the consent of the rabbinic authorities for whom these walls are sacred. The religious leaders then angrily tried to have the wall sealed. On that famous January 8, the rebels sought refuge inside to block the work before being violently evicted as the targets looked on. The next day, the synagogue's rabbi, Yehuda Krinsky, denounced “the vandalism of young agitators” and thanked the New York police.
Things could have ended there. But images of the fighting quickly made the rounds on conspiracy networks. A stain appears on one of the old, worn mattresses that the students sleep on. Could it be blood? Children's blood? Pedophilic acts perhaps? “The Jews, the tunnels and the children, these are three elements that greatly stimulate the imagination of the complosphere. Taken together, it’s a kind of bingo,” notes Tristan Mendès France, co-host of the “Complorama” podcast, on Franceinfo.
The rumor machine is running. Internet users report that the ten-meter-long tunnel would open “directly opposite” the Children's Museum (which is actually 600 meters away). Manipulative video montages mix images of the synagogue and child trafficking in Latin America. Texas host Alex Jones, Pope of Western Conspiracy, draws a parallel In connection with the Jeffrey Epstein affair, the billionaire is accused of sexually abusing dozens of teenage girls. Within days, a disagreement over the design of a place of worship turned into a complex pedophile myth.
If these stories proliferate so much, it's because they seem familiar to their authors. Since the Trump era, the Complosphere has seen pedophile tunnels everywhere – and for the first time, it finally believes it has proof. As early as April 2020, during the full lockdown, there were rumors that tens of thousands of children were being held captive in the basements of New York. This was followed by variants with connections to other urban subways, for example in Melbourne or Sydney. In 2022, a conspiracy theory claimed that Putin freed 35,000 children trapped underground by bombing Ukraine.
Masonic lodges on the lunar crust
The fascination with Keller is not new. It appears in conspiracy literature from the end of the 18th century, when Abbot Augustin Barruel, looking for someone responsible for the French Revolution, castigated the “enlightened Jacobin Freemasons.” [qui] leave their underground huts.
In his very religious framework, he then connects the hated conspirators to the very depths. “The conspiracy is the other side of the normal world, and the other side of the normal world is underground,” explains Véronique Campion-Vincent, an anthropologist who specializes in urban legends. The underground passages also have a literary function: they convey a dark, shady and bestial fantasy and are already an index of a moral judgment. “It is the phantasmagoric logic of rats hiding in the basement,” says Tristan Mendès France.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, underground facilities have served as a justification for the existence of aliens. On the moon they would live hidden in a labyrinth beneath its surface. Modern ufologists suspect underground bunkers on Mars from where the Martians are watching us. “It's a good way to explain that they are there without us seeing them,” smiles Véronique Campion-Vincent. The corridors of the abyss thus have an essential function in the conspiracy argument: Since the tunnel is inherently hidden from everyone's view, this cannot be denied.
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The pedozotanist turn
In the 1960s, an urban legend investigated by Edgar Morin, the Orléans Rumor, laid the foundation for human trafficking: young women were kidnapped using traps hidden under dressing rooms before being handed over to a human trafficking network.
Also read | Article reserved for our subscribers In Orléans, the anti-Semitic rumor is still remembered
Basically, the basement must consist of corridors and not a simple basement. “There is an operational dimension in the tunnel,” notes Mr. Mendès France, a sign of activity, of a network, of organized mischief.
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But it wasn't until the 1980s that the idea of the underground was openly influenced by pedosanism. In a context of moral panic, parents are convinced that ritual ceremonies in which children are sexually exploited are taking place at McMartin Preschool in Los Angeles. The affair fascinated Americans and the allegations were taken very seriously. “Police officers were looking for these tunnels, it was very important,” emphasizes Véronique Campion-Vincent. There will never be an underground. Fueled by a bit of dirty news, often associated with cults, the image will persist.
A central concept in QAnon
With QAnon, a conspiracy mythology surrounding Trumpism, pedophile tunnels are taking center stage. As of 2016, “Pizzagate,” its founding rumor, imagined a pedophile network with ties to the Democratic elite in the (nonexistent) basement of a Washington pizzeria. Then, in April 2018, “Q,” the account designed to spread classified information to conspiracy theorists online, mentioned “Tunnels Under the Epstein Island Temple.”
Since then, the QAnon rumor machine has seen pedophile tunnels everywhere, from New York to Ukraine, under volcanoes and under synagogues. “There is a synthesis between the idea of a secret conspiracy and moral panic surrounding child crime,” concludes Tristan Mendès France.
The idea of tunnels has become so structuring that the QAnon movement has coined the fantastical concept of mole children or “mole children” to refer to the victims kept underground to satisfy a pedosatic elite. No less crazy are the “DUMBs,” underground military bases, elite units under Trump’s command, responsible for their delivery. Their military operations would be responsible for the earthquakes. That's the wonder of the tunnels: like any good myth, they explain absolutely everything.