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QAnon Fans Try To Explain Why Trump Took a Drug Developed with Fetal Tissue

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Trump speaks from the balcony of the White House in a blue suit, blue tie and orange hue

President Donald Trump addresses a rally in support of law and order on the South Lawn of the White House on October 10, 2020 in Washington, Trump invited over two thousand guests to hear him speak just a week after he was hospitalized for COVID-19. Photo via Getty Images

Standing on the White House Lawn on Thursday, glowing patchily in the sun, Donald Trump touted a drug he called “Regeneron” (the name of the company, not the drug), called it “a blessing from God” and claimed it had led to his miraculous recovery from COVID-19. “I felt unbelievable,” he said. “I felt good immediately.” The drug, as MIT Technology Review was first to report, was developed using a stem cell line made from aborted fetal tissue. It’s a sticky little fact that has landed some of the President’s most ardent supporters in a bit of a moral quandary, given that the Trump administration has made a show of opposing research that uses fetal tissue as part of its “pro-life” bona fides. And it’s even tougher for QAnon fans, who have spent the last few years insisting that the Satanic Democrat cabal routinely derives life-enhancing substances from the blood of the innocent.

The drug Trump received is an experimental antibody cocktail, one that Regeneron is now asking the FDA to grant emergency approval for. The company confirmed that it was developed using a fetal tissue cell line from the 1980s, one commonly used in biomedical research. Specifically, according to MIT Technology review, the company assessed the potency of the antibodies they were developing using “a standardized supply of cells called HEK 293T, whose origin was kidney tissue from an abortion in the Netherlands in the 1970s.” (There’s also currently no evidence that it specifically led to what Trump has touted as his miraculous recovery. Both Trump and his doctors have also refused to clearly state whether the president has tested negative since his diagnosis.)

The Trump administration has argued there’s no contradiction here, telling the New York Times and other outlets that the administration’s policy on fetal tissue research “’specifically excluded’ cell lines made before June 2019,” the paper wrote. But there are no such shades of gray among the president’s supporters, especially the more Q-centric among them; a search for “fetal tissue” along with a common QAnon hashtag  shows a near constant denunciation of abortion and fetal tissue research alike, both supposdly tools of the demonic Deep State.

The drug also manages to slot with almost painful neatness into an ongoing storyline in the right-wing conspiracyverse: that powerful Democratic elites extract the lifeblood or some other vital force from children and feed on it.

The drug also manages to slot with almost painful neatness into an ongoing storyline in the right-wing conspiracyverse: that powerful Democratic elites extract the lifeblood or some other vital force from children and feed on it. It’s a trope with roots in the anti-Semitic medieval blood libel, and has recurred in various forms for hundreds of years.

Among QAnon fans, that substance is commonly claimed to be “adrenochrome,” and the claim, more or less, is that the Satanic Democrat Illuminati elites extract it from children being tortured and killed and then inject it to maintain their youthful vigor. (Adrenochrome is a chemical compound that’s used mainly to slow blood clotting; its mythology as a supposed intoxicating drug is almost completely derived from fiction. It’s not, in any circumstances, necessary or possible to harvest it from tortured children).  The QAnon crowd, along with the larger right wing universe, have also been vocally opposed to the use of fetal tissue in any form, claiming it constitutes murder or child abuse or descration of dead infant. (It constitutes none of those things; fetal tissue research is common, and, again, the cells in question are decades old.)

The irony here was quickly identified. “So he’s extracting some sort of elixir from the cells of ‘children,’” tweeted podcast host David Waldman, “and using it to restore his health and create a euphoric feeling and high energy levels?”

“I’ve seen three responses from QAnon followers to the story about how the drug was developed with fetal stem cells,” says Travis View, a conspiracy theory researcher and one of the hosts of the podcast QAnon Anonymous. “Bafflement, denial, or (less commonly) claiming that Trump taking the drug is a ‘red pill’ designed to raise awareness about how fetal stem cells are used in research. QAnon followers who opt for denial often point out that the treatment doesn’t contain fetal stem cells, and therefore don’t understand the distinction between a stem cell treatment and a treatment developed using stem cells.”

View pointed to a somewhat tortured post that appeared on 8kun, which posited that the drug is a “great opportunity to red pill people” to the fact that vaccines are also sometimes developed using a fetal cell line.

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That view is far from universal. “Trump now acts as a shill for Big Pharma,” another, much more despairing poster on 4Chan wrote. “They got him on adrenochrome and he’s now fully part of the system of the beast, if not became the antichrist after 3 days.”

Larry Cook, a prominent anti-vaccine personality who’s recently become a seeming QAnon convert, addressed the controversy in the sunniest possible manner, writing, “I see there is some concern about the drug Regeneron that Trump is promising to make free for those who need it. I want to remind you that Trump ALSO said that “other” drugs will be made available. Put these two “cures” together and what does this mean? It means 1) a vaccine is not needed, 2) people can go VOTE IN PERSON  and NOT BE SCARED to do so. Because Trump just proved that recovery is (can be) a breeze – and everyone will have access to what he has (had) access to.”

Cook also suggested his followers more or less forget about the Regeneron thing, adding, “Instead of having concern about Regeneron and where it comes from and how it is made, let’s instead have WAY MORE concern about the plan that Trump interrupted when he became President: The nuclear destruction of many cities in the United States of America and the handover of our country to China (and other rogue countries and elements).”

More mainstream right-wing outlets are also attempting to “correct” the record on the antibody cocktail, mainly by baldly lying about it. Breitbart proclaimed in a supposed “fact check” that, as they put it, “None of the medications Trump was given involved the destruction of human life.” While that is true, since fetal tissue is not a “human life,” Breitbart of course doesn’t quite mean it that way. Their single source for the fact-check is the Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI), the purported “research arm” of the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group that works to elect similarly-minded politicians. CLI claims that genetically modified mouse embryonic stem cells were used to develop the drug, ignoring the fact that Regeneron has clearly and unequivocally confirmed that fetal tissue was used to test and develop the drug. Other supposed “fact checks” have employed similarly tortured logic.

In other words, despite the best efforts of Breitbart et. al, there’s still no current consensus on whether the president heroically took Regeneron to save humanity, has become fully entombed in the belly of the Beast, or some third option. It seems to represent, at this point, something rather rare in the MAGAverse: a genuine point of disagreement.

It’s virtually certain that in the coming days, the sentiments around Trump’s antibody cocktail will coalesce, and these divergent, competing points of view will be absorbed into a more dominant narrative, most likely one that urges trust in Trump and in what his followers so fondly call “the Plan.”

By Tuesday, in fact, there were signs that the controversy, such as it was, was simply being allowed to die away, and that the details of how Trump was “cured” were less relevant than the fact that he’d returned to public life, appearing at a rally in Florida where he claimed to be “immune.” The future of QAnon, after all—a movement based on lionizing one man, putting him into the role of savior, leader of mankind, and, of course, tireless, extremely healthy strongman—depends on believing that, to the bitter end.

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Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained

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Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.

In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.

Twitter did not attach a label to Trump’s recent tweet.
Twitter

Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.

It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.

Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.

Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.

Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.

The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”

Trump’s post on Facebook was accompanied by a link to Facebook’s Voting Information Center.
Facebook

At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.

On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.

That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.

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Nearly 6,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan so far this year

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From January to September, 5,939 civilians – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded – were casualties of the fighting, the UN says.

Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.

From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.

“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report said.

Civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year but UNAMA said violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last month.

An injured girl receives treatment at a hospital after an attack in Khost province [Anwarullah/Reuters]

The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.

Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.

Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.

Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.

At least 24 people , mostly teens, were killed in a suicide bomb attack at an education centre in Kabul [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

The Taliban has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

Washington blamed the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.

Calls for urgent reduction of violence

Meanwhile, the US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the level of violence in the country was still too high and the Kabul government and Taliban fighters must work harder towards forging a ceasefire at the Doha talks.

Khalilzad made the comments before heading to the Qatari capital to hold meetings with the two sides.

“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said in a tweet.

There needs to be “an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, added Khalilzad.

A deal in February between the US and the Taliban paved the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to sit with the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula.

But progress at the intra-Afghan talks has been slow since their start in mid-September and diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence back home is sapping trust.

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Classic toy tie-up: Etch A Sketch maker to acquire Rubik’s Cube

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Spin Master Corp., the company behind the Etch A Sketch and Paw Patrol brands, has agreed to acquire Rubik’s Brand Ltd. for about $50 million, tying together two of the world’s most iconic toy brands.

The merger comes at a boom time for classic toymakers, as parents turn to familiar products to entertain kids stuck in lockdown. Like sales of Uno, Monopoly and Barbie dolls, Rubik’s Cube purchases have spiked during the pandemic, according to the puzzle maker’s chief executive officer, Christoph Bettin. He expects sales to jump 15% to 20% in 2020, compared with a normal year, when people purchase between 5 million and 10 million cubes.

By acquiring Rubik’s, Toronto-based Spin Master can better compete with its larger rivals, Hasbro Inc. and Mattel Inc. All three companies have pivoted to become less reliant on actual product sales, diversifying into television shows, films and broader entertainment properties based on their toys. Spin Master CEO Anton Rabie said he wouldn’t rule out films or TV shows based on Rubik’s Cubes, but he was focused for now on creating more cube-solving competitions and crossmarketing it with the company’s other products, like the Perplexus.

“Whoever you are, it really has a broad appeal from a consumer standpoint,” Rabie said in an interview. “It’s actually going to become the crown jewel; it will be the most important part of our portfolio worldwide.”

Hungarian inventor Erno Rubik created the Rubik’s Cube in 1974, a solid block featuring squares with colored stickers that users could twist and turn without it falling apart. It gained popularity in the 1980s and has remained one of the best-selling toys of all time, spawning spinoff versions, international competitions of puzzle solvers, books and documentaries.

The toy has been particularly well-suited to pandemic conditions. During lockdowns, parents have sought to give kids puzzles that boost problem-solving skills useful in math and science careers. Normally, toys tied to major film franchises are among the most popular products headed into the holidays, but studios have delayed the release of major new movies because of coronavirus. So classic products are experiencing a mini-renaissance.

“The whole pandemic has really increased games and puzzles,” Rabie said. “But whether the pandemic existed or didn’t exist, we’d still buy Rubik’s. It’s had such steady sales for decades.”

Rubik’s CEO Bettin said it was the right time to sell the company, with the founding families behind it ready to move on. London-based Rubik’s Brand was formed out of a partnership between Erno Rubik and the late entrepreneur Tom Kremer, while private equity firm Bancroft Investment holds a minority stake in the company.

Early on, Bettin felt Spin Master was the right home for the puzzle toy, he said. Spin Master, which was started by a group of three friends in 1994, has expanded through the purchase of well-known brands, including Erector sets and Etch A Sketch. Rabie says he works to honor the “legacy” of those products, which Bettin cited as a key reason to sell the brand to Spin Master over larger companies that were interested.

“It was important for us to not be lost in the crowd, and to be sufficiently important and cared for,” Bettin said. “And there’s a balance between being with someone large enough to invest, and agile enough to ensure you are key part of their plans.”

Spin Master won’t own Rubik’s Cubes in time for the holiday season – the transaction is expected to close on Jan. 4. At that time, the company will move Rubik’s operations from a small office in London’s Notting Hill neighborhood to Spin Master’s new games operations center in Long Island.

Some of Rubik’s Brand’s 10 employees will be part of the transition, but they won’t stay permanently, Bettin said.

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