tv Witness LINKTV May 29, 2022 9:00pm-9:31pm PDT
♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ male: have you ever wondered why we go to war or why you never seem to be able to get out of debt? why there is poverty, division, and crime? whatf i told you there was a reason for it all? fellow slaves, it's time to buckle your seat belt. louise milligan: the qanon conspiracy theory has taken off around the world. male: we're all enslaved by a hidden enemy. louise: the bizarre ideology has attracted millions of believers worldwide, including a large number in australia,
fueled by the lockdowns during covid-19. male: to achieve this victory against the greatest force of evil the world has ever known. jitarth jadeja: i really look at it as like a foe of nate. it's like a coronavirus of the mind. uise: in america, qanon's dark and divisive politics have fueled ugly conflict. in australia it has led to families being split apart. val stewart: we've watched the change over these last years be quite dramatic. that's what raises our concern, that we do have family members who are involved. louise: the stewart family in sydney are among those deeply concerned over qanon's spread, as they've watched their son and brother tim stewart become immersed in its beliefs. karen stewart: tim believes that the world has really been taken over by satanic pedophiles, or luciferian
pedophiles they call them, and that is represented by the left, so the radical left. and if you don't believe in the qanon perspectives, then you're a pedophile enabler. louise: tim stewart has been a close family friend of prime minister scott morrison and has reportedly boasted about his access to the pm. miles taylor: i would think that someone in a position like prime minister morrison would wanna condemn those views and indicate strongly to the public that they have no bearing on his official actions, on his responsibilities, nor on his worldview. prime minister scott morrison: i find it deeply offensive that there would be any suggestion that i would have any involvement or support for such a dangerous organization. i clearly do not. louise: tonight, on four corners, we hear for the first time from a family who have watched with alarm as their son has descended into an extremist political conspiracy, and they
share their concerns about his relationship with the prime minister of australia. ♪♪♪ louise: on sydney's suburban fringe, the stewart clan sits down to dinner. val: first toast of the evening. here's to life's journey still going on and we're all in it. female: we sure are. val: it's good to be together. louise: over recent years the conversation during these family gatherings has often been tainted by a dark topic, the apocalyptic ideology of the far-right conspiracy theory qanon, which has split this family. val: we've watched the change over these last years be quite dramatic and a lot of that was to do with qanon.
louise: you are a mother who still loves her son. val: yes. louise: and would like to maintain a relationship with him. how is it, as a mom, watching this? val: it's not pleasant and, you know, the relationship has become quite strained over this last year. karen: it's like a conversion. and there is that religious undertone to qanon, and so constantly donning the armor of god and things like that because they are out there having tofigt have taken over the world. louise: val and brian stewart and their daughter karen have decided to speak out as a warning to others. what has prompted them is witnessing 51-year-old tim stewart descend into the world of qanon. karen: tim believes that the world has really been taken over
by satanic pedophiles, or luciferian pedophiles they call them, and that is represented by the left, so the radical left. male: keeping the public informed when the deep state war breaks out onto the surface. karen: they believe there's a spiritual rfare being waged and that they have knowledge of this, and so that they're on a crusade to make sure that the satanists are overthrown and things like that. male: the world is currently experiencing a dramatic covert war of biblical proportions, literally the fight for earth, between the forces of good and evil. miles: qanon really came onto the radar screen in october of 2017 on a website called 4chan. male: may god bless america. miles: where individuals propagated this conspiracy theory that the united states government was secretly being run by a cabal of satan-worshipping, cannibalistic
child predators, who were running a global sex-trafficking ring and were hell-bent on undermining donald trump while he was in office. now, this conspiracy theory was not only untrue. it was, in my view, indiscriminately crazy. male: that's why we have q. louise: the conspiracy theory was started by an anonymous online figure known as q, who has never been identified. male: came to be called the great awakening. elise thomas: someone started posting as a secret insider in the u.s. government, calling themselves q as a reference to the q-level security clearance, which doesn't actually exist outside of the department of energy. and in the initial q drop saying that hillary clinton would be arrested the next day, which obviously did not happen, but over time this individual, or this group of individuals--and it's still not clear who exactly it was--continued to post and continued to gather a following.
louise: miles taylor was the chief of staff at the u.s. department of homeland security in the trump administration. miles: it was clear to me in late 2018 and early 19 that these conspiracy theory trends, like qanon, were a danger to the country and that the vitriolic rhetoric on some of these message boards could jump the tracks into violence very, very easily. we were worried about that, and it wasn't just a law enforcement concern. we started to view it as a re national security threat. louise: in the united states, the fbi has declared qanon a potential domestic terrorism threat, but that hasn't happened in australia. according to the institute for strategic dialogue, australia is the fourth largest country for qanon-related activity online.
elise: in march 2020 we had, obviously, the outbreak of covid-19 and along with that came a lot of, sort of, associated mental health pressures, and we know belief in conspiracy theories is quite closely linked to, you know, various mental health stressors. d so, we saw an explosion of conspiracy activity around the world, including in australia, and as part of that we did see qanon come to australia in a more significant way than it had been before. jitarth: i think people forget that coronavirus, initially when it first came out, it was very traumatic for a lotta people. no one knew where this virus had really come from, right? there was very little information. governments were shutting down. people were scared. it was tumatic, and they go searching for answers. louise: recent university graduate jitarth jadeja is a moderator of an online forum for people who've lost family members to what they call the "qult." the qanon casualties reddit group s about 160,000 members,
including in australia. jitarth: the power of qanon is not even really about the beliefs. the power is the behavioral change that it causes in a believer. it'sestructi to the person themselves and their relationships, their family and friends. every day i see stories of families being ripped apart--people's children being kicked out of the house by their parents, people having to call off marriages after decades, people's parents, you know, accusing them of wanting their children to die--so it is the saddest place in the internet. louise: jitarth was completely engrossed in the conspiracy theory for a year and a half. one of his biggest regrets is that he got one of his relatives involved. jitarth: we would talk for hours, four, five hours just sitting and standing in front of the--standing in the kitchen just talking, and the moment i got out i realized like, "what have i done?
what have i done?" and i tried. i've tried to talk to him. i've tried to get him out. doesn't work. louise: tim stewart, a town planner and former bankrupt, was an early follower of qanon in australia. around 2017, he started a blog called sideways step for one of the posts is titled "the reason for the treason: a conversation for the great awakening." male: "the great awakening is revealing that dark forces have found their way into the highest levels of influence." storm is, sort of, linked to the idea that there'll be some sort of cataclysmic awakeng of all the people around the world as, sort of, the scales drop from their eyes and they see this global satanic pedophile cabal for what they truly are. and the idea is that donald trump, in some way, was going to
bring on the storm, which would lead to the great awakening. louise: tim stewart's blog lays out a central belf of qanon, that leftist elites are running a pedophile ring that harvests children's blood. male: "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 " "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?" louisein australia, tim stewart rose to prominence in local qanon circles when his twitter account @burnedspy34 was included in a post by q, known as a q drop, that users have to decode. elise: that's how a lot of these qanon influencers got
their start and, sort of, first came to the attention of the rest of the qanon community. and so, we know from archived versions of the burnedspy twitter account that in early 2019 he had, sort of, around 1700 followers, and that by late 2019 had, you know, 20,000 odd followers. louise: the stewart family watched in alarm as tim's beliefs became an obsession. karen: it's really outlandish, and we've heard things from the queen being a shape-shifting lizard to all sorts of things where a being might come down and do some training and astral projection and time traveling and things like that. louise: your son believes that donald trump is saving the world from leftist pedophiles. val: yes, that is so. louise: and your son believes and has said to you that he believes that both jacinda ardern, the new zealand prime minister, and michelle obama, the former first lady,
are actually men. val: yes, that has been said to me, yes. karen: if people wear red shoes, then that's they're wearing red so that when babies are slaughtered and the blood falls on the ground that no one will see the blood spatter. and there's been tweets from them that say if you don't believe in the qanon perspectives, then you're a pedophile enabler. ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ louise: at the same time that tim stewart was descending into qanon, one of his old friends ascended to the highest office in the land. scott morrison became prime minister in august 2018. tim stewart's wife, lynelle, has been best friends with scott
morrison's wife, jenny, for decades. the two couples cemented their friendships at their local baptist church in the early 1990s. brian stewart: well, it's a close one. there's no doubt about that. the two girls in particular have known each other from high school onwards, and then the two men who married the two girls became friends as well along the way. val: they've had a lifelong friendship together. louise: would you say best friends? val: oh, yes, i would say best friends, yes. jenny was lynelle's maid of honor, and lynelle was jenny and scott's bridesmaid. louise: jenny morrison describes lynelle stewart on her facebook page as her "dear old friend." lynelle says jenny is a "precious treasure" and a
"forever friend." when mr. morrison entered parliament, the stewarts were delighted. brian: tim was invited to attend scott's maiden speech. he was excited, so was i, when scott was elected. house speaker: the member for cook. prime minister morrison: mr. speaker, it is with humility-- brian: i thought it was rather a privilege that tim was one of those who received the invitation. i would imagine that any incumbent for the--speaking for the first time would ask people to attend who were in some way special him. louise: when tim and lynelle stewart celebrated their 24th wedding anniversary in august 2017, then-treasurer scott morrison sent his congratulations on lynelle's facebook page. "happy anniversary guys - still remember you telling jen and i a
very long time ago in our little flat in bronte that you had an amazing guy - you were right." these photos which they shared on facebook are from the following year, when the morrison family holidayed with the stewarts on the new south wales south coast. when the morrisons moved into the prime minister's residence in sydney, kirribilli house, lynelle stewart was hired to work as a household attendant. karen: lynelle was looking after the children and the dog even before she was employed, so certainly was helping out. she's technically employed by prime minister and cabinet and her role has been to assist in looking after the children and things like that. louise: lynelle stewart has frequently posted photographs from kirribilli on her social media, including this one of her
and her husband tim stewart in 2018. the families even celebrated new year's eve together at the prime minister's residence. in january 2019, tim stewart shared these photos from kirribilli saying he was house sitting. the little boy is his son. karen: i don't think it was an uncommon thing for them to be there. not at all. i can see there's photos from new year's eve there and things like that. we've seen that, yep. louise: tim stewart liked to boast about his friendship with scott morrison. one associate who says he heard these boasts was eliahi priest, a self-styled online anti-corruption crusader who was questioned by counterterrorism police after social media posts wherhe said he'd successfully hacked the prime minister's office. priest, who met tim stewart once in 2018, claims stewart said he
could pass information to the pm. eliahi priest: tim had said that he could make evidence i had about government corruption available to the prime minister and have the prime minister of australia act on that evidence. louise: priest says tim stewart sent him this picture of tim and scott morrison together. eliahi: i can't emphasize enough how close tim said the families were, which was why he said there was a way, due to that closeness, that he could influence the prime minister. louise: at the time, scott morrison was preparing for one of his first acts as prime minister, a national apology to survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. eliahi priest set up a meeting with tim stewart and others. the group wanted the phrase "ritual sexual abuse" included
in the national apology. dr. michael salter: so, when the qanon conspiracy is using the term "ritual abuse," they're using it as synonymous with child torture, cannibalism, really the most gross and vivid and graphic allegations of child abuse that you can imagine. it has been folded into a set of beliefs about the united states government, in which there are high-powered, high-profile individuals who secretly engage in these strange satanic ceremonies. louise: eliahi priest showed four corners messages he says tim stewart sent him referring to his attempts to get the words "ritual abuse" into the apology. male: "i am ornizing an intimate strategy for the pm re the ritual phrase." "ok mate. i'm just preparing a message to scott now re monday.
once he's awake mate he will kick a--." louise: priest says he also received a text message tim stewart said he had sent to his wife lynelle. male: "an army of victims and therapists would specifically love it if scott's apology referenced 'ritual abuse victims.' this exact wording is a key phrase for victims. think of this like a code that sends a direct and clear message that they have been heard by scott specifically." female: hundreds of survivors of child sexual abuse in the nation's institutions will gather at parliament house in canberra this morning for an apology from the prime minister. louise: on the 22nd of october 2018, parliament house opened its doors to abuse survivors and their supporters for the apology by scott morrison.
hetty johnston: there was a lot of people waiting for a long time for this apology. we felt like we were a part of history. we wanted it to be the moment of change. we really believed that this was the turning around of the tragedy of sexual assault against children in the nation. louise: that morning, tim stewart's text to eliahi priest suggested he was feeling confident. male: "good morning mate. i think scott is going to do it!" "pretty sure speech is at 11. i hope he says it." "scott is very aware of the enormity of today!" parliament clerk: government business notice number 1, motion relating to the national apology to victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. louise: at 11 a.m., the prime minister rose to deliver the historic speech. prime minister morrison: i move that the house apologize to the victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse.
it happened anywhere, a predator thought they could get away with it, and the systems within these organizations allowed it to happen and turned a blind eye. it happened day after day, week after week, month after month, decade after decade. unrelenting torment. dr. salter: the speech was received, i think, tremendously well. it was taken in the spirit that it was offered, which was, i think, a spirit of generosity, a spirit of repentance and regret, and that's something that survivors of sexual abuse don't often get. they don't often get someone saying, "i'm sorry that this has happened to you. i regret that this has happened to you." prime minister morrin: the crimes of ritual sexual abuse happened in schools, churches, youth groups, scout troops, orphanages, foster homes.
louise: but close observers of the process were taken aback by the use of the phrase "ritual sexual abuse." dr. salter: ritual child sexual abuse wasn't a focus of the royal commission. it wasn't evident in the reports or in the recommendations, and so certainly there were questions about where did this phrase come from? how did it arise? how did it come to be in the prime minister's speech in the manner that it was? i'm in contact with international networks of mental health workers particularly who treat children and adults who have been subject to sexual exploitation, and i was contacted. i was emailed. people reached out about this phrase. it is a phrase that we're aware of. it's a very sensitive phrase. elise: the use of the phrase "ritual sex abuse" would 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. louise: despite being asked repeatedly, the prime minister
has not answered four corners' questions on the record about whether tim stewart passed on information to him about the wording of the apology. immediately after the apology, tim start began tweeting triumphantly using his twitter account @burnedspy34. male: "what a great speech @scottmorrisonmp acknowledging the victims of ritual abuse." "a new conversation began today in australia. it was a stepping stone to be sure, but we took the step. @scottmorrisonmp took control of the narrative powerfully and commenced phase 1 of our restoration." louise: tim stewart's son jesse, who is also a qanon follower, celebrated on twitter using qanon codes and hashtags. male: "you know #thegreatawakening is in full swing when the australian prime minister @scottmorrisonmp mentions #ritualabuse.
scott is a patriot." jitarth: so, within the qanon community, when it was first reported that burnedspy and scott morrison had some kind of relationship or moved in the same social cycles, that was taken as a tacit approval or tacit proof of this plan, of the conspiracy of the great awakening of where the good guys will take over. that maybe scott morrison's on board, you know? and as much as--i wish i didn't have to say this, but it's true. that the lack of condemnation and the lack of response to that relationship by scott morrison--and i don't like saying that because i don't--i actually like him. that was, like, people just thought that it was low-key approval. that's it, and it boosted the authenticity of the movement. louise: eliahi priest texted tim stewart about other issues he wanted stewart to rai with the primminister, such as his
claim that school students were being taught about homosexual sex. tim stewart replied-- male: "i am in shock. this is going straight to scott." louise: the prime minister did not respond on the record to four corners' questions about why the words "ritual abuse" were included in the apology. a spokesperson for the prime minister has previously said-- male: "the term 'ritual' is one that the prime minister heard directly from the abuse survivors and the national apology to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse reference group he met with in the lead up to the apology. and refers not just to the ritualized way or patterns in which so many crimes were committed but also to the frequency and repetition of them." louise: four corners has spoken to most of the members of the reference group and seen their formal written advice. the phrase "ritual abuse" is not mentioned.
prime minister morrison: we honor every survivor in this country. we love you, we hear you, and we honor you. louise: watching scott morrison's apology at home was tim stewart's sister karen, who had their parents, val and brian, by her side. karen: when i heard the word "ritual" in that speech, my phone next to me buzzed, and it was a family member saying, "did you hear that? did you hear that? that's the first time that's ever been said in the australian parliament." louise: the apology had particular significance for karen stewart, who says she was sexually assaulted when she was a child. karen: a speech that was to empower us, to make us feel like we'd been heard, to take us seriously, we achieved all that. so, in the one speech i received that, and then the word "ritual"
pops in there, and i felt that that snatched it away beuse it was a signal to another group of people that are not there for my healing. louise: karen stewart's experience echoes that of so many survivors, in both the abuse and how the institution responded. karen was 14 when she says she was repeatedly sexually assaulted by 2 young men from her church community. she told her parents and her brother tim, who supported her through the aftermath. val: even though we didn't know the details, the details at the time didn't matter to us. what mattered was something horrible had happened that was emotionally destroying. brian: i noticed a girl who had lost a softness of character that had previously been there, somebody who became hard, somebody who sought values that were not those
that we'd instilled within her. there was a change that took place. louise: and looking back on it now, like, as an adult who, sort of, knows a lot more about the world, what do you think that young girl was going through? karen: trauma. trauma that i didn't understand. [tearing up] sorry. i'm doing what ion't wanna do, so just give me a moment. louise: the pastor of the church eventually conceded that a serious crime was committed against karen. in 2011, karen reported the assaults to police. they decided there was insufficient evidence to proceed. val: the emotional effect and the trauma, we have since learned, is never out of her mind, and for us as a whole family we've had now 30 years of what has been trauma and traumatic.
it's huge. it doesn't go ay ever. ♪♪♪ louise: karen stewart's experience as a survivor has amplified her distress over her brother's obsession with qanon and its discredited theory about ritual sexual abuse. karen: they talk about saving the children, but i was that child. i was once the child that they claim they're saving. my life is the worse for having qanon in it. that was one of the moments where i recognized that my brother cared more about qanon than about the healing of people