“OUT OF SHADOWS” – The ethos, logos and pathos of conspiracy theories
Philippians 4:8 In conclusion, my friends, fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honorable.
Conspiracy theorists have released a new film that has been viewed almost 14 million times in the first two weeks since it was uploaded to YouTube on April 10. The 77-minute “documentary” is an homage to the founding tenets of the “Pizzagate” and QAnon conspiracy theories, presented with professional production quality and storytelling.
“Out of Shadows” sends viewers down a red-pill rabbit hole with former stuntman and actor Mike Smith, who begins the film by recounting a physical therapist who told him to investigate satanic child sex abuse. As Smith becomes convinced of the evil of the occult and its presence around him in Hollywood, he descends ever deeper into conspiracy theories for the rest of the film, convinced that major media outlets are covering up satanic rituals and child sex abuse. Claims that elite figures in the media, business, Hollywood, and politics are engaging in such evil acts are central to the QAnon conspiracy theory.
Smith spends a portion of the film alleging that major entertainment companies are intentionally broadcasting occult symbols and “programming” Americans’ thoughts and behaviors with their content. The film’s producers turn to former stuntman Brad Martin, former CIA officer turned right-wing conspiracy theorist Kevin Shipp, and QAnon and Pizzagate-obsessed “journalist” Liz Crokin to support Smith’s claims.
The film begins in some truth but quickly devolves into conspiracy theories. (https://www.rightwingwatch.org/post/out-of-shadows-is-a-qanon-film-going-viral/)
According to their website, the goal of OUT OF SHADOWS is to wake up the general public by attempting to shed light on how we all may have been lied to and potentially brainwashed by a “hidden” enemy with an apparently sinister agenda.
OUT OF SHADOWS has subsequently breathed momentum back into the QAnon community, which had experienced a series of setbacks as its conspiracy theories were consistently debunked. Considering QAnon’s history of inspiring violent acts, this is a dangerous trend that should be closely examined. The #outofshadows Twitter network is also saturated with other coronavirus conspiracy theories and public health-related mis/disinformation, including a number of overtly anti-vaccination posts. These tweets often have nothing to do with the film, but the hashtag #outofshadows is used to inject coronavirus narratives into the broader conversation. These narratives allege that Bill Gates, Dr. Fauci, and the United Nations are collaborating on a vaccine program that is actually a cover for mind and population control, and the coronavirus is seen as a weapon in that effort.
The narrator of OUT OF SHADOWS, Mike Smith, grew up a lifelong practitioner in various martial arts, riding horses, and motocross. Mike soon became one of Hollywood’s hottest stunt doubles making Mel Gibson, Ethan Hawke, Christian Bale, David Duchovney, and many other leading men, look good. He’s been James Bond, Batman and countless heroes driving fast cars, riding wild horses, and braving 100ft falls. After a stunt accident nearly paralysed Mike, he “discovered God” and is now a professing Christian.
The claims made in the video are far-reaching in nature and begs the question: is this video authentic and can the information be trusted?
In its basic form, a conspiracy theory is simply a theory about a conspiracy – and therefore impossible to prove true or false, simply because it is a theory. There’s nothing wrong with that. Real conspiracies exist. Many have been proven true, but always (and this is important) after independent, official investigations based on verifiable evidence.
Since it is impossible to prove a theory true or false, a critical analysis is therefore required to determine whether the claims are legitimate and whether it has any substance.
As an investigative journalist, I have found that all conspiracy theories share some common denominators. To simply comment on OUT OF SHADOWS would imply that this video is unique, which it is not. I would, therefore, like use OUT OF SHADOWS as an example to address conspiracy theories in general:
ETHOS – LOGOS – PATHOS
Aristotle once provided a platform for effective communication: Ethos – Logos – Pathos.
- ETHOS is about establishing your authority to speak on the subject,
- LOGOS is your logical argument for your point and the ‘truth’ you proclaim
- PATHOS is your attempt to sway an audience emotionally.
OUT OF SHADOWS is a classic example of a conspiracy theory using these three elements to persuade an audience.
- THE ETHOS of OUT OF SHADOWS
Before a conspiracy theorist can build his own integrity, he needs to break down existing trust. This is the first rule in gaining people’s confidence. A conspiracy will always start by sowing seeds of doubt and creating suspicion in the minds of the audience. OUT OF SHADOWS starts with the following introduction: “Most of the things we believe to be a fact in our lives are told to us through the stories or the news that we hear,” says the narrator Mike Smith at the opening of the documentary. “So, my question would be, if they were deceiving you with the stories they tell you, would you be able to recognize that?”
The scene is set, seeds of suspicion are sown and suddenly we not only distrust one journalist but the media industry as a whole
The next step is establishing his own integrity. Telling the audience how successful he was, how knowledgeable he is and how trustworthy he is, Smith then describes himself as one of the best stuntmen ever; showing a number of video clips to prove it.
Within 10 minutes of the video, unsuspected viewers are suddenly doubting established institutions that they previously trusted and now trust a complete stranger which they have never heard of before. Even Smith’s Christian testimony should not simply be taken at face value. There are no words of repentance for his previous involvement in the “Luciferin and Occultic” industry. Smith exposes the evil in Hollywood but still refers to it as ”an amazing career and an amazing life”. He then embarks on doing exactly what he warns his audience about – brainwash them with false information.
- THE LOGOS of OUT OF SHADOWS
After establishing his integrity, the narrator now moves to LOGOS – the facts, information, and ‘a new truth’.
As part of a general LOGOS approach, every conspiracy theorist, including this documentary, will start with a “selected truth” which is general knowledge. They provide a hybrid of real and false evidence, and even as the evidence is debunked, they pivot or evolve to fresh “evidence” to keep the conspiracy theory alive. Snopes describes it as follows: It’s Important to remember that conspiracy theories like this are expressing the fundamental currents of a society. Conspiracy theories and myths never work unless you’ve got existing material in society to use.
The conspiracy will always start with elements that everybody recognises as truth but then build theories upon that truth. We’ve known for years that there’s a lot of very shady stuff going on in Hollywood, and we all have no doubt that certain sectors Hollywood is saturated with the occult. This is general knowledge. This alone would have been an interesting premise for a documentary, however, this is where the problem with OUT OF SHADOWS starts to arise.
A conspiracy will always have a built-in disclaimer as well: Anybody who disagrees with this message is either part of the enemy, the evil plan, or brainwashed. There is no encouragement for the viewer to do their own extensive research.
Smith continuously refers to all the research he has done but does not provide any source outside the radical and conspiracy movements he moves in. None of the theories could be verified outside these circles as well. PizzaGate has been effectively debunked and no reliable source on the internet could confirm any of the other accusations. But, as the disclaimer already noted, this is because all other media have been infiltrated and is corrupt
Once we understand the way conspiracy theorists compose their documents, we discover that they are traders in illusion. By stating a truth that we all agree on, they then reveal a “new truth” and the viewer feels a sense of uniqueness now that they know secrets of the underworld. This offers a certain amount of comfort and is what makes the theories so appealing at first. But all conspiracy theories inevitably lead to a dead-end without any solutions or answers. It simply remains theories that aim to create suspicion, fear and uncertainty
- THE PATHOS of OUT OF SHADOWS
Without exception every conspiracy theory is solidified by playing on the emotion of the viewer – and what greater drawing card than child sex trafficking. Now you tell stories. Heart-breaking stories. And the bait is swallowed hook, line, and sinker.
Once the narrator has established integrity by sowing suspicion, truth by adding theories and emotion through manipulative stories, they can say whatever they want as long as it looks professional, sounds trustworthy, and feeds the fears of the audience.
A quick look at the narrator, Mike Smith, should raise some red flags as well.
In his own words, Mike Smith says the following about his conversion: “I didn’t find God because I went to church. I found God because I realized that the Luciferian and the occult world was real and that I had been fooled for all of these years and I then got really scared.”
The goodness, the holiness, and the wholeness of Christ should always be what draw us in the Kingdom. People who were deeply involved in the occult would always testify how the beauty of Christ drew them out of darkness. We do not become Christian because of evil but because of salvation. This might sound like a matter of simple semantics, but the reality is that when evil becomes our reason then evil will also become our message. Those that find true salvation will declare a message of salvation
Smith also refers to his “amazing career and amazing life” after referring to the industry as “Luciferian and the occultic”. There seems to be little repentance of his contribution to the industry but still glorifying his old life.
Sadly, there is no mention, or evidence, of discipleship or transformation in Smith’s life. There is no anguish for lost but vengeance for the evil.
THE MESSAGE of OUT OF SHADOWS from a Biblical perspective
Upon watching the video there is a sense of despair, anger, suspicion, and even a deep uncertainty and distrust – all vices from the enemy. Scripture teaches us that the truth shall set us free (John 8:32). This is one of the unmistakeable qualities of truth. For Smith, it seems like truth brought a greater bondage and for the viewer the same. Suspicion is a serious sin: https://thethirdway.org/sowing-suspicion-the-7th-sin-in-a-global-pandemic/
Like all conspiracy theories OUT OF SHADOWS also refers to a singular enemy. The CIA, the media, the government, Hollywood, Walt Disney, Democrats, and liberals are all working together to establish a new world order. It is hard to believe that this idea could even begin to take root in the heart of believers. The “Destroyer” (the devil) is unable to create unity, only division (Mathew 12:26). If all these role players were united in their evil plans, they would start by destroying one another. This is how evil works. If Christians, seeking good, find it difficult to work together, why do we believe evil can achieve this?
But most importantly, the Biblical measure for all that we watch and believe is the fruit it produces. QAnom and PizzaGate theories have already produced a number of people taking up arms and setting out on a road of hatred and destruction. On 4 December 2016, Edgar Welch, a 28-year-old Christian man from North Carolina, convinced from online forums that he had to find the children himself, entered the pizzeria with an AR-15 to kill the people involved. No one was hurt and Welch was arrested, but the episode underscored the terrifying power of conspiracy theories and fake news articles, cultivated through videos like OUT OF SHADOWS (for full story visit: https://amp.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2020/mar/19/after-truth-hbo-fake-news-pizzagate-documentary)
Without exception conspiracy theories always demonises groups, individual and industries. Christians are called to bless and lead people to repentance. I know some amazing spirit-filled journalists, some loving Christians in the movie industry, and even some born-again believers who are Democrats and more liberal in their approach. To demonise these industries is not only irresponsible but unbiblical and unChristlike
‘The Conversation’ provides good guidelines to discern between conspiracy theories and investigations The article concludes as follows
This brings us to what is probably the most important difference between conspiracy theories and investigations into actual conspiracies. For those interested in actual conspiracies – including investigative journalists, historians, prosecutors, or judges – the existence of a plot is a testable hypothesis. The approach to evidence demands that sources are checked, and claims verified. If there is an absence of proof or if evidence contradicts the hypothesis, this is not automatically considered to be part of a cover-up.
For the conspiracy theorist, the opposite applies. The idea of a plot is not a hypothesis, but a fundamental, unshakeable principle. The possibility that the basic premise of the conspiracy theory may be wrong, or that it might be proven wrong by new evidence, is not even entertained.
Conspiracy theories are essentially irrefutable: logical contradictions, evidence showing the opposite, even the complete absence of proof have no bearing on the conspiratorial explanation because they can always be accounted for in terms of the conspiracy. The lack of proof about a plot, or any positive proof against its existence, is turned around and taken as evidence of the craftiness of the secret cabal behind the conspiracy. It is seen as confirmation of the conspirators’ ability to conceal their machinations.
Awareness of the differences between inquiries into real conspiracies and conspiracy theories is important because contemporary conspiracy culture thrives on the perception that somehow this distinction is fuzzy, or even non-existent. Yet the difference could not be more real – or socially and politically relevant.
Bottom line – OUT OF SHADOWS is a dangerous, unbiblical conspiracy theory and should not be forwarded.