Fears of creeping transhumanism give space for overt conspiracism in Gender Critical communities

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Aaron Rabinowitzhttps://voidpod.com/
Aaron Rabinowitz is a lecturer in philosophy at Rutgers University, and host of the Embrace The Void and Philosophers in Space podcast.

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As conspiracy communities continue to interconnect and produce complex conspiracism ecosystems, it’s worth keeping track of the common themes that facilitate the slide from one conspiracy to another. This month, I want to look at conspiracies centered around creeping transhumanism, a theme with a rich history that unsurprisingly involves accusations of malevolent Jewish influence, and seems to be gaining market share in conspiracism communities.

Transhumanism refers to a broad movement that advocates various forms of human enhancement. The movement is heavily influenced by science fiction, and the ultimate goals range from reversing the effects of biological aging to uploading everyone’s consciousness to the cloud. Transhumanists have popularised several ideas, including the idea of a technological singularity, or a significant inflection point in our relationship with technology where it either supersedes us or we merge with it, depending on your interpretation of the concept. Transhumanists also seek to raise awareness of the existential risks posed by unchecked technology, such as the runaway growth of an AI superintelligence.

Full disclosure, I’m sympathetic to forms of transhumanism that aim at reducing suffering and increasing flexibility around all our physical and psychological features. While we have to be careful to develop these technologies in ethical ways, it seems quintessentially human to create tools that help us to better engage with our world.

Transhumanist communities often overlap with Rationalist and Longtermist communities. There is open debate on the relationship between transhumanism and posthumanism, which is typically associated with the goal of reaching a state that is no longer human. Conservative critics of transhumanism have sought to portray it as an extreme form of posthumanism that will destroy all that is natural and good about humans and replace it with a Frankenstein monster.

Transhumanism shows up as a big bad in several forms of conspiracism, including some that I’ve discussed in previous articles. Anti-transhumanist conspiracism is frequently combined with anti-globalist conspiracism, with Billionaires like George Soros once again cast as the ultimate (((they))). Alex Jones is a major proponent of a wide range of conspiracies about transhumanism, from human-animal hybrids to vaccine microchips to full-on domination by a superintelligent AI. James Lindsay and his business partner Michael O’Fallon have promoted similar conspiracies as part of their depopulation and anti-woke conspiracies. Antivaxxer conspiracism can often include an anti-transhumanist element, as does QAnon, especially when mixed with Great Reset conspiracies.

This month though I want to focus on the way that anti-transhumanism conspiracies with clear antisemitic roots have been laundered and mainstreamed in Gender Critical and Radical Feminist communities. First, I want to reiterate that being a member of these communities does not immediately make someone either antisemitic or a conspiracy theorist. My concern is, much like with #SaveTheChildren, gender critical portrayals of the trans agenda and its funding are making members of that community more susceptible to onboarding laundered far right conspiracies.

To get a sense of the problem, let’s look at the work of Jennifer Bilek, a gender critical activist and writer who runs The 11th Hour blog. Christa Peterson, Katy Montgomerie, and Joshua Stein have done the heavy lifting on this topic, but I’m going to work through what I see as the key points. In 2018, Bilek wrote a widely shared article on the conservative website The Federalist entitled “Who are the Rich, White Men Institutionalizing Transgender Ideology?”, which purports to expose a billionaire transhumanist conspiracy that’s using trans activism as a front to get everyone hooked on “a never-ending saga of body-related consumerism”.

The evidence Bilek cites are donations and statements by wealthy individuals to various charities that advocate for a range of issues, including trans rights. Bilek’s claims about the money behind trans activism have been shared by the LGB Alliance, Allison Bailey, Sheila Jeffreys, and Graham Linehan, just to name a few. Helen Joyce also claims that the same billionaires are behind the trans agenda in her book Trans, which has received substantial praise from mainstream outlets like The Times. Joyce doesn’t provide a source for the claim in the book, but prior to the book’s release she publicly encouraged people to check out Bilek’s article while promoting the forthcoming book, a fact Bilek has cited when accusing Joyce of using her work without a citation. Joyce responded to the situation here. In my opinion, given the similarities in claims and comments like the following, it seems likely that Joyce was drawing on Bilek’s article:

A tweet from Helen Joyce dated 2nd January 2021 which reads "Lots and lots does come from the US too. Details in my book! But in the meantime have a look at Jennifer Bilek's pieces about the billionaire funders of transactivism - they funnel their money partly through European and UK organisations."

Now, claiming that trans activism is secretly a psy-op by billionaires is already bad from a conspiratorial perspective. It also erases decades of activism, and I don’t want to downplay that by highlighting how much worse it gets. Even if you don’t buy any of the antisemitism issues that come next, please understand that telling people that “big pharma” or its billionaire leaders are coming to enslave people’s children into a transhumanist nightmare is already creating a dangerous situation for everyone involved.

In Bilek’s case the situation seems significantly worse. Since at least as far back as 2018, Bilek has cited David Icke, of (((reptilian))) overload fame, and the openly antisemitic Keith Woods as reliable sources that are both “onto something”. In the case of David Icke, Bilek claims that Icke is onto our “devil/AI/Reptilian” overlords. Bilek believes that Icke clearly outlines the nefarious transhumanist agenda, and considers it plausible that a superintelligent AI is actually already in charge.

A series of tweets dated August 30th 2018. 
Tweet 1: Jennnifer Bilek: "I used to think this guy was completely bonkers. Well here he is breaking down the transgender project & is sounds a little too close for comfort. David Icke - Is there An Agenda Behind Transgender Ideology youtu.be/a6x10TEwHv4 via @YouTube"

Tweet 2: A response from Twitter User The Lies They Tell: "Well I suppose even a stopped clock is right twice a day"

Tweet 3: Response from Jennifer Bilek: "Perhaps, but I just watched two recent videos in a row as my super fixed my windows & I gotta say, dude is onto something. After researching the matrix of $$ & how they're all obsessed w/tech, immortality & AI & all connected to each other, he is not looking so crazy anymore."
A tweet from Jennifer Bilek dated August 30th 2018 reads: "Indeed Icke says as much: devil/AI/ Reptilian race"

Unlike Icke, Woods is a largely unknown figure who has mostly done explainers videos and panels with folks like Richard Spencer and posts like this:

A post in a chat group with 16.5K subscribers by Keith Woods, reads:
"Forwarded message From Eric Striker 
Interesting article on Peter Thiel's rise as a GOP donor. I'm privvy to a lot of the stuff Thiel funds. Some of it is decent, but most of it sucks and amounts to flushing the money down the toilet. Here are some steps a billionaire genuinely trying to challenge the power structure can take: -- Fund a think-tank and academic journal that researches and studies Jewish power, like a formalized version of what Henry Ford used to do. -- Lobby Congress and people in the DoJ to force the Anti-Defamation League and all other Israeli fifth columns to formally register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act..."

Remainder of message is cut off.

Woods published a video responding to Bilek’s article called “Transhuman Judaism”, where he cites Bilek’s article as a reliable source while criticising the claim that the billionaires are white. Woods claims that the transhumanist singularity is actually the perfect encapsulation of Jewish eschatology, which arguably involves individuals gaining a sort of eternal life in this physical world, and that is why Jews are supposedly overrepresented in transhumanism. Bilek in turn has promoted Woods’ video in multiple places as a valuable follow up to her article, including this post which is still easily searchable on Facebook:

A post on "The 11th Hour Blog" Facebook page from August 12th 2020 which reads:

"I have written extensively on the intersections of transgenderism and transhumanism. Kieth [sic] Woods takes this a step further and discusses the intersection of these two phenomenon with Judaism. Don't miss it. I believe he is onto something!"

There is a link to a video on Bitchute.com from Keith Woods.

So, Bilek isn’t just repeating laundered antisemitic conspiracism – she’s actively engaging with and promoting the content from people who overtly develop the antisemitic elements of those theories. In follow up exchanges with other overt white supremacists, Bilek backed off her claim that the billionaires behind trans activism are white. She explained, to a guy with Nazi symbolism in his profile picture, that she included the word “white” only to highlight that there are no people of colour behind the agenda, and that she’d leave out the “white” if she had a do-over:

A selection of screenshots. 
1. The Facebook post described earlier in this article which reads:
"I have written extensively on the intersections of transgenderism and transhumanism. Kieth [sic] Woods takes this a step further and discusses the intersection of these two phenomenon with Judaism. Don't miss it. I believe he is onto something!"

2. Jennifer Billek posts on The 11th Hour Blog Facebook page on Jan 27th "Transhumanism and Judaism 
I've often wondered why so many of the men involved in the transgender/transhumanist agenda are jewish, and of course I have been accused more than once of promoting a jewish conspiracy theory. I just report on who the men are, I don't single them out for being jewish and I have never really speculated about why so many are. Quite some time ago I came across Keith Woods' video on his theory of why this might be. I revisited this today because somebody wrote and asked about the jewish aspect of the men involved in this agenda and I found it equally as fascinating as I did the first time. I wonder how others might feel about this." - the same Keith Wood Bitchute video is shared

3. Richard Spencer Tweets about a live stream with Keith Woods "on Zionism, Nationalism and Hypocrisy"

4. A Twitter user replies to Jennifer Bilek on Twitter saying "I really liked your two articles in the federalist. Though I don't agree with your thought that the rich men institutionalizing transgender ideology are white. It's actually just inaccurate empirically.", Jennifer Bilek replies "Though that is true "empirically" my point was more toward there are no black men, no Mexicans or Cubans behind this agenda. I'd probably leave it out if writing it today for the reason stated & let ppl form their own conclusions or find another way to say it."

The first Twitter user replies "I don't think you can fully understand this phenomenon without understanding the enormous jewish involvement. You should watch this fantastic video. The creator of it cites your work, I believ. Unless he was talking about some other writer." - Keith Woods' "Transhuman Judaism" from Bitchute is shared. Jennifer Bilek replies "I saw that. It was fascinating. I'd need a deeper dive to evaluate further but am already so overloaded". 

A zoomed in image of the person's profile photo shows a photo of a young child with white blonde hair and blue eyes. The photo has been drawn over with Nazi symbology - an SS bold on the cheek and a Black Sun on the chest.
Click image to expand

When challenged on the promotion of Keith Woods’ work, Bilek claimed that the post she made about Woods’ video was “not an endorsement of Woods”, even though she explicitly says he’s “onto something”. She claimed it was one post, which doesn’t appear to be the case, and that it was done in haste and was probably unwise, but that she genuinely didn’t realise the video is antisemitic. Perhaps it’s possible, if you have zero experience with conspiracism, to look at a video entitled “Transhuman Judaism” and not have that set off a red flag, but that doesn’t explain why she wouldn’t immediately remove the content from her blog page when she learned of the error. If someone pointed out that I had shared antisemitic content, even unknowingly, removing the content would be the first thing I’d do, along with issuing an apology.

Instead, what we see are leading GC voices who promoted Bilek’s work struggling to even acknowledge that there is a problem, and actively walking back criticisms of Bilek, because of what appears to be a mix of audience capture and an inability to engage with this readily available information. It should be troubling to individuals who sympathise with the GC movement that leading figures seem unable to coherently reject this conspiracism.

None of this is to say that you can never criticise either Jewish billionaires or transhumanism. The existence of billionaires is a policy failure, and over-dependence on their charity is a major stumbling block for social progress. Meanwhile, transhumanism has been criticised for promoting eugenics, environmental damage, and contributing to a loss of social connection. As is often the case with modern conspiracism, it’s difficult to discuss these things when versions of them do exist. Transhumanism does influence the thinking of wealthy investors and by extension emerging technologies. The problem arises when these concerns coalesce into conspiratorial claims that trans rights is a billionaire psy-op to convince us all to accept the ethically unacceptable and create a world of endless consumer body modification. It’s the unsupported connecting of dots around an (((evil baddie))) that turns this into harmful conspiracism.

So, if you’re someone who’s concerned that children are over-medicalised or that they’re not receiving adequate information when they agree to gender affirming care, while I disagree with you, I believe that you can absolutely raise those concerns without needing to also think that (((George Soros))) is behind all of it, for nefarious transhumanist reasons. If you hear someone talking about shady billionaire funding of trans activism, encourage them to reflect on what they’re saying and why they believe it, as there is a good chance they’re sharing a laundered version of antisemitic conspiracies without even realising it. It doesn’t mean that person is necessarily antisemitic, but it does mean they should leave the anti-transhumanist conspiracism behind and try to understand why some in the movement are struggling to do so. There’s no need for conspiracism when the ethical realities of these debates are complex enough.

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