UPDATE: I’m talking to the movie’s social media coordinator and will write a follow-up piece soon.
Abby Johnson’s breakout pro-life movie Unplanned, based on her memoir of the same name, climbed to #4 at the box office today, just days after its premier. Reviewers say the graphic movie is forcing them to rethink their pro-choice views; and pro-lifers are calling it a triumph — or at least, according to Catholic film critic Steve Greydanus, “among the better constructed faith-based films.”
But a new controversy now surrounds the movie, and it has nothing to do with abortion. Three days after the movie’s premier, the official Unplanned account on Twitter tagged a tweet with QAnon slogans:
“United Not Divided” and “WWG1WGA” (which stands for “When we go one we go all”) are both QAnon slogans frequently used on social media and at pro-Trump rallies.
The tweet, which has been deleted, refers to an incident in which the Unplanned Twitter account was briefly suspended, then reinstated.
According to a screenshot posted on Facebook by Dank Pro-Life Memes, Johnson said the account was suspended because it gained so many followers so quickly, which triggered an automatic temporary suspension:
Dank Pro-Life Memes, which has 23K followers on Facebook, cautioned its readers not to assume there was some deliberate censorship at work. A March 31 post calls this theory “sensationalist nonsense” and “fake news,” urging pro-lifers to “do better,” and it shared the screenshot where Johnson attributes the suspension to a spike in traffic.
I confirmed with @cjphillips66 that he has no history with anyone involved with the movie, and he was baffled as to why the official movie account would attack him personally for criticizing promotion of a fringe conspiracy theory group. He told me:
“I’ve never had any contact with anyone associated with the movie, nor anyone associated with Ms. Johnson. I’m just your average evangelical pro-life American. I have to admit I was kind of stunned by the reply, since whoever runs that account doesn’t know me from Adam, as they say. Honestly though, in hindsight, if one buys into conspiracy theories, then it kind of explains the response…accusing me of some kind conspiracy and not being pro-life.”
He said he wants to see the movie succeed.
“I was just motivated by trying not to get such an awesome movie (by everything I’ve read & seeing it did well over the weekend) not get a conspiracy theory website attached to its reputation. I was really trying to help it succeed. I REALLY want it to be embraced for the truth, and a conspiracy theory website gives people reason to pause and discount it as truth.”
But another Twitter user believes the movie account’s suspension was deliberate and malicious — and self-inflicted.
A Twitter user who goes by the handle @notwokieleaks believes someone promoting the movie deliberately deactivated and then reactivated the Unplanned account to create the impression among its fans that there is a conspiracy against its success.
@notwokieleaks, who criticizes both left and right, tweeted on March 31:
This is the biggest goddamn fucking scam ever. This is the expected behavior for a recently deactivated and reactivated account. It’s in the damn Twitter FAQ. Everyone “trying this out” by clicking follow will be following this account within 48 hours. You are being lied to.
It’s already back at 41.3K followers. Do you think those were all new followers at 11pm on a Sunday? It’s just rebuilding and re-syncing the followers network. This is a huge calculation used to order replies and show followers you know.
This may have been strident but if you read the thread it was all but proven to be correct. VPN proved servers were out of sync after an account reactivation. Everyone who was “forced unfollowed,” including myself, was later following the account once the sync finished.
In another set of tweets that have since been deleted, the Unplanned page wrote: “We would like to thank the people who maliciously and falsely reported UnplannedMovie to @Twitter. Notice followers before and after. Your move…” One user responds “BOOM” with a graphic of a flaming Q; and Unplanned responds: “BOOM.”
QAnon is a group of far right conspiracy theorists which began on the anonymous fringe group 4Chan. QAnon anonymously distributes cryptic and truncated clues allegedly exposing top secret information, including the idea that Donald Trump became president at the urging of the military so he might lead a “deep state” mission to usher in a new world order; that Hillary Clinton and John Podesta and others have been found guilty of running murder and sex trafficking rings, and have been put in ankle bracelets by the Trump administration; and that Trump manufactured the accusation that he colluded with Russia, in an effort to protect his ally, Robert Mueller, who is working undercover to take down the global elite. Notable adherents of QAnon theories are Roseanne Barr and Curt Schilling. QAnon also believes Miley Cyrus is a plot to undermine America.
As I reported in April of 2018, this is not the first time Abby Johnson’s name has been associated with far right fringe groups. When Kristen Hatten, formerly vice president of New Wave Feminists, emerged as a white nationalist, Abby Johnson defended her. I wrote:
Abby Johnson, one of the most well-known faces of the American pro-life movement, publicly defended Hatten. As is her habit, she deleted her comments after they were challenged, but she said repeatedly that Hatten is not racist. Hatten herself has said repeatedly that she does not mind being called “racist.” She calls herself an “ethno nationalist.” Johnson repeatedly chided scandalized pro-lifers for talking about Hatten instead of to her; but when several people explained that theyhad talked to her in private, and that Hatten affirmed her alt right views, Johnson had no response.
After I wrote that piece, Johnson contacted me and repeatedly accused me of trying to “crucify” her. “You are all about crucifying me” she said. “You love to sow division” and “I know you enjoy vilifying me.” In fact, before the Hatten debacle, I had written more than one article praising Johnson’s work and Johnson personally, and even praised her work in the very article she described as “crucifying” and “vilifying” her.
While there is significant overlap between conspiracy theorists and Abby Johnson fans, it’s not clear that Johnson herself was involved with linking QAnon and the movie.
I contacted Johnson on the evening of April 1 to ask why the official movie account was using QAnon slogans, she responded, “I don’t even know what that means. I have zero idea what QAnon means.” She said, “”I have never heard of QAnon until I received your email.”
When asked who tweets for the official movie account, she responded, “I have no idea. I have nothing to do with any social media surrounding the film.”
I quoted her words blaming a traffic spike for the movie’s Twitter suspension, and asked, “Do you think there is any effort from Twitter or other entities to try to suppress or silence the promotion of the movie?”
She said, “We are hearing multiple reports from Twitter. They have told us that it’s because of hits on the trailer, because of ads we wanted to run, because of a ‘glitch.’ I’m not one that jumps on board with conspiracy theories surrounding social media, but the constant ‘glitches’ does make one raise an eyebrow.”
I asked how she could have no involvement with the social media promotion of the film, but also hear multiple reports from Twitter about why the film’s account was suspended. She said that she was hearing reports about social media indirectly.
I asked, “So you are talking to the producers about the Twitter suspension, but you are not talking to the producers about the fact that whoever runs the official account is tweeting out conspiracy theorist slogans?”
She responded, “Nope,” and told me I was “barking up the wrong tree,” and that I should talk to someone else about who was promoting the movie. I asked whom I should talk to, and she did not respond. No one else associated with the movie has responded to my queries.
Like most pro-lifers, I wish the movie success. I have heard it is powerful, and competently made, and that it makes a heroic effort to humanize not only the unborn, but also abortion workers. I believe the movie has the power to change hearts and has probably already done so.