There are a lot of outlandish claims floating around the Internet these days. They are so whackadoo I can't believe anyone would believe them. But then, I read the Charlatan: America's Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam by Pope Brock. It’s the story of a man named of John R. Brinkley.
In 1917, John R. Brinkley–America’s most brazen con man–introduced an outlandish surgical method for restoring fading male virility. It was all nonsense, but thousands of eager customers quickly made “Dr.” Brinkley one of America’s richest men–and a national celebrity.
Efforts to expose him “seemed only to spur Brinkley to new heights of ingenuity, and the worlds of advertising, broadcasting, and politics soon proved to be equally fertile grounds for his potent brand of flimflam.
What was the outlandish surgical method?
How about let me cut you open and stick goat gonads in or near your sexual organs to increase virility in men or increase fertility in women.
Brinkley claimed to be a doctor. He did attend medical school for about a week, but even in those days you needed more than a week of school to be a real doctor. The lack a degree didn’t bother Brinkley. He was a seasoned scam artist. He and his new wife went a town in Kansas that needed a doctor and set up a clinic.
This man killed a lot of goats, became internationally famous, and made pots of money.
He also took advantage of the recent development of the radio to broadcast his false medical claims far and wide. In fact, you could call in to his radio show and he would listen to your symptoms and prescribe a cure. Naturally, the cure was one of his tonics available for purchase, the sale of these tonics netted him thousands of dollars a week.
Think about it. Brinkley’s listeners heard him on the radio and believed his claims. No one fact checked him although one man did pursue evidence for years and eventually brought Brinkley down. There are no statistics on the number of people he killed because the patients left the clinic after the procedure and went home. There were a number of wrongful death lawsuits, but that didn’t slow Brinkley down too much. He had plenty of money for lawyers.
Let's face it, he implanted a foreign organ in people. The goat gonads were going to rot inside the patient’s body which can’t be healthy. Still, many patients claimed the procedure worked and that kept people coming to the clinic and kept Brinkley rich.
Of course, modern research has revealed people don’t like to admit when they’ve been conned.
Here we are, almost a century later and instead of the radio, we have the Internet. We also have a lot of folks believing an anonymous Internet person called QAnon who makes unfounded claims about various United States citizens, institutions, and political leaders. This person has never come forward and identified him or herself. Rather, this person, or computer artificial intelligence program, or Russian minion, or Chinese hacker makes unfounded accusations.
Since the statements are vague, a group of followers have taken it upon themselves to interpret them. Reminds me of all the Biblical scholars debating Revelations. Or people who try to figure out what Nostradamus meant in The Prophecies.
The followers believe so deeply in this anonymous person’s prophecies, they alienate themselves from friends and family. I base this observation on the fact that friends and family have readily identified and tipped off the FBI about QAnon followers from video and photos taken during the infamous attack on our Congress earlier this month.
Whoops. Off to jail the followers go. But not their leader. He or she or it has chosen anonymity to avoid any jail time for causing mayhem in this country.
It seems to me, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Ninety years ago a portion of Americans were willing to allow Brinkley to cut open their scrotums and uteruses and insert goat gonads in their bodies. Today, a portion of Americans have chosen to believe an anonymous Internet person who claims to be the source of knowledge about our citizens, political leaders, and institutions. Rather than question the source, these Americans lay down on the table and let QAnon insert goat gonads into their brains.