MORRIS, Ill. – At a busy intersection in this small Illinois town, Lynn Vermillion smiles at passing drivers who honk their support for the colorful posters she and friends wave: “Save Our Children. Save their Children. Save ALL the Children.”
As the U.S. presidential campaign heated up in recent months, the 57-year-old mother of two and others like her took to city and suburban streets nationwide to join rallies calling for an end to child trafficking.
The “Save the Children” effort emerged earlier this year as a splinter movement from QAnon, the group of internet conspiracy theorists who believe without evidence that President Donald Trump is secretly fighting a supposed network of celebrities and government officials who are running a child trafficking ring.
The movement’s rise has complicated the efforts of the humanitarian organization called Save the Children and other nonprofits that work to help the world’s needy children.
Vermillion, who works in home health, said she is not a QAnon supporter and tries hard to filter out conspiracy theories that enter her Facebook feed. She said she supports the “Save the Children” movement because she wants to protect children and believes Trump is the only candidate taking the issues of child sex abuse and trafficking seriously.
“Why are we finally talking about it? Because we have a president who’s talking about it,” she said last month during the rally she organized in Morris, a conservative stronghold of about 15,000 people 60 miles (about 100 kilometers) from Chicago.
She promoted her rally on Facebook, as many other women are doing. Some also use the platform to launch private groups where they swap tips, rumors and stories about child trafficking.
Mentions of #SavetheChildren on Twitter began climbing in June and peaked in August when the hashtag was used more than 800,000 times during the first week of that month, according to an analysis by the media intelligence firm Zignal Labs conducted for The Associated Press.