It came as something of a mystery to us when Winston-Salem Police Chief Catrina Thompson got on TV late last month to denounce “vigilantes” operating in the city at a hastily called 9 pm press conference.

Since then more information has surfaced suggesting that three men — two from Ohio and one from Marion, NC, two hours east of Winston-Salem — calling themselves “Dads Against Predators” used the MeetUp app to lure a fourth man to the Target at Hanes Mall Boulevard. When they confronted the man and began to beat him, he shot one of them, according to police reports.

Dads Against Predators and another group working the Camel City, the Minor Defense Force, have been running sting operations to entrap adults who they say prey on children for trafficking, sexual purposes or whatever else they deem inappropriate. Then they stream the encounters on social media and YouTube. Sometimes they get the police involved.

Now, I’m not here to defend pedophiles. But I am here to say that this campaign to “save our children” comes straight from QAnon conspiracy theory, a node activated in the summer of 2020 with the hashtag #savethechildren, possibly to deflect from other, more loathsome QAnon theories.

From FiveThirtyEight: “From Aug. 9 through Aug. 15, more than 12,000 public Facebook posts used the hashtag, according to the social media tracking tool CrowdTangle. The rest of the year, the hashtag tended to garner fewer than 200 posts per week.”

I will not sign off on a bunch of armed cosplayers trying to enforce the law as they see fit, without oversight from anyone but their YouTube viewers. I must wonder aloud whether there is so much pedophilia activity in Winston-Salem that we need — at least! — two vigilante groups to fight against it. And it makes me question who, exactly, is the predator here.

The MDF’s Episode No. 12, for example, seems to entrap a mentally handicapped man who said he wanted to marry the fictitious 14-year-old he had been messaging with — legal in NC until August 2021, when the age of consent was raised from 14 to 16. It’s attracted a meager 14,000 views, but still.

And I don’t care what their stated purpose is. These guys are Q. And they need to get the hell out of Winston-Salem.

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