A group of conspiracy-minded citizen investigators hunting for proof of child sex-trafficking networks in the desert outside Tucson, Arizona, have hit on a new piece of supposed evidence: white crosses painted on the ground.
The group claims that the crosses are symbols meant to guide human sex traffickers.
“The coordinates in this video show a human-trafficking corridor,” Michael Lewis Arthur Myer, the leader of one group promoting the theory, says in one Facebook video. “‘X’ marks the spot.”
But while the theory’s proponents see the crosses as more evidence of an international pedophile conspiracy for the benefit of global elites, experts say the crosses are just leftover tools from aerial mapping surveys.
The crosses are the latest fixation for believers in what they’ve dubbed Operation Backyard Brawl, a storyline started by an anti-homelessness group called Veterans on Patrol that’s proliferated on right-wing social media. But even as prominent figures on the conspiracy-theory right have denounced the Arizona story as just the latest iteration of Pizzagate, videos about the supposed sex camp continue to draw in tens of thousands of viewers via Facebook and YouTube.
The group in late May discovered a homeless camp in a wooded area outside Tucson, which it and the publicity-hungry Myer were convinced was actually a station on a global trafficking route.
Adding to the camp’s appeal for conspiracy-minded social-media users, the camp was discovered near an abandoned cement plant owned by Cemex, a massive Mexican construction firm that once donated to the Clinton Foundation. That tenuous connection made it easy for conspiracy-minded social-media users to see the Arizona camp an extension of the supposed child-sex slave ring run underneath a D.C.-area pizza shop, otherwise known as Pizzagate.
The Tucson Police Department quickly dismissed the idea that the site was anything more than a homeless camp. Straps on trees that Veterans on Patrol cited as proof of “rape trees,” for examples, turned out to just be materials used to create a lean-to.
Veterans on Patrol responded to the law enforcement’s skepticism by occupying the cement plant grounds until police investigated further. A cadaver-sniffing dog found nothing on the site.
Undeterred, Veterans on Patrol and the allies who joined them after calls on social media have continued to comb the desert areas around Tucson for proof. They’ve been joined by members of the Oath Keepers, a right-wing group of former law-enforcement officials and veterans.
On Tuesday, Myer posted a video about the crosses, predicting they would lead to a global pedophile network reaching across the state. On its Facebook page, Veterans on Patrol urged its volunteers to “keep searching” for more crosses.
“Why would a white ‘X’ be painted on Cemex property, and why, 300 yards away, would there be a child sex-trafficking camp?” Myer said in one video.
According to one expert, though, the crosses were likely just used as a reference point in aerial photography or aerial surveys of the desert landscape.
“They look pretty much like aerial targets,” said Zachary Radel, a senior project manager and former aerial photographer at Cooper Aerial Surveys Co., a Tucson-based aerial photography and mapping company.
Veterans on Patrol posted a picture of one of the supposedly suspicious crosses on Facebook, with a volunteer standing on it.
“That’s definitely an aerial target,” Radel said.
The Pima County Sheriff’s Department, which handles the desert areas outside of Tucson, said they haven’t found any proof to substantiate Veterans on Patrol’s sex-trafficking claims.
“We have not found any evidence of sex trafficking in the area outside of Tucson, or that anything they’ve brought up,” Pima County Deputy James Allerton, a department spokesperson, told The Daily Beast.
Now even the Oath Keepers aren’t so sure about the crosses. Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes says he’s not investigating the crosses in Arizona, preferring to stay focused on the original homeless site.
“I think it’s kind of a big ball of mess,” Rhodes told The Daily Beast.
As the sex-trafficking claims grow increasingly elaborate, other right-wing figures—including many who are usually eager to seize on anything conspiratorial—are calling it quits.
Infowars originally syndicated a story about the sex-trafficking camp, only to delete it hours later. On Friday, Infowars chief Alex Jones denounced the Arizona camp story as a “honeypot” meant to distract from the “real” crimes of the global elite.
“No one should go to the homeless camp, and no one should investigate it independently,” Jones said. “At the bare minimum, visiting the site constitutes criminal trespass. The story is a honeypot. All evidence shows it’s a setup.”