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The Bizarre Cult of Meghan Markle Pregnancy Truthers

Like Beyoncé before her, the Duchess of Sussex has been targeted by online conspiracy theorists over her pregnancy, with those questioning it calling themselves ‘Megxiteers.’

Jasmin Malik Chua4.23.19 5:06 AM ET

Meghan Markle isn’t pregnant and never has been.

The ever-expanding bump? Bogus. The visibly popped navel? Phony. The rapturous glow? Fabricated. The beatific belly-cradling? A complete con job. #WakeUpSheeple.

Thus speak the conspiracy theorists, who riddle Twitter and Instagram with hashtags like #Megxit, #DuchessofDeception, #charlatanduchess and the helpfully descriptive #meghanmarkleisnotpregnant. They claim that Meghan has been strapping on a pillow or a bespoke prosthetic called a Moonbump for the past eight months to hide the “truth” of her pregnancy—which is to say, there isn’t one. She and her husband, Prince Harry, have hired a surrogate, who is either Talia Brown Thall, Meghan’s erstwhile stylist, or a woman who was spotted leaning against a wall outside Westminster Abbey in March. As evidence they cite the shifting position of her belly button, her superhuman ability to bend over, and the way her stomach jiggles like a molded aspic at a community potluck.

“I don’t think Meghan Markle is actually pregnant. I think they are using a #surrogate and lying to the public. #moonbump,” one observer wrote on Twitter. “Meghan’s pregnancy is a fake pregnancy, she is wearing a bump that keeps enlarging or shrinking in size, she is able to bend over and even run in her supposed 8th month of pregnancy. She’s using a surrogate. Research it,” another sniffed. “God I never thought she was so cunning. Like pulling a fake pregnancy in front of the whole world?? Not even telling her own family?? How did she think she will pull it off??” a third clucked.

Whipping Megxiteers into a particular state of frenzy is the mysterious case of the disappearing and reappearing “magic bump.” On YouTube, a vlogger by the nom de guerre of DanjA zonE posted a video that supposedly captures a “bump-free” Duchess of Sussex ducking into a waiting car during her five-day girls’ trip to New York City in February. Framed as “absolute proof” of Meghan’s subterfuge, it is presented in the manner of the Zapruder film. “I cannot believe that they are showing this,” DanjA zonE drawls over the slowed-down footage, which has racked up more than 226,000 views. “I cannot believe that this hasn’t [been] stripped from this planet somehow. Unbelievable!” Even her dog, she adds, is shaken by what she caught, which you can kind of, sort of see if you squint at the screen with your head half-cocked like you’re staring at one of those Magic Eye pictures. You’re more likely to give yourself a headache.

Brandwatch, a social media monitoring firm from England, estimates that 1.5 million people saw discussions about Meghan and her “Moonbump” on their timelines from January to February. The number must be quadruple that by now. To be sure, the number of people who believe Meghan’s pregnancy is genuine still overshadows those who don’t, but the seeds of doubt have been sown. Per Brandwatch, 16 percent of mentions of Meghan’s pregnancy now include “terms related to it being fake.” The #Megxit hashtag has caught on the fastest, growing at a rate of roughly 1,500 mentions per week. It’s “primarily driven” by women, with around 75 percent of gender-categorized authors using it registering as female.

“There’s a lot of nasty stuff when you click through the mentions and read them individually,” Gemma Joyce, a social media journalist for the company, wrote in a blog post in February. “It’s reminiscent of some of the similar criticism Beyoncé received during her pregnancy, which were never actually substantiated.”

This degree of investment in Britain’s longest-running reality show isn’t the surprising part. It’s the unalloyed hostility that Katie Nicholl, royal correspondent for Vanity Fair, The Mail on Sunday, and author of Harry and Meghan: Life, Loss, and Love, finds so befuddling.

“As a high-profile celebrity and member of the royal family, [Meghan will experience] highs and lows in the media” she said. “However, I have been surprised by the level of bile and vitriol thrown her way. Suggestions that she has faked her own pregnancy are ludicrous. I do think the online trolling has got out of hand and has been unacceptable.”

Certainly Kate Middleton, who is married to Harry’s older brother, William, didn’t encounter the same degree of rancor during her three pregnancies. “There have been points where she has had a difficult time in the media,” Nicholl said. “She’s been accused of being boring, she was labelled ‘Waity Katie’ in the media because she waited for so long for William to propose, but I don’t think she’s been subjected to the same backlash as Meghan.”

Harry and Meghan’s reluctance to broadcast the plans surrounding the birth of their first child has only dialed up the furor, especially after Buckingham Palace announced Thursday that “their Royal Highnesses have taken a personal decision to keep the plans around the arrival of their baby private.”

Also not helping? Rumors that the couple is snubbing the Queen’s household doctors (the “men in suits,” Meghan reportedly called them) and the Lindo Wing of West London’s St. Mary’s Hospital, which has served as the site of several royal births—including all of Kate’s and Harry and William’s own. A home birth in the secluded grounds of the Frogmore Estate, away from the klieg lights of Kensington Palace, Meghan’s critics say, provides the perfect cover for sneaking a surrogate in and out. Meghan herself hasn’t been seen in public since March 19, when she visited New Zealand House with Prince Harry to offer their condolences in the wake of the Christchurch mosque shootings.

In another break from modern royal tradition, the Sussexes have also expressed the desire to shield their newborn from the popping camera flashes that typify such occasions. Courtiers say the couple will issue an alert once the blessed event occurs, but Harry and Meghan will share their bliss “once they have had an opportunity to celebrate privately as a new family” and not a moment before. If they do pose for a photograph for media distribution, it will be on their terms, timeline and locale of their own choosing. Baby Sussex might even make his or her debut on Instagram, which would be very millennial of them. There will be no press pens, photocalls or immaculately made-up post-labor shots on the hospital steps à la the Duchess of Cambridge.

That is exactly what trolls aim to do: incite negative emotions. There is probably another more malevolent agenda as well, which is to taint or corrupt this special time for Meghan.

“Meghan and Harry have made their own choices about the birth and they’re not going to be influenced by what people think,” Nicholl said. “They are going to do what’s right for them.”

So why won’t the pregnancy truthers let them?

Erin Buckels, a postdoctoral researcher in psychology at the University of British Columbia in Canada, says that women in the spotlight are often magnets for negative comments online, although the behavior often says more about the people fanning the flames than it does their victims.

“There is so much media at tention on her pregnancy and trolls gravitate toward attention—the more sensational and bizarre the claim, the more it will arouse strong emotions, like anger and disgust, in Meghan’s supporters,” she said. “That is exactly what trolls aim to do: incite negative emotions. There is probably another more malevolent agenda as well, which is to taint or corrupt this special time for Meghan.”

Buckel’s research suggests that online trolling is fueled by “an appetite for cruelty.” While not all trolls are sadists, she found that people who delight in trolling others online also derive pleasure from viewing images of people in physical and emotional pain, which they frequently downplay or attempt to rationalize away. 

“They enjoy cruelty, but like most people, they want to view themselves as decent human beings,” she said. “I also found that trolls think that harm is morally acceptable if it is funny. You find the exact same pattern for people with sadistic and psychopathic personality traits. Trolling is just another fun game for people with sadistic tendencies.”

The specificity of the charges against Meghan isn’t unusual, according to Daniel Jolley, a senior lecturer in social psychology who specializes in conspiracy theories at Staffordshire University. Take, for instance, the people who insist that the September 11 terror attacks were an “inside job” by shadowy elements of the U.S. government who collaborated with—or framed—Al Qaeda operatives.

“The detail of conspiracy theories can be wide-ranging,” Jolley said. “A conspiracy theory needs to appear coherent where there is a clear conspiracy—with having something very specific in essence, makes the theory more believable.”

Conspiracy theories are more than a spot of harmless farm. They can shape the worldviews of people who are already suspicious of people in power. “We know that conspiracy theories are influential—they can change the way we think and potentially behave; they are also resistant to correction,” he said. “Potentially being exposed to these conspiracy theories, for a person who has mistrust towards others, could fuel their belief that this is actually true.”

Celebrity culture is just more chum for conspiracy nuts. And royalty is just inherited celebrity. “I think that in general, we're all conspiracy theorists in a way,” said Elaine Lui, Canada’s gossip maven. “People perceive celebrity in Hollywood to be smoke and mirrors—that they do one thing but they say another thing, and publicists are constantly covering up things for celebrities. It’s only natural that it would spill over to royals.”

Meghan isn’t the first member of the royal family to find herself mired in conspiracy theories—nor will she be the last. More than two decades after William and Harry’s mother, the late Princess Diana, and her lover, Dodi Al-Fayed, perished in a Paris car crash, armchair detectives persist in allegations that the two were murdered at the behest of the Mountbatten-Windsors. It’s not just the usual tin-foil crowd that believes this, either. One of the leading champions of this theory is Mohamed Al-Fayed, Dodi’s father and former owner of Britain’s hallowed Harrods department store.

“So even in royal family recent history there’s been conspiracy theories,” Lui said. “I think this is just part of our culture.”

Celebrity tabloids flog their own brand of conspiracy theory. The glossy covers that flank supermarket checkout lines promise an unrelenting succession of pregnancy speculations, “bump watches,” and post-baby bodies. Spared no quarter, women are endlessly scrutinized, dissected and objectified in these pages.

“I always say that celebrity is just a reflection of our own social values, and even without the tabloids leading us there, we are always looking at women and wondering if they’re pregnant,” Lui said. “There is an obsession within us about women’s bodies and that is, for sure, a symptom of a greater social discussion we can have about women’s bodies, how they’re policed, and how we have been conditioned by those systems to behave this way.”

Casting aspersions on a celebrity’s pregnancy isn’t a new thing. Besides Meghan and Beyoncé (see: Bumpgate), similar rumors have hounded Khloé Kardashian, Katie Holmes, Nicole Kidman and Danielle Jonas, wife of eldest JoBro, Kevin. (On the flip side, Jennifer Aniston’s uterus has been carrying triplets for the past two decades.)  There are two types of celebrity who attract conspiracy theories, Lui said: reality stars and the ultra-private. “With the Kardashians, we don’t know what’s real, versus what’s scripted, versus what’s scripted but then becomes real. It just becomes a snake eating its own head,” she said. “But then, there’s another branch of celebrity that’s so elusive, so mysterious.”

Beyoncé falls into the latter category. “She’s not as accessible. In fact she may be one of the most inaccessible celebrities,” Lui said. “She’s also one of the biggest celebrities in the world if not the biggest. So when you factor in her level of fame, plus her inaccessibility, then in that gap, people have questions. What is she doing? How does she get from A to B? People are constantly speculating about what she’s up to and what’s going on with her.”

And what is the royal family if not a deliberately cultivated cipher? Their public appearances are painstakingly choreographed affairs full of pomp, pageantry and masked emotions. It isn’t for nothing, after all, that Richard Cawston’s fly-on-the-wall documentary about the Mountbatten-Windsors has been kept tightly under lid since 1969. Its sins include “letting daylight in on royal magic,” “destroying the mystique” and, most egregious of all, showing the royals to be ordinary mortals.

“The royal family is not walking red carpets every night. They’re not going to Hollywood parties. They’re not going to the opening of a restaurant,” Lui said. “When we see them, it’s usually at a charitable event. And they’re royal—they live in even more secure circumstances than regular celebrities, so there’s all kinds of mystery about their protocol and how they act and operate.”

Still, the animosity directed at Meghan makes little sense, considering the glowing plaudits she received in the beginning for mixing modernity with the monarchy. Was it her American “Hollywoodness” (complete with A-list chums like the Clooneys and Oprah) that first put people’s noses out of joint? Her penchant for pricey designer duds, 5 a.m. emails, and extravagant transatlantic baby showers? Her messy father and blabbermouth sister? Or was it her so-called “bridezilla” antics, gleefully recounted in exacting detail by the tabloids, and Harry’s purported pronouncement that “whatever Meghan wants, Meghan gets” that did her in? Certainly Meghan’s pride in her mixed-race heritage hasn’t endeared her to a particular segment of  highly nativist, Brexit-era Britain.

“Western culture, whether or not we want to admit it, is still rooted in white supremacy,” Lui said. “And I think a lot of the shit she’s been taking definitely has to do with the fact that she’s a biracial woman and there are certain people who think she’s not good enough or she’s going to contaminate the royal bloodline. And that’s really, really gross.”

For Nicholl, Meghan’s arrival has shaken the foundations of a centuries-old institution that is stodigly resistant to change. That depth of visceral discomfort can manifest itself in several ways, including lashing out.

“I personally don’t think the criticism of Meghan has anything to do with her being biracial or American, but I do think that as a strong and opinionated woman who has married into one of the oldest institutions on the planet, she is going to come up against some traditionalists who don’t like the way she is doing things so differently,” Nicholl said.  “Whether it’s not wearing a hat in the company of the Queen, or not wearing tights or writing to sex workers on bananas, there will be some people looking to find fault in this ‘new’ way of being royal.”

Likewise, for all of the “dubious ‘proof’” of Meghan’s “fake pregnancy,” Joyce from Brandwatch can’t find just cause for why people dislike her so much. The acrimony comes from a place of primordial emotion, not rationality.

“Perhaps that’s because the underlying reasons go unsaid publicly—Meghan Markle has joined the royal family, the epitome of the establishment, as a non-white divorcee with a passion for supporting demonized communities,” she said. “She’s different, and maybe it’s that and not the way her clothing folds around her belly that’s given way to the disgusting vitriol around her.”

Joyce concluded: “Truly depressing stuff.”

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