For months, Houston officials fretted about potential hazards at Astroworld, a packed music festival that ended in eight casualties last week when fans were crushed to death. Observers raised alarms about lack of exits, insufficient security, and a packed, enthusiastic crowd.
But outside official investigations, a bizarre theory about the deadly concert gained traction this weekend. “Anyone else notice that the stage is an inverted cross leading to a portal to Hell,” asked one TikTok video that racked up more than a million views in a day.
Within days of the mass casualty event, Astroworld has become a magnet for Satanic Panic-style conspiracy theories. Those theories have flourished among young people on sites like TikTok, as well as with a more established conspiracy scene, like believers of the QAnon movement. The result is a coalition of clout-chasers and far-right influencers meeting to falsely accuse rapper Travis Scott of deliberately killing people in a Satanic ritual.
Scott, who headlined and organized the recurring Astroworld festival, has pledged cooperation with investigators. "My prayers go out to the families and all those impacted by what happened at Astroworld Festival. Houston PD has my total support as it continues to look into the tragic loss of life," Scott said in a statement this weekend, adding that he was “absolutely devastated by what took place last night.”
Scott’s involvement in the tragedy has drawn scrutiny and already become the subject of a lawsuit. Prior to the festival, Houston’s police chief personally visited Scott to warn him of the potential for rowdy crowds, comprised largely of enthusiastic young fans who had missed concerts during COVID-19, The New York Times reported. Other emergency preparation documents stressed the need for many exits to the venue—something concert-goers said never materialized. When fans converged in a stampede-like crush during Scott’s performance, he was seen pausing, asking the crowd to calm down, then proceeding with his performance, even after an ambulance entered the audience.
Footage of Scott’s performance has been used to support a far-right movement that is already deeply embroiled in Satanic Panic conspiracy theories like QAnon, which falsely accuses Donald Trump’s foes of participating in a Satanic pedophilia and cannibalism ring.
“Travis Scott did a sacrifice,” tweeted the head of a white supremacist website, adding that one of Scott’s album covers featured “depravity,” i.e., scantily clad women.
Daily Wire podcaster Matt Walsh tweeted that Scott was a “satanic weirdo” who encouraged crowds to get violent.
Far-right fixation on supposed Satanism is nothing new, especially when it comes to music and art. The Satanic Panic of the 1980s and 90s led to overheated fears about children being indoctrinated into Satanic cults via heavy metal music and games like Dungeons & Dragons. Some of those themes have re-emerged in the QAnon conspiracy theory, as well as in fights over the arts across the country. In Idaho this spring, an aspiring library board member unseated the incumbent candidate by running on a campaign to purge certain “satanic” books on race and gender from the library’s children’s section. “I don’t think the public libraries need to be an extension of scriptural knowledge only,” she wrote on her campaign site, “but they sure shouldn’t be forcing taxpayer funding of satanic agendas that lead to the destruction of our nation.”
With a far-right audience ready to promote Satanism conspiracy theories, and a young musical audience looking for answers about Astroworld, it hasn’t taken long for both communities to meet.
Multiple viral tweets and TikTok videos have called attention to what they claim are signs of Satanic rituals in Scott’s performance, including flames and a circle onstage, which people claimed could be used for summoning demons. Some invoked astrology—popular among young people—to support their claims, because the tragedy took place during Scorpio season, which some theorists said sounds like the word “corpse.”
Others posited that the concert opened a portal to Hell. A screenshot of a Reddit post, now going viral on Twitter, purports to be from a Travis Scott concert-goer whose experience led them to believe that “Travis Scott is a demon sent from hell.”
The actual post is from 2017 and the Redditor describes themselves as “tripping absolute nut sack” at the concert in question. Other Redditors chimed in with similar experiences at the time. “My dad tripped at a Dead show in the 80's and swears he saw the devil crawl out of the bass drum and start yelling at him,” one wrote, with another adding that they took hallucinogens at a Chance The Rapper concert and believed that Chance was a literal god.