It’s too simple to tie all the political rhetoric about sexual abuse to QAnon

Hawley was undeterred both during the hearings and afterwards. On Monday, he announced he would introduce legislation to “crack down” on those who commit crimes related to child pornography.

“Democrats, the White House and Judge Jackson have spent the last week saying that sentences for child porn offenders are too harsh,” Hawley falsely claims on Twitter. ” They are wrong. Child pornography and exploitation are exploding. It’s time to protect our children.

To some observers, all of this — and especially that last bit of child protection rhetoric — smacks of QAnon.

QAnon, as you probably know, is a loosely delineated conspiracy theory that there is a massive, clandestine battle between good and evil in which the side of good is (or was) represented by Donald Trump and the side of evil anything from the Deep State to a cabal of satanic and leftist politicians and celebrities who abuse, murder or eat children for gratification. Generally, however, it is presented as a fight against child abuse and sex trafficking. Protests in recent years by QAnon adherents have focused on a “save our children” message — very similar to what Hawley is talking about.

And that’s the point. It’s not necessarily that Hawley is specifically trying to appeal to QAnon supporters, although that may be part of what he does. After all, Trump’s ousting and the end of new conspiracy theory posts (presumably because their anonymous authors were identified) created space for someone else to champion the movement. By focusing on saving children, a politician could carve out a nice little base.

But QAnon’s goal and Hawley’s politics share a common point of origin: elevating and amplifying parents’ fears. And in both cases, this amplification overlaps with hyperpartisan attacks on the political left.

The idea that there is a vast evil conspiracy targeting children is old. There was a similar fear in the 1980s dubbed the “Satanic Panic.” Even QAnon’s evolution hinged on another previous conspiracy theory: Pizzagate, the idea that there was a secret group of Democrats committing acts of child abuse at a pizza joint in Washington. This theory was partly a troll, an outgrowth of toxic online community 4Chan’s references to child pornography as “cheese pizza” that was applied to material stolen from Hillary Clinton’s campaign president by Russian hackers. . The result was the same, allegations that Democrats were covering up an endemic system of child abuse.

Focusing on the extreme combination of claim and policy, however, ignores the potency of this mixture at lower doses.

Consider how Florida Governor’s spokeswoman Ron DeSantis (right) attacked those who opposed legislation banning all classroom instruction about sexual orientation for children under fourth grade.

It’s not QAnon. Instead, it’s a suggestion that 1) Democrats support 2) “grooming” children under 9 – meaning they want to groom these children for sexual exploitation. This is the same allegation as Hawley’s, but in a different context and wording.

This legislation was called the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, reinforcing the point that Florida ostensibly wanted to protect the rights of parents with respect to what their children learned, even if, of course, the protections don’t. applied only to a very specific subset of discussion. It also aimed to harness the potential political energy of the state. Last year, conservative media focused on Virginia schools ahead of the state’s gubernatorial election, sparking widespread anger at schools developing curricula and rules that some parents opposed, including including things like “critical race theory,” pandemic mask rules, and perceived indulgences. towards transgender students. The Florida legislation aimed to direct this parental anger, targeting non-heterosexual relationships. And then DeSantis’ spokeswoman brought up the subtext.

This comes at a time when partisan hostility is running high. In a poll taken early in President Biden’s administration, more than half of Republicans said they saw Democrats not as political opponents, but as enemies. (Most Democrats said Republicans were their political opponents.) A poll conducted by YouGov for Yahoo News in October 2020 found that a core QAnon theory — that Democrats ran sex trafficking rings targeted by Trump — was accepted by half of Republicans, even though most Republicans said they didn’t believe QAnon’s theories were true.

About 4 in 5 Republicans said child sex trafficking was a big or somewhat big problem – a large number of voters focused on that particular concern. Then you ask if their enemies on the left are committing this most despicable act? Of course, yes – who could pass anything on to them?

Again, pedophiles and those who peddle child pornography have long been considered the vilest members of society, for understandable visceral reasons. Any parent would be repelled by the idea; it’s an emotionally powerful tactic to imply that opponents are sympathetic to this kind of abuse, even if it’s not true. There is no sliding scale of acceptability for child sexual abuse, so it’s easy to suggest that his opponents don’t go far enough in punishment. Approve 10 years in prison for abuse and there’s an obvious rejoinder: why not 20? Why don’t you hate child predators?

So we come to this point. There are hundreds of thousands or millions of people who believe in the most delusional construct of leftists abusing children as articulated by QAnon. But there are millions more who don’t like or trust the left or the school administrators or the pundits and who see child sex trafficking as a critical and urgent problem.

The opportunity for demagoguery is obvious – and seemingly hard to resist.

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