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After the events of the last few months, the truth has become unavoidable: The Republican Party has let the QAnon conspiracy theory creed, once an outlier at Trump rallies and a fringe online cult, into its mainstream discourse – and there may be no way back.
That “QAnonization” has lately manifested as the “groomer” panic: a blatantly bad-faith effort to smear the GOP’s political enemies, but particularly LGBT Americans and supportive allies, as pedophiles, pro-pedophilia, or just generally sexually deviant.
Predictably, the first purveyors of the worst of the smears are the members of the GOP’s right-wing crank caucus, including Marjorie Taylor Greene. After members of the Senate Judiciary Committee suggested that Supreme Court Justice-designate Ketanji Brown Jackson had been too lenient in her sentencing of child pornography collectors, Greene accused the entire Democratic Senate caucus — as well as three Republicans who voted to confirm Jackson to the Court — of being “pro-pedophile”.
The stunning accusation was shrugged off by her own party’s leadership, possibly because more mainstream members of the party in the Senate had unwittingly opened the door to such accusations with their own criticism of Jackson.
So far, the only heavy consequences for the Georgia congresswoman have come from beyond Capitol Hill, in the form of a (partial) Twitter ban and the lawsuit that aims to kick her off the 2022 ballot for her continued support of the false claims of election fraud that spurred the January 6 attack.
Other Republicans have preferred to take the route of playing into the panic without embracing it directly. Florida’s Ron DeSantis is currently at war with Disney – the target of claims from the right that the entertainment giant is “grooming” children to accept the existence of LGBT people, as well as darker conspiracies – and his efforts could see the company stripped of control of a private government that oversees the area where its Florida parks are located.
The panic is also taking over social media. Twitter erupted into a seething conflict this week over whether “Libs of TikTok”, a right-wing account that targets LGBT teachers for harassment, should be allowed to remain on the platform after Washington Post reporter Taylor Lorenz wrote an article about the account which included the name of the person running it.
Some Democrats are beginning to fight back in earnest. Michigan State Senator Mallory McMorrow used a floor speech this week to tear into her Republican colleague Lana Theis for spreading such an accusation about her in a fundraising email, and earned the respect of Democrats nationwide in the process.
The test for the remaining reality-dwelling Republicans – Mitch McConnell, Mitt Romney and the like – is whether they will put their foot down and call a stop to this rhetoric. After all, they might do well to worry about chasing off voters who find such unfounded and vile accusations distasteful in a key election year.