A few months ago I touched lightly upon the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, a historical mass hysteria which I find absolutely fascinating. The panic started from a single claim by a mother who insisted that her child was molested at a daycare facility, but quickly snowballed into hundreds of accusations across the world. As it turns out parents were so disturbed by the initial accusation that they worked themselves into a frenzy and coerced their children into saying that their daycare facilities were being run by pedophile satanists who had been secretly committing ritual murders and sexual assault for years. Of course, there wasn’t a shred of physical evidence to corroborate any of this, but lives, reputations and careers were destroyed without cause as a result of the twisted beliefs of the parents spreading the hysteria.
Now, let’s bring this back to the present. In the last month we’ve not only seen the unfolding of the James Gunn smear campaign by alt-right activists, but also the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy (followers of which believe that a high-ranking government official is leaking information about mass pedophile rings run by evil globalists) has reached the mainstream media. Indeed, if the last few weeks in news have brought anything to light, it’s that conservatives are obsessed with pedophilia. It’s not like this is a new thing either – everyone has those conservative friends and relatives who use their Facebook profiles to gleefully declare their desire to kill, castrate or prison-rape pedophiles. Furthermore, in the last few years we’ve had quite a few high profile examples of conservative activism which used the prevention of pedophilia as their primary justification:
- Pizzagate was a loony conspiracy theory which claimed that Hillary Clinton was behind a (obviously non-existent) pedophile ring run out of a pizzeria. That theory would have been just a total joke to most of the world, until it began a harassment campaign against the pizzaria and its employees which climaxed when some utter moron burst into the pizzeria with an assault rifle, fired shots and demanded that the staff release all of the captive children. Bloody hell.
- When the Ontario government updated the province’s sex education program, one of the main opposition points for social conservatives was that a man convicted for child pornography had been involved in drafting the curriculum. This, of course, led to some people claiming that he had designed the curriculum to enable easier grooming of future victims or that the references to masturbation or learning about proper terms for genitals were part of his sick jollies. Of course, social conservatives didn’t want those parts in the curriculum at all, but it made for a convenient scapegoat considering that they’re well aware that their own beliefs can’t be forced on society without some sort of flimsy excuse.
- When trans rights were gaining more recognition within society just prior to the 2016 election, the big battleground for social conservatives involved which bathrooms that trans people would be allowed into. After all, they claimed, a pedophile can just claim that he identifies as a woman and then follow my daughter into the bathroom and stare at/or molest her! This is, of course, the sort of claim which has been levied at all groups gaining civil liberty, from blacks to homosexuals. It should hardly be surprising that it’s been dragged out again, along with violent transphobia.
- And, on the funnier and smaller-scale side of things, concerned parents accused Pokemon Go of being a means for child predators to lure in victims, because at the time the news cycle was linking in everything with the game, so why not trot out their old favourite hysteria to go along with it?
It’s pretty clear that this is a topic that people on the right have been fixated on for decades now, but why is that the case? While this isn’t a problem in-and-of itself (obviously it’s a good thing to stand against child predators, no one is going to argue against that), why do they feel so willing to believe, once again, that there are cabals of child-rapists out there preying on children in the thousands? While I can’t claim to have the answer, I do have some thoughts and theories on this that I feel hold merit and are worth discussing.
One potential theory for why people on the right are so sensitive to pedophilia right now is that they are using it to unconsciously compensate for the blatant immorality of Trump and the alt-right. For what it’s worth, I don’t give this theory a ton of merit as I believe that it is rooted in an assumption that right-wingers don’t truly believe in the things they stand for (which sounds far too similar to me of the “there are no true atheists” fallacy in evangelical belief… seriously, click that link, it is infuriating), but it is worth bringing into the conversation at least as there are probably some grains of truth in the idea. I feel like it’s more accurate to say that, if there is any sort of moral compensation going on, then it would be for conservatives (particularly the sort which would be suckered into Pizzagate and QAnon) who view pedophiles as the “greater evil” and therefore anything Trump or the alt-right does to get rid of them is justified. We have seen this in the past few years, as anti-Islamic propaganda has shifted away from fear of immigrants spreading terrorism to fear of social and moral decay as they “invade”, supplant our culture and commit violence against our people* – therefore, so the argument goes, we must keep them out of our country. This is also paired with such colourfully hyperbolic language as “white genocide” or “rape gangs” to sell the idea. This was clearly one of the driving forces behind Brexit and we are seeing similar bouts of xenophobia all over Europe and North America. Your average right-winger will tell you that they don’t have an issue with Muslims, or homosexuals, or trans people – “but…” and so the other group’s civil freedom is curbed in the name of preventing a greater evil that they imagine will occur.
A far more compelling theory about why pedophilia is so prominent right now is, quite simply, that it is effective propaganda. As Emma Grey Ellis puts it:
“Alleging that your enemy preys upon children is an ancient propaganda tool that’s been used by everyone from medieval Catholics to the Soviet Union. It’s a powerful indictment because it trades on fundamental human fears. It’s designed to otherize the opposition and sabotage any sympathy you might have for them. It’s a ubiquitous tactic because it works. It’s easy to piece together how this strategy emerged: Someone figured out which crime their society viewed as most morally reprehensible and went with that—the unforgivable act that almost always involves kids.”
Honestly, this one is barely a theory and is more-or-less confirmed through multiple notable examples. Mike Cernovich seems to be the biggest fan of pedophilia out there: in addition to popularizing the Pizzagate conspiracy and dredging up the James Gunn tweets to get back at Gunn for anti-Trump sentiments, Cernovich also has been caught organizing falsified banners at protests to make it seem as if left-wing groups support pedophilia and NAMBLA, and then go viral with the misinformation campaign. Even more cynically, Cernovich made it seem as if they were protesting him by putting his name on the banner to drive even more traffic to himself, the stuck-up fuck. Of course, the average person who comes across one of these accusations isn’t going to know the source or the history of Cernovich, they will just see the propaganda. I would hope that they would be able to discern truth, clearly that is something that Cernovich preys upon with his frankly deplorable tactics.
Cernovich is not the end of it all though of course. As Jim Edwards put it, “my prediction is that we’re about to hear a lot more about fictitious ‘leftist pedophiles’ if Steve Bannon and Tommy Robinson are successful in setting up their international European far-right nationalist ‘Movement.’ What is less obvious is that the influential ultra-conservative pushers of this theory do not believe it themselves. They know it’s fake. They just like the outrage it causes.” Edwards also expounds upon the efforts of the alt-right to spread the idea that the end goal of leftists and identity politics is to make pedophilia socially acceptable, engaging in a slippery-slope fallacy to convince people to oppose social advance. A left-wing pedophile manifesto was also leaked onto the internet to considerable furor, until it turned out that it was another right-wing smear campaign meant to make conservatives outraged**. Oh, and let’s not forget that this isn’t all just innocent fun and games either – in addition to numerous harassment campaigns and at least one shooting linked to false pedophile ring accusations, someone has already committed murder because he believed that his father was one of these secret pedophiles. Bloody hell, people. Of course, Mike Cernovich, Alex Jones, and the rest of that lot continue to demonstrate their lack of any integrity by continuing to knowingly spread falsehoods regardless.
“Wait a second… Mr. Mime’s Pokemon #122, Sharpedo is #319… 1+2+2+3+1+9=18, the legal age of consent set down by God himself. It has been hiding in plain sight all this time, Pokemon are pedophiles. We should have known that a game about devilution and playing with your balls would be secretly grooming children! Pokemon Go? How about Pokemon, no!!!” -Alex Jones in the near future, probably, now that this image is on the Internet.
Clearly it makes sense for influencers and propagandists to spread false claim of pedophilia, but the question still remains – why does this topic resonate with the general right-wing audience so much? I mean, Mike Cernovich and his shitty contemporaries know what content is successful with their audiences, so the fact that they trot out knowingly false pedophilia accusations again and again suggests that they’re aware that their audience laps it up. Hell, even looking back at other examples in this article, the anti-pedophilia memes that conservative-types love have been being posted and shared for years without an organized effort behind them, and the Satanic Panic occurred organically, long before the Internet could allow people to even attempt to weaponize the movement. For this question, I have the following theory: social conservatives tend to be exceptionally prudish about sex, especially here in the west, and tend to focus on what they see as “degeneracy” in society. They also tend to advocate for the protection of their children from whatever they see as “corrupting influences”. With that in mind, it’s not hard to trace each of these back to a common “worst”: after all, pedophiles combine the worst sort of degeneracy along with abhorrent sex and the exploitation of children, so is it any wonder that they would be so sensitive to this topic? Furthermore, with groups such as homosexuals and trans people gaining acceptance and increasingly no longer being considered “degenerate”, the number of other targets that conservatives can acceptably go after are growing smaller.
It’s also fascinating to me how the Satanic Panic and the associated pedophilia hysteria occurred during the Reagan presidency, when America was undergoing a major conservative resurgence, coinciding with social changes which were clearly threatening to the concept of the family unit. Women were entering the workplace in greater numbers (look at Die Hard in that light and consider the perspectives of the writers and you’ll see how these social changes affected that story), divorce was up, religious adherence was dropping, etc. In some ways, the panic felt like a conservative backlash to the changes occurring in society. After all, daycares were the primary target, and they were only being used because mothers were no longer at home, and the Satanic element suggested a society which was being torn apart from the inside by anti-religious evil. Similarly, the modern, growing hysteria is growing off the back of comparable social change – gay rights, trans rights, expanding awareness of racism and identity politics, etc. If the pattern holds the same as last time, then this period that we’re in now is merely the backlash that comes before the tacit acceptance of the social issues of our time.
Naturally, there is a certain amount of partisan hypocrisy to this right-wing fixation. Roy Moore would be the most high-profile example, and while he did lose the election, it was bloody close. 48% of Alabamans who voted would rather have a sexual predator in office than a Democrat it seems. Trump himself has also been dogged with numerous examples of either purported or confirmed lurid behaviour towards underage girls, which doesn’t seem to phase his supporters in the slightest:
“An election year lawsuit, withdrawn at the end of 2016, alleged that he’d raped a 13-year-old girl at one of the ‘infamous sex parties held by billionaire and known pedophile Jeffrey Epstein,’ a longtime pal. A BBC documentary featured multiple people recalling his predatory attitude toward models as young as 17 during the 1980s and 1990s. Five women who had competed in the Miss Teen USA pageant said Trump walked into their dressing room unannounced while girls aged 15 and older were changing. His history of lecherous comments about his own daughter, Ivanka, are legendary — and he even allegedly asked if it was ‘wrong to be more sexually attracted to your own daughter than your wife’ when she was 13.”
Beyond these specific examples though, the things that conservatives stand for are often enabling an environment where children can be preyed upon. One criticism of the Ontario sex ed backlash was that not teaching your kids about proper consent will just make them ignorant and more easily exploited. Furthermore, as much as people like to harp on the mysterious stranger in a dark van or gangs of secret pedophiles, the truth is that the family itself is most often the place where a child predator operates. Religious institutions are also notorious for covering-up child sexual abuse – and I don’t just mean the Catholic church either. Part of the controversy with Josh Dugger’s sexual assaults was that his church helped to cover it up rather than take it to the authorities, which happens distressingly often. And then there’s the general hypocrisy of the right’s desire to see itself as the side which “defends the children”:
“Apart from standing idly by as kids are gunned down in underfunded public schools, the American right denies our youth their life-saving health care, and GOP administrations oversee higher infant mortality. Children are disproportionately at risk from the climate change that Republicans refuse to acknowledge and stand to inherit an inhospitable planet (if they get to exist at all). Every day, we see photos of children kidnapped and thrown in cages by the president’s beloved ICE, who feed them psychotropic drugs, and whose negligence may have killed a toddler this week. QAnon’s vision of an underground child slave economy mirrors what’s happening in plain sight, and that is no coincidence.”
As much as the right loves to throw around the term “virtue signalling“, how can I view this pedophilia obsession as anything other than that? Especially in light of all the hypocrisy I’ve listed and when nearly all of the causes that I’ve listed in this article, from James Gunn, to Pizzagate, to QAnon, to the pedophile’s manifesto, are literally fake news. At that point, it feels like the outrage is little more than virtue signalling to show how good the person sharing it is and how much better they are than the degenerates in society. Here’s a bit of news: no one is sticking up for child molesters***. At most, some people are trying to raise awareness that pedophilia is a treatable condition, but even then there isn’t any sympathy for the people who actually commit sexual assault against minors.
These are my thoughts and theories on why it seems like conservatives are so sensitive to pedophilia. Perhaps I’m missing the mark or overlooking some things, but I’m confident that I’m hitting on something close to the truth of the matter. As I said near the start of this article, ultimately there isn’t really anything wrong with conservatives being sensitive to this topic – obviously, it’s a serious issue and worthy of being given attention. However, my main concern is with how this sensitivity is becoming weaponized by people without a shred of integrity. I’ll end this article with a quote from Miles Klee, which sums up the worst case scenario I can see this weaponization going in:
“QAnon sets the stage for mass arrests leading directly into fascist rule. When one side is keeping kids in sex dungeons, the QAnon logic goes, they don’t deserve due process — and must be thwarted by any means necessary. Conversely, anyone convicted for child porn or sexual abuse of a minor is part of the conspiracy.”
*For the record, I saw the article here and it instantly resonated to me as bullshit – a thousand sexual assaults and the police didn’t do anything because they were “afraid of being called racists”? As far as I could see, this story was only being reported on in such colourful terms in right-wing tabloids such as the Sun and Daily Mail and I struggled to find anything of note from credible news sources. It’s almost as if, shocker, the xenophobic-types are churning out anti-Islamic propaganda.
**That link is actually quite interesting to see – you’ve got a lengthy original post by a conservative blogger breaking down how evil this pedophile manifesto is, and then at the end there are just a number of addendums as they come to realize that the document is fabricated, but they attempt to justify their outrage against liberals anyway. That just goes to show the power of both propaganda and hardline-partisanship.
***Unless they’re a Republican, heyo!!!