Who’s Grooming?

The public expression of bigotry and hatred is evidently cyclical. The election of Donald Trump gave racists permission to voice sentiments that had previously been banished from polite company; that permission has since extended to an eruption of anti-Semitism and homophobia.

Until Elon Musk bought Twitter, much of that vitriol was confined online to the “dark web” and a sprinkling of small social media platforms serving communities of bigots. Musk has now invited them back, making it more difficult to avoid encountering the seamy underworld populated by these angry and hateful people.

There have always been fabrications shared among people needing to justify their prejudices–against Jews, there was the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and a variety of blood libels. More recently, attacks against LGBTQ people have been focused on hysteria over so-called “grooming”–accusations that echo old libels about gay pedophilia.

Suddenly, drag queen story hours have been re-imagined as preludes to child sexual abuse.

Salon recently reported on an incident that reflects this effort to paint gay people and their allies as “groomers”–and the willingness of GOP politicians to jump on that bandwagon.

Rep. Ronny Jackson, R-Texas, falsely accused Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., of saying that “pedophilia isn’t a crime” when Porter actually said that LGBTQ people have been wrongly branded on social media as “groomers” and “pedophiles.”

The exchange between Porter and Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign, came during a Congressional hearing held to listen to survivors of the Club Q shooting and other activists, who testified that anti-LGBTQ violence was being encouraged by hateful right-wing rhetoric.

HRC had reported on  “the 500 most viewed, most influential tweets that identified LGBTQ people as so-called ‘groomers.'”

“The ‘groomer’ narrative is an age-old lie to position LGBTQ+ people as a threat to kids,” Porter said. “And what it does is deny them access to public spaces, it stokes fear, and can even stoke violence.”

Porter went on to ask why Twitter allows posts calling LGBTQ+ people “groomers,” since it presumably has a “hateful content” policy; Robinson responded that while community guidelines exist, platforms also need to hold users accountable to those guidelines. Twitter  clearly isn’t doing so.

“[T]his allegation of ‘groomer’ and of ‘pedophile,’ it is alleging that a person is criminal somehow, and engaged in criminal acts, merely because of their identity, their sexual orientation, their gender identity,” Porter said. “So this is clearly prohibited under Twitter’s content. Yet you found hundreds of these posts on the platform.”

If anything about HRC’s report could be considered “good news,” it was a finding that a very small group is driving this homophobic effort. The bad news is their attacks are reaching millions of people.

Just ten people drove 66% of impressions for the 500 most viewed hateful “grooming” tweets — including Gov. Ron DeSantis’s press secretary Christina Pushaw, extremist members of Congress like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., and pro-Trump activists like “Libs of TikTok” founder Chaya Raichik.

The report found that posts from the 10 people alone reached more than 48 million views, and the top 500 most influential “grooming” tweets altogether were seen 72 million times.

In tweets by Jackson and Libs of TikTok, the exchange between Porter and Robinson was deliberately and falsely reported as Porter saying that pedophilia “isn’t a crime.”

Jackson further amplified the falsehood and tweeted: “Katie Porter just said that pedophilia isn’t a crime, she said it’s an ‘identity.’ THIS IS THE EMBODIMENT OF EVIL! The sad thing is that this woman isn’t the only VILE person pushing for pedophilia normalization. This is what progressives believe!”

As despicable as this Rightwing effort to blame the nation’s troubles on “those people”–gays, Blacks, Jews, immigrants, progressives–these attempts at misdirection aren’t new.  Would-be authoritarians, lacking any positive agenda (the GOP hasn’t even bothered to produce a party platform lately), fall back to inculcating fear and repeating a tine-tested message: if your life isn’t going the way you want it to, it’s the fault of [fill in your targeted demographic.]

Ignore us. Look at the shiny object.

Unfortunately, there really is “grooming” going on. Those campaigning to paint “the other” as dangerous, nefarious and unAmerican are the ones grooming young people and those who don’t know any better–teaching them that differences are threatening, that they are victims, and that the problems they face are never their fault or the fault of the people who look and pray like they do.

As a witness at that hearing testified, that hateful lesson–“grooming” children to become bigots– evidently requires attacking someone in a wig reading “Red Fish, Blue Fish” to a group of children at a library.

I am so tired of these people!