CRT? Tired. Groomers? Wired!

The latest strategic moral panic from the far right

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Last Wednesday one of our occasional conservative commenters left the following as part of a comment on a post about the recent Federal Court decision against John Eastman: “But Democrats obsess over this (from 1997) to defend LGBTQIAMXYZ++ groomers.” [emphasis mine]

If you’ve been paying attention to recent online political discourse, this is probably not the first time you’ve seen the term “groomer.” Groomer/grooming refers to adults who seek out and condition minors for sex. In the past month, it has become a rallying cry on the right to attack a range of targets from members of the LGBTQIA community (see the witty number above), to politicians opposing laws restricting the ability to discuss sexual orientation in public schools, to the Disney Corporation, to Republican Senators who voted in favor of advancing Justice Jackson’s nomination, to the Supreme Court.

The term appears to have reentered the popular consciousness about a month ago, when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s press secretary Christina Pushaw used the term to describe opponents of the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law (which states “[c]lassroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate.”).

“The bill that liberals inaccurately call ‘Don’t Say Gay’ would be more accurately described as an Anti-Grooming Bill,” Pushaw wrote Friday on Twitter.

“If you’re against the Anti-Grooming bill, you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children,” she wrote in another tweet. “Silence is complicity. This is how it works, Democrats, and I didn’t make the rules.”

https://thehill.com/changing-america/respect/equality/597215-gov-desantis-spokesperson-says-dont-say-gay-opponents-are/

The linking of the gay community to grooming* is, sadly a longstanding phenomenon in US culture. As Mical Raz and Paul M. Renfro write in the Washington Post:

Fears of sexual “psychopaths” preying on children animated a prolonged panic in the United States from the 1930s to the 1960s. During this time, over half of all states passed laws targeting sexual practices deemed “deviant,” including same-sex relations. In 1947, California created the first state-level sex offense registry, which largely targeted gay men. Many of these same men, who were convicted of lewd conduct or sodomy, would be forced to register as “sex offenders” in the 1990s, when registries and community notification protocols became federally mandated. Such policies deepened the presumed links between nonnormative sexual identities and predatory behavior.

As various liberation movements — including the civil rights movement, the women’s movement and the gay rights movement — made strides in the 1960s and 1970s, traditionalists mounted a backlash. An ascendant religious right took aim at abortion, women’s liberation, gay rights and other perceived threats to the American family and children. In 1977, singer and Florida orange juice spokesperson Anita Bryant launched the highly publicized and ultimately successful Save Our Children campaign to repeal a Metro-Dade County (representing today’s Miami-Dade County) ordinance barring discrimination against gay, lesbian and bisexual people. Bryant explicitly connected homosexuality and child sexual predation.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2022/04/04/fringe-cries-anti-grooming-measures-can-sway-policy/

In addition to the above, in the last few years, the Q-Anon movement was in part motivated by the “Pizzagate” fantasy which accused high-level members of the government of pedophilia and child trafficking via a *checks notes* popular pizza restaurant. So, sadly, this isn’t new, especially at the fringes of the Right-Wing Media Complex (like the Federalist* or Rod Dreher at The American Conservative) or extreme Representatives like Marjorie Taylor-Greene and Lauren Boebert.

What makes “groomer” noteworthy is the amount of mainstream Republican Party support it appears to be garnering. Beyond Governor DeSantis’s press secretary’s tweets, last month saw Josh Hawley and others make demonstratively false claims that Judge Jackson was unduly lenient with pedophiles during her confirmation hearings. More recently Fox News commentary shows, like Laura Ingrahm, have begun to run segments on the topic.

And, perhaps most importantly, in the last week, Chris Rufo has gone full in on it, launching continuous attacks on Disney, among others, as a pro-groomer organization over its tepid opposition to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Rufo’s role in this is noteworthy. If his name sounds familiar, it’s because he, arguably more than any other commentator, was responsible for the Critical Race Theory panic.*** In fact, Disney was one of his early targets in that quest as well. The question is will Rufo be able to achieve the same level of success with “groomers?”

As CRT seems to be losing steam for Republicans–for example, Republicans failed to represent Judge Brown as a CRT extremist–the outrage machine appears to be looking for a next moral panic. If recent history is any guide, we should all get ready to hear a lot more about “groomers” in the weeks to come. For folks who study or are interested in how these sorts of strategic moral panics unfold, this will be an interesting case study on what does or doesn’t take hold.

Unfortunately, as the case is with Comet Ping Pong and abortion providers when it comes to “protecting the children,” people will often go to violent extremes. If Rufo and others get their way and the GOP embraces “groomer” in the same way it did “CRT” I fear the potential real-world consequences it could have.


* – In a bit of an “isn’t it ironic” twist****, at the same time GOPers are trying to make “groomers” happen and apply to gay folks, party members in Tennessee are advancing legislation that would remove age restrictions from heterosexual marriages.

** – In the case of the Federalist, it has been pointed out that their apparent, deeply held concerns about groomers did not prevent them from writing multiple articles in support of accused groomer Roy Moore. Go figure.

*** – It’s again worth bringing up that by his own admission on Twitter, Rufo had little concern for how accurate his attacks were in representing actual CRT. His goal was to make it a strawman to aid in an ideological agenda:

“We have successfully frozen their brand — ‘critical race theory’ — into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions. We will eventually turn it toxic, as we put all of the various cultural insanities under that brand category.”

Rod Dreher has taken a similar redefining approach with “grooming”:

“I think it is coming to have a somewhat broader meaning: an adult who wants to separate children from a normative sexual and gender identity, to inspire confusion in them, and to turn them against their parents and all the normative traditions and institutions in society. It may not specifically be to groom them for sexual activity, but it is certainly to groom them to take on a sexual/gender identity at odds with the norm.”

**** – That’s “isn’t it ironic” in the Alanis Morrisette form because, sadly, it’s not ironic at all.

FILED UNDER: General, LGBT Rights, US Politics
Matt Bernius
About Matt Bernius
Matt Bernius is a design researcher working to create more equitable government systems and experiences. He's currently a Principal User Researcher on Code for America's "GetCalFresh" program, helping people apply for SNAP food benefits in California. Prior to joining CfA, he worked at Measures for Justice and at Effective, a UX agency. Matt has an MA from the University of Chicago.

Comments

  1. Mu Yixiao says:

    Of course I want children to be groomed! We can’t have those snotty-nosed brats running around with uncombed hair and dirty fingernails! It’s an affront to…

    … what’s that?

    Oh. Nevermind.

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  2. CSK says:

    I read some unusually idiotic defenses of Roy Moore’s out-of-control lechery and fixation on young teen-aged girls, the gist of them being that any Southern parents would be just thrilled to have a 32-year-old man courting their 14-year-old daughter. It’s a time-honored tradition below the Mason-Dixon line, to hear these folks tell it.

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  3. Matt Bernius says:

    @CSK:
    It will be interesting to see if “groomers” does take hold, whether or not it will be used in a “gay panic” sense or more broadly. From what I’ve seen of Rufo’s takes, he doesn’t seem to only be targeting LGBTQ folks in his Disney attacks.

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  4. DK says:

    And all the upcoming talk about groomers will surely include discussion of former Republican House Speaker and convicted child rapist Denny Hastert, of Matt Gaetz being under investigation for teen sex trafficking, and of Treason Trump — noted for walking in on naked teenage pageant contestants — saying of his then-besties Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeff Epstein: “I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.”

    Oh, and of course these gems from crotchgrabbing perverts and leader of the GQP Trump on his then-teenage daughter: “If Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her” or that “she’s got the best body” or she “looks more voluptuous than ever” and he kisses her “with every chance I get.”

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  5. Gustopher says:

    Likewise, in the last few years the Q-Anon movement was in part motivated by the “Pizzagate” fantasy which accused high-level members of the government of pedophilia and child trafficing via a *checks notes* popular pizza restaurant. So, sadly, this isn’t new, especially at the fringes of the Right Wing Media Complex (like the Federalist* or Rod Dreher at the American Conservative) or extreme Representatives like Marjorie Taylor-Greene and Lauren Boebert.

    First, you shouldn’t have to check notes to know that it was at a pizza parlor — the pizza is right there in the title “Pizzagate.”

    Second, Lauren Boebert’s husband was convicted of exposing himself in a bowling alley.

    https://nypost.com/2021/01/16/gop-rep-lauren-boebert-and-husband-have-racked-up-arrests/

    Boebert’s future husband, Jayson, also had brushes with law enforcement. In January 2004, he was arrested after allegedly exposing his penis to two women at a bowling alley, according to an arrest affidavit. Lauren Boebert (then age 17 and known as Lauren Opal Roberts) was also there. Jayson Boebert pleaded guilty to public indecency and lewd exposure, earning himself four days in jail and two years’ probation.

    In February 2004, he was booked on a domestic violence charge, against Lauren Boebert. He “did unlawfully strike, shove or kick … and subjected her to physical contact,” a spokesman for the Garfield associate county court clerk told The Post. They had been dating at the time.

    Boebert was present during the bowling alley incident — since she was 17 at the time, and her future husband was 24, I think it is safe to say that she was being groomed.

    Longer account of the bowling alley incident here:
    https://www.salon.com/2021/08/31/lauren-boeberts-husband-did-jail-time-for-lewd-exposure-in-a-bowling-alley-she-was-there/

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  6. Mikey says:

    @DK: And let’s not forget Republican congressman Jim Jordan looking the other way while young male athletes under his charge were sexually abused and assaulted.

    As with all things Republican: every accusation is a confession.

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  7. CSK says:

    @DK:
    Don’t forget that when Trump and Ivanka were interviewed by Wendy Williams, Williams asked Trump what he and Ivanka had in common.

    Trump’s response: “I’d like to say sex…”

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  8. Gustopher says:

    Last Wednesday one of our occasional conservative commenters left the following as part of a comment on a post about the recent Federal Court decision against John Eastman: “But Democrats obsess over this (from 1997) to defend LGBTQIAMXYZ++ groomers.”

    Perhaps I am just naive, but I think the vast majority of Democrats would like anyone preying upon children to be sent to jail no matter what party they belong to. Did Bill Clinton go to Pedophile Island to sample the wares? Lock him up.

    I cannot say the same about Republicans, sadly, as they have demonstrated with their continued support of Trump. (Other than the brief window between the 2016 primaries and inauguration, Trump has always been replaceable.)

    I can see a “we will vote for the pedophile and then replace them” strategy — I would sooner vote for a pedophile than a Republican, but would hope we can get rid of the pedophiles in the primary.

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  9. Gustopher says:

    LGBTQIAMXYZ++

    Not the topic of this post, any queer folks who follow Q really have to be called LGBTQANON. There have to be a few somewhere. Can we Q-pill Sullivan?

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  10. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    @Mu Yixiao:
    Would that we hadn’t lost Ms. Radner. I can imagine her screed on the topic…

    https://youtu.be/9hYGtXIqDa0?t=17

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  11. Slugger says:

    Whew! I can not be called a groomer. I am not a sacerdote and have not been in the locker room at Penn State nor Ohio State.

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  12. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Flat Earth Luddite:

    I’m glad someone got the reference. 🙂

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  13. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    @Mu Yixiao:
    What can I say? I couldn’t spend all my time in class and working nights at 7/11. Wasted a fair amount of time watching SNL, Night Flight (and the Hmong & Vietnamese expats playing ping-pong in the SUB).

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  14. CSK says:

    @Mu Yixiao:
    I think we all got it.

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  15. Jay L Gischer says:

    Would we call Jim Jordan a groomer, or merely groomer-positive?

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  16. Beth says:

    @Gustopher:

    Bravo! Bravo! This is literally the only thing in this whole wretched dumpster fire that has made me laugh about this. Thank you.

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  17. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Mu Yixiao: @CSK: We all got it was my thought, too. Demographically, we seem to be a pretty old cohort.

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  18. Gustopher says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: I once had to teach my young coworkers about SNL’s Point/Counterpoint (“Jane, you ignorant slut!”), as they were completely unaware of such a thing.

    They were… well, first they laughed, and then they were very sad that the rampant misogyny it lampoons is still there in society.

    Everyone would have been happier if the skit had aged out, but it’s basically as fresh as ever.

    Also, I’m surprised the name “Jane” was already in decline before that skit was popular. I was expecting a cliff in 1975 or whenever, but it started a rapid decline long before then.

    https://www.everything-birthday.com/name/f/jane

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  19. Jen says:

    Speaking of these QAnon loons, a bunch of people, myself included, received a bonkers mailing with a QR code on it, on Saturday. The gist of it was that the person who sent it is a survivor of the cabal that QAnon is exposing, and this person is hiding in Kansas and that the world will end on (either) 4/15/22 or 4/22/22. Here’s the NHPR report on this. The mailing couldn’t have been cheap.

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  20. CSK says:

    @Jen:
    Okay, so whoever sent the mailer sent it from Portsmouth, NH, but is hiding out in Kansas.

    Got it.

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  21. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Jen:

    We received as well

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  22. Kathy says:

    @Jen:

    If I had a penny for every end of the world prophecy, I’d have enough money to buy the world.

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  23. Chip Daniels says:

    This is in the category of “when someone tells you who they are, believe them”.
    In this case its “When they tell you what they want to do to you, believe them.”

    When they call us groomers, they are saying we are the enemy and there is no punishment too severe.
    We like to laugh and imagine they are just being hyperbolic, but I think we would be wise to take them at face value and grasp that, in their minds, we are not legitimate Americans entitled to dignity and fair play, but a hostile and dangerous force which must be destroyed by any means necessary.

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  24. gVOR08 says:

    @Chip Daniels: Kevin Drum has posted a YouGov poll showing that 49% of Republicans believe top Democrats are involved in child sex-trafficking rings. OK, it’s an online opt-in poll, so it’s crap. But still.

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  25. Hal_10000 says:

    I didn’t think I could get more disgusted with Republicans and yet, here we are.

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  26. Paul L says:

    “Pizzagate” fantasy

    former Ars Technica reporter Peter Bright (Dr. Pizza) … was convicted in Manhattan federal court Monday of attempted child enticement.
    @Gustopher:
    Lesbian
    Gay
    Bisexual
    Trans
    Queer
    Intersex
    Asexual
    Minor Attracted.
    XYZ every other sexual/gender fetish and deviancy that you can define your identify with.
    ++ “Straight” Feminist, Progressive and Atheist Allies and the Democrats who pander to them.

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  27. Matt says:

    @Paul L: Wut?

    Why should I care about some random reporter who got caught being a bad person almost 4 years ago?

    Are you seriously trying to argue that pizzagate is a real thing and the gunman just wasn’t smart enough to find the secret dungeons? What are you trying to argue here? That Pizzagate is real and Peter proves it? Well if it was a thing he’d just go visit the dungeon instead of openly soliciting a minor…

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  28. Dutchgirl says:

    The Satanic Panic never went away, it just morphed into democrats are literally Satan. When bad things happen to children in your own community, you can either confront the truth or invent a scapegoat. Its clear which tack Republicans and conservatives take.

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  29. Paul L says:

    @Matt:
    “almost 4 years ago”
    Pizzagate was 2016.
    Can I use the “maintain a community” standard to declare the Pizzagate subject verboten. “That is my final word.”

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