On Wednesday, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) announced in a long Twitter thread that he discovered an “alarming pattern” in the rulings of Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s “treatment of sex offenders, especially those preying on children.”
Hawley, a staunch ally of former President Donald Trump, believed the judge had “a pattern of letting child porn offenders off the hook for their appalling crimes” that went all the way back to her time in law school and encompassing her work on the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
Hawley’s complaints about Jackson included her questioning the effectiveness of the sex offender registry, proposing eliminating mandatory minimum sentencing for child pornography, advocating for lower than recommended sentences for child porn offenders, and claiming that a person can possess such material without actually being a pedophile.
Hawley’s thread immediately received pushback from Twitter users, many pointing out the Missouri Republican’s open support for overturning the 2020 election. The White House called the accusations “toxic” and “misinformation” taken out of the broader context behind those rulings.
But in attacking Judge Jackson’s record on issues related to such crimes, Hawley, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, signaled an intention to appeal during the hearing to the great mass of conspiracy theorists who obsess over “crimes against children” allegedly committed by Democrats.
Naturally, that means QAnon.
Q believers continue to claim without evidence that an elite ring of pedophiles embedded at the highest levels of media and government have control over the world, with some of the earliest Q drops asking rhetorical questions like “Who exposed the pedo network within H wood?” while also claiming “The pedo networks are being dismantled.”
Further drops accused Democrats of being “pro pedo,” claimed Trump ran for president because he “could not stomach the thought of children being kidnapped, drugged, and raped,” accused the Red Cross of being a front for child trafficking and the Clintons of running a ring of “crimes against children,” and claimed the Q movement was primarily devoted to “saving our children/people from […] EVIL.”
Calling your political opponents child rapists without evidence is quickly becoming the go-to move for the far-right, who can score easy points with constituents by professing their desire to “save the children” while voting down or cutting measures that actually save children, such as paid family leave and child tax credits. This is one of the principal reasons so many Republican lawmakers don’t forcefully denounce QAnon. Who wants to be seen as against saving children from pedophiles, even if the biggest accusations are made up?
So while Hawley’s Twitter thread may not have been addressed to QAnon believers (Hawley called the movement “whackos” while defending his attempt to overturn the election), that’s who heard it. And they heard it clearly, an accusation that a judge who could be on the nation’s highest court was a pedophile sympathizer. Hawley made it clear that he intended to turn the hearings into another version of the same accusations leveled against the Clintons, President Joe Biden, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), and many other prominent Democrats by essentially forcing them to prove they aren’t either sympathetic to pedophiles or pedophiles themselves.
The far-right conspiracy blog Gateway Pundit quickly posted a story repeating Hawley’s thread in total and accused Jackson of being “soft on child porn criminals” and possessing a “disgraceful” record, a story shared by numerous other Q believers on Telegram and by other conspiracy theory-friendly sites like Wayne Dupree and The Right Scoop.
The major QAnon channel RedPill78 released a video declaring “JUDGE KETANJI BROWN [sic] EXPOSED” while declaring she was a “pedophile apologist.”
Comments on those posts, and on a similar story posted by Fox News, featured racist memes about Jackson, accusations that she’s a “pedo supporter” or pedophile herself, that Biden was also a pedophile trying to protect himself from future prosecution, that she “has a closet fetish with child porn abusers and pedophiles,” and that she should withdraw as a nominee immediately.
Countless tweets and posts on Q boards were even more inflammatory, claiming the judge was “soft on child porn” or a “fellow pedo” like Biden, calling her a Satanist or a groomer, and tagging her with a “soft on crime” label. The “groomer” accusation, while completely baseless, ties in with the resurgence of the decades-old moral panic on the far-right over “gay recruitment,” particularly the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida.
Effectively, the Republican Party is deputizing itself as pedophile hunters (unless those pedophiles are in their own party).
How bad can this get? One commenter on the Q message board GreatAwakening.win declared Jackson should be executed via the method of her choice, while other posts on Q boards attacked Hawley himself for voting to confirm Jackson for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, long seen as a stepping stone to a SCOTUS seat.
With Jackson’s hearings looming and promising fireworks in the 50-50 divided Senate, Hawley’s line of questioning was already starting to gain favor with those more influential than random QAnon acolytes, with other Republicans expressing their intent to ask her about her rulings.
Judge Jackson hasn’t explained her reasoning behind advocating for lower sentencing for certain sex crimes, nor did Hawley provide context for why she gave lower than recommended sentences in a few of the many cases she was involved with.
But she’s not alone in some of her beliefs. Many justice reform advocates, not all of whom are Democrats, have made arguments that mandatory minimum sentences for child sex offenses do little to stop such acts, pointing out that a 2010 survey by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, revealed that “over 70 percent of the 585 federal judges who responded thought the five-year mandatory minimum for receipt of child pornography was too harsh.” Psychologists and other experts also question the effectiveness of the child sex offender registry, pointing out that they have little effect on re-offenders, and the majority of crimes are committed by people not listed on any registry.
Ultimately, it seems unlikely that Hawley (or virtually any other Republican) intends to confirm Judge Jackson, no matter what she says about any aspect of her record.
But in teasing that she’s sympathetic to criminals who abuse or exploit children, Hawley is clearly signaling to pedophilia-obsessed conspiracy theorists who excel at digging up and exploiting anything they can find to use against their enemies.