I found out yesterday that the latest episode of The Josh Marshall Podcast with me and Kate Riga got pulled from YouTube apparently because we were **discussing** QAnon-adjacent pedophilia conspiracy theories peddled by Republicans. This got me in the mind of the frequently absurd ways that social media platforms try and fail to distinguish between bad or predatory speech and discussing bad or predatory speech. It also made me want to expand on some points that I made in that episode. (To be clear, you can still hear the episode. You just can’t watch the video version of it, at least for the moment.)
As I noted yesterday, mainstream political media is particularly ill-equipped to grapple with the ways in which the GOP pushes what is in essence eliminationist rhetoric and incitement. Many of us know about the QAnon conspiracy theory world which posits a vast liberal/Democrat conspiracy of sex trafficking and pedophilia which will finally be undone by a violent cleansing of America by Donald Trump. Conventional media seems entirely incapable of grappling with, explaining or describing the way that the “mainstream” GOP has increasingly promoted and mainstreamed these beliefs with a spectrum of indirect to increasingly explicit messaging. We see it in the otherwise quite difficult to explain focus on the sentencing specifics of a few cases overseen by future Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. We see it in what I discussed yesterday as the right-wing appropriation of the pedophile/sexual predation language of “grooming” to indict and discredit any and all support of transgender minors. Conventional journalism simply has a willed incapability to make the connections.
Again, largely beneath the radar of the mainstream political dialogue we are increasingly seeing outbursts that are genuinely reminiscent of the kind of rhetoric that often precedes genocides or mass-killings of political opponents. Look at this from only a week ago.
Here we get to what I wanted to discuss from the podcast. For those of us old enough to have some political memory, from one perspective, this isn’t remotely new. For decades it was a staple of conservative politics that gay men, especially gay male teachers or anyone proximate to children, wanted to have sex with your children and/or make them become gay. I’m not naive enough to believe this has disappeared from our politics but it has certainly diminished or transformed over the last two decades as the politics of homosexuality has shifted toward greater social acceptance. The QAnon-driven pedophilia incitement rhetoric represents an evolution of this — its no longer just gay men or LBGTQ people at all but the liberals and the perverted and deracinated people of the cities in general.
What we are talking about here is a kind of secular blood libel with deep roots in our politics which has evolved into a new form as a sort of incitement against the forces of political liberalism generally. The connection to the historic blood libel (which of course specifically focused on the ritual murder of children) is critical to the equation. These aren’t so much purported factual claims or even conspiracy theories. They are libels designed specifically to stir elemental primal fears, render their targets so evil and threatening as to be less than fully human and set the stage for mass violence against them.
We have all watched this evolve with the QAnon right. But they are becoming increasingly mainstream in Republican politics generally.