Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York and author of the book “OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely her own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
When a sitting US congresswoman gives oxygen to a dangerous conspiracy theory by falsely accusing her colleagues of being “pro-pedophile,” the country has a problem – and her party has an urgent obligation to fix it.
Unfortunately, the issue here is deeper than one unhinged congresswoman. It’s the unhinged, morally bankrupt and chronically dishonest behavior of many of the party’s leading voices.
Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene is no stranger to outlandish, offensive and frankly bizarre behavior. And on Monday, she did it again, tweeting, “Murkowski, Collins, and Romney are pro-pedophile” because “they just voted for #KBJ” – a reference to Ketanji Brown Jackson, a federal judge set to become the next Supreme Court justice, and three moderate Republican senators who say they will vote to confirm her.
The accusation is an ugly one, but Greene isn’t the only Republican to make it – or at least to imply it. During Jackson’s confirmation hearings, several Republicans twisted her record and obscured the facts to suggest that she was soft on pedophiles.
“Judge Jackson has a pattern of letting child porn offenders off the hook for their appalling crimes,” said Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri. “You also have a consistent pattern of giving child porn offenders lighter sentences,” said Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah tweeted, “We need real answers” on “Judge Jackson’s very real record in child pornography cases.” Judge Jackson “apparently thinks that mandatory minimums for child pornography are too harsh,” Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas said on Fox News. Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas told Jackson, “I also see a record of activism and advocacy as it concerns sexual predators that stems back decades.”
Of course, this is nonsense. Jackson is not soft on pedophiles, and her record is not out of line with the rest of the federal judiciary – a point reinforced by a group of retired federal judges, two of whom were Republican appointees. The accusations that Jackson is somehow soft on pedophiles are so spurious that even a writer in the conservative National Review condemned them as a meritless smear.
And so of course Greene ran with them.
Unlike her colleagues, Greene does not seem particularly sophisticated when it comes to packaging outlandish false accusations into the kind of polite language that walks right up to the line but doesn’t quite provoke the backlash it merits. Instead, Greene just flat-out says what her fellow Republicans have spent weeks implying: that a sitting federal judge and future Supreme Court justice is “pro-pedophile,” and so is anyone who supports her confirmation.
Greene’s comments, as well as her party members’ false accusations, do additional damage beyond simply trashing a superlative nominee like Jackson. They also feed into the QAnon conspiracy theory that has bolstered support for former President Donald Trump and years ago took hold of the right-wing fringe – and seems to be expanding its purview.
QAnon adherents believe the government is controlled by a Deep State cabal of pedophiles. None of it is true, of course, but several members of the Republican Party seem to think that QAnon believers vote – and they are more likely to vote for Republicans if the party can convince them that they are on the side of Trump, fighting the secret pedophile ring at the heart of the US government.
And now, with her tweet, Greene has put her own party members in QAnon’s sights. It’s so absurd it could be funny if it weren’t so dangerous, and if so many elected Republicans weren’t so willing to play ball with brain-wormed conspiracy theorists whose ideas only further destabilize American democracy and have already led to repeated violence.
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The GOP needs to take responsibility for their party members. It’s abhorrent that a sitting congresswoman can accuse her colleagues of being “pro-pedophile” with few consequences. This is a repeated pattern of egregious behavior and damaging lies from Greene, and it’s far beyond time that Republican leadership stepped in.
But the party also needs to look at how, exactly, someone like Greene wound up in their ranks in the first place, and why she is so often in hot water for saying in crass terms what so many other Republicans are hinting at in more coded language.
Giving fuel to QAnon talking points while formally denying any relationship to QAnon is one way to draw the support of pro-Trump conservatives. But Republicans should remember that there are more important things than cementing power and winning elections – American democracy, stability and cohesion among them.