- “Grooming” and “pro-paedophile” have recently become buzzwords among conservatives.
- Disney’s criticism of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill has drawn backlash from prominent conservatives.
- The backlash came at the same time Republicans deceptively attacked Ketanji Brown Jackson’s record.
A group of right-wing protesters and conspiracy theorists gathered outside the entrance to Disneyland in California on Wednesday to rally against ‘grooming’, following weeks of similar rallies against Disney – the latest in a growing trend conservative culture war accusing opponents of corrupting children.
Prominent Republicans and far-right influencers have spent weeks baselessly accusing Disney of caring for children after the company withdrew support for Florida’s controversial ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, which will bar instructors from of public schools to talk to students in kindergarten through 3rd grade about sexual identity and orientation. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law in late March.
Grooming, which refers to people using manipulative strategies to coerce children, teens or vulnerable adults into sexual abuse, has become the latest buzzword in conservative attacks on Democrats (and corporations), sides of “paedophile”. The narrative echoes the age-old scaremongering tactics used by conservatives to foster moral panic and groundlessly bind the LGBTQ community to predatory behavior.
The recent protests in California were organized by Sean Feucht, a Christian music artist and right-wing “patriot pastor” who helped lead the charges against Disney. Wednesday’s demonstration drew fewer than 100 people, according to NBC News reporter Ezra Kaplan, who tweeted from the rally.
Many conservatives have mistakenly called the Florida law an anti-grooming bill, despite the fact that teaching children about sexual orientation has nothing to do with grooming. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene was one of the loudest voices in this moment of culture war. Green baseless accused Disney of wanting to “take your kids, and they want to indoctrinate them into immoral sexual filth,” and tweeted on April 6 that Democrats are the party of “kid grooming and transitioning, and pro-pedophile politics.”
Meanwhile, DeSantis publicist Christina Pushaw tweeted that anyone who opposes Florida’s law — which she called the “anti-groomer bill” — is “probably a groomer or unless you denounce the grooming of children aged 4 to 8″. children.” In early April, the far-right commentator Jack Posobiec tweeted a link to buy a shirt with the Disney Castle logo and the text “Boycott Groomers” and “Bring Ammo.”
A host of the far-right One America News network on Saturday called President Joe Biden ‘the chief groomer,’ while Candace Owens, in a tweet about Disney’s decision not to support the Florida said the company had “now openly admitted to having a not-so-secret agenda with your children” and wrote “child caregivers and pedophiles.”
The use of the word “grooming” as a political tactic dates back at least to conservative activist Christopher Rufo, who asked his followers to use the word with “political predators” in a Twitter thread in August 2021 on “winning the war languages”. “
The backlash against Disney came around the same time Senator Josh Hawley launched similar attacks on Ketanji Brown Jackson during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing. He falsely accused her of issuing lenient sentences in child sex abuse cases, which White House Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates called a “QAnon signaling smear.”
Hawley’s argument has become a popular refrain among the GOP and has been embraced online by prominent QAnon conspiracy theorists like Ron Watkins and Liz Crokin, who have promoted conspiracies in widely circulated Telegram channels about Jackson for pedophilia. QAnon has a long history of spreading baseless conspiracy theories aimed at “rescuing” children from what the movement sees as an international cabal of child traffickers.
Jared Holt, resident researcher at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Research Lab, previously told Insider that “Republicans’ hyper-focus on Jackson’s record of convicting child pornography cases” has directly driven QAnon communities online to sink into the story.
“Republicans who keep talking about it and invoking it don’t have to go all the way,” Holt said. “These communities will often do it for them.”
Before Jackson was confirmed to the Supreme Court, Greene called Senator Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins “pro-pedophile” for saying they support Jackson and declaring that any senator who votes to confirm her is “pro-pedophile.”