Shawn Vestal: For the scammer selling ‘pedophile’ panic, no low is too low

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One of the crassest yet most successful con artists in the culture wars – now pushing the right to casually label everyone in sight a pedophile – is also one of the most cynically direct about his intentions.

From the heart of Western Washington’s deep blue, Christopher Rufo rose to national prominence as the blazing red modern Joe McCarthy, inventing new scares to annoy the gullible and capitalize on white grievances and bigotry.

Rufo, who cut his political teeth in Seattle attacking efforts to house the homeless as both a lucrative ploy and a form of “ruinous compassion,” went on to coin critical race theory, virtually from You’re welcome.

He now helps push the repugnant narrative of the ‘groomer’ feverishly rushing through the hard right, a QAnon-like conspiracy triumph in which teachers, Disney, Democrats, Ketanji Brown Jackson and Mitt Romney are all gleefully tarred as pedophiles or pedophiles. accomplices.

It’s a way to carve a channel for anti-gay and anti-trans hate into discourse, hiding the wolf of bigotry in the sheepskin clothes of “protecting the kids.”

And yet, you could not have imagined it a few years ago. You couldn’t have foreseen that the GOP would simply take a large can of “child molester” paint and go around carelessly splashing it on everyone in sight.

But here we are. And Rufo, right-wing “think tank” dweller and darling of the Tucker Carlson ensemble, helped us get here.

What is unusual is that he is honest about his dishonesty.

A few days ago he tweeted this: “American public schools have become breeding grounds for sexual predators. According to federal government research, school workers harass, manipulate and abuse up to 5 million children, often using “grooming” techniques to cultivate their victims – an outrage.

This issue is a good example of how Rufo works. He responded to a survey cited in a 2004 meta-analysis of some 2,000 students, in which around 10% reported some form of sexual abuse by a school staff member – with abuse ranging from sexual assault to inappropriate jokes.

The same analysis cites another survey, involving more than 4,000 girls, in which 3.7% reported inappropriate conduct by a teacher. Yet another cited survey, with a smaller sample size, put the figure at 50%.

Our understanding of the exact magnitude of this very real problem is not solid. Any child sexual abuse is too much. All sexual violence against children is reprehensible.

And it’s almost certain that the amount of sexual abuse we measure in schools is less than it actually is.

That, however, is far from suggesting that public schools are filled with pedophile caretakers — an insinuation directed almost solely at LGBTQ people — and the numbers Rufo cites are no basis for saying they are.

The analysis he cites underscores this: “The overwhelming majority of American educators are true professionals who do what might be called the ‘essential’ work of democracy. The vast majority of schools in America are safe places.

But Rufo isn’t really trying to tell a true story about a real issue. He just tries to manipulate people – to appeal to their ugliest selves – to achieve political ends.

How can we tell? He says so.

A few days before Rufo’s tweet about grooming the school, he gave a speech titled “Besieging the Institutions”, in which he clearly laid out his motives.

“I think you really want to create the conditions for fundamental structural change,” he said. “To get universal school choice, you really have to start from the principle of universal distrust of school, because for people to take meaningful action, they have to feel like something is at stake.”

Credit for the honesty, I guess. It was not too dissimilar to his now famous admission that he fundamentally redefined critical race theory – an academic theory about the historical roots of racism in American institutions – to mean any discourse on racism that conservatives of the race post-George Floyd era didn’t like it.

“The goal is for the public to read something crazy in the paper and immediately think of ‘critical race theory,'” he tweeted. “We have decoded the term and will recode it to append the full range of cultural constructs that are unpopular with Americans.”

Next thing you know, Idaho rep Heather Scott was criticizing the teaching of “To Kill a Mockingbird” as a CRT problem.

Rufo has given numerous interviews, in which he offers oily justifications for what he does as merely savvy political strategy. But what is happening with the pedophile slander is another step down into a political hell that it seems we can never get out of – a stupid, hateful, dishonest quagmire.

The people who invent it are neither intelligent nor savvy.

They are shameful.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or [email protected]

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