COMMENTARY

The goal of the GOP's QAnon-influenced "groomer" troll: More political violence

Republicans don't really think liberals are "grooming" children — but they know saying so is permission to violence

By Amanda Marcotte

Published April 11, 2022 1:04PM (EDT)

A person holds a banner referring to the Qanon conspiracy theory during a alt-right rally on August 17, 2019 in Portland, Oregon (Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
A person holds a banner referring to the Qanon conspiracy theory during a alt-right rally on August 17, 2019 in Portland, Oregon (Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

Here is the most important thing to remember about the word "groomer": Exactly zero percent of the people flinging the word at progressives care one bit about child abuse. This is all just pure, uncut trolling. It's never meant as a sincere concern or accusation. Indeed, the deep unfairness of the word "groomer" is the point. What right-wing trolls want more desperately than anything else is to "trigger" liberals. Falsely accusing someone of heinous crimes, while unimaginative, is a crude-but-effective way to bully people. 

So in the past month, there's been a rapid escalation of conspiracy theories falsely accusing Democrats of being somehow pro-pedophilia. The proximate twin causes are the confirmation hearings of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court and Florida passing a "don't say gay" bill clearly meant to force LGBTQ teachers and students back into the closet. In the former, Republicans led by slime monster Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri spent the hearing falsely accusing Jackson of going light on sentences for child molesters. In the latter, Republicans defending the law have taken to suggesting that anyone who opposes it is a pedophile. Soon, a generalized accusation that Democrats and even companies that are mildly pro-LGBTQ want to "groom" children spread across Fox News.

RELATED: Florida Republicans revive deadly "queers recruit" myth with passage of "don't say gay" bill 

Falsely accusing someone of heinous crimes, while unimaginative, is a crude-but-effective way to bully people. 

Much digital ink has been spilled, for good reason, on how this nonsense is both about pandering to the QAnon cult and encouraging more Republican voters to be Q-curious. After all, QAnon espouses a conspiracy theory that Democrats secretly run a blood-drinking pedophilia cult that worships Satan. So any Republican leaders and pundits chattering about "grooming" and other false allegations around the subject of child abuse are clearly nodding in the direction of QAnon. 

But the extreme bad faith built into the slur "groomer" is also critical to understanding what Republicans are doing here.

Looking at Google Trends, what's clear is that there hasn't even been a surge of searches for phrases like "groomer" or "grooming," which is what you'd expect if people were sincerely concerned and trying to learn more about the subject. Instead, the audience for this nonsense, just like the people who peddle it, understands that the accusations are made in bad faith. Indeed, the obvious falsity of it amplifies the sadistic satisfaction for those who throw the term around. The pleasure is in being able to bully liberals by knowingly saying terrible, false things, and reveling in the helplessness of the targets to stop the lies. There's a real "quit hitting yourself" childish urge to bully behind it, coupled with the typically high levels of psychological projection from the party that actually coddles sexual predators and child abusers


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It's also about creating a permission structure to take the bullying to the next level. The thing about "owning the liberals" as a political motivation is that there comes a time when harassment and abuse aren't satisfying enough, and only violence will do.

On his Friday night show, Fox News host Tucker Carlson made this call to violence explicit, asking men to "go in and thrash the teacher" for allegedly teaching "sex values." Republicans have defined "sex values" so broadly as to include anodyne behaviors like "being married to someone of the same sex" or "letting kids talk about same-sex parents on the playground." Same-sex couples merely existing in public has been redefined as "grooming" by Breitbart. So it follows that what Carlson is asking his viewers to do is to beat up teachers for being gay, or even for just accepting that gay people exist. About three-quarters of elementary school teachers are female, as well, so Carlson's call to violence must be understood as calling on men to beat up women for the "crime" of accepting that some kids have LGBTQ family members and friends. 

RELATED: Why is the right so obsessed with bathroom issues? Behind the new wave of anti-LGBTQ attacks

That is, at its heart, what all this relentless "groomer" talk from Republicans is fundamentally about: More political violence — and not just towards Democrats.

Indeed, as the Carlson rant shows, teachers are swiftly becoming a primary target dangled out in front of rabid right-wingers looking for someone to be violent towards. The wildly popular right-wing pundit Candace Owens also targeted teachers when she recently declared: "We must not give these freaks and predators so much as one inch."

As Tess Owen at Vice reports, the MAGA base is hearing this message encouraging violence against teachers. "On one pro-Trump forum, users have made threats against teachers, especially LGBTQ teachers, saying 'Hang them all' and 'Groomers get the rope,'" she reports.  

It's also about creating a permission structure to take the bullying to the next level

And as journalist Lindsay Beyerstein pointed out on Twitter, for all the public fascination with QAnon's child abuse conspiracy theories, the obsession with imaginary child sex trafficking isn't really the point of QAnon. What actually drives QAnon, Beyerstein pointed out, "is a fantasy about liquidating political enemies." 

Beyerstein explains that "underneath all the claptrap about child trafficking and white rabbits and mole people, it's the promise that Trump will murder their foes during The Storm."


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The fantasies about child sex trafficking are about constructing a moral justification for what is, at its heart, a desire to murder people for objecting to Donald Trump's fascist political project. It's really no different than Vladimir Putin's empty lies painting Ukrainians as "Nazis" to justify genocide against them. Or, for that matter, the actual Nazis clinging to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion to justify the Holocaust. It's about propping up a narrative, no matter how ridiculous, that allows villains to believe they're the good guys, even though what they long for is mass murder. 

This entire "groomer" discourse from Republicans is about taking the violent ideology of QAnon and spreading it throughout the GOP base. Whatever individual Republican leaders think they're accomplishing with this hardly matters. This is absolutely an extension of the same impulse that drove Trump to bring his most virulent followers to the Capitol on January 6, knowing full well that they were drunk on conspiracy theories and the hope that stopping the electoral college vote count would lead to his installation as president.

Republican leaders and right-wing pundits are increasingly comfortable with the idea of using political violence to intimidate the larger public into complying with ideologies only held by a small fraction of Americans. There are two and a half more years until Trump makes his big play to steal the 2024 election. And with two and a half years to go of Republicans stoking right-wing violence to back his play, the situation could get very dire indeed. 


Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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