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Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers

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On Tuesday, June 21, Rusty Bowers — the conservative Republican who serves as speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives — testified at one of the hearings being held by the January 6 select committee. Bowers recalled his refusal to promote the Big Lie following the 2020 presidential election and the abuse from MAGA extremists that he suffered because of it — abuse that included being falsely accused of being a “pedophile.”

Journalist Ali Breland, in an article published by Mother Jones on June 21, points to Bowers’ experiences as a prime example of the type of tactics that QAnon extremists and far-right conspiracy theorists will resort to if a politician stands up to former President Donald Trump and the MAGA movement in any way. And Breland emphasizes that QAnon won’t hesitate to go after Republicans as well as Democrats.

“For years, ‘pedophile,’ often shortened to ‘pedo,’ was used as semi-ironic 4Chan shorthand for anyone internet trolls thought was a weirdo,” Breland explains. “More recently, QAnon’s misplaced ‘save the children’ paranoia has helped this sentiment germinate among the non-4Chan normie masses. For a bit, the pedophile accusations were reserved for elite, liberal gatekeepers — the high-profile Democrats featured in John Podesta’s hacked e-mails, for example. But now, literally anyone who stands even slightly in the way of the right’s agenda might be called a pedophile.”

Breland continues, “Testifying Tuesday before the January 6 committee, Rusty Bowers — the Republican speaker of the Arizona Statehouse — somberly explained how this happened to him after he refused to help Donald Trump overturn Joe Biden’s victory in that state. In response, right-wing protesters began showing up at his home, where he lives with his wife and daughter.”

Bowers is a prime example of the fact that QAnon extremists will not cut a politician any slack simply because they are a conservative Republican. If they consider them disloyal to the MAGA movement or a RINO (Republican In Name Only), they are a target for a false accusation of pedophilia. And Bowers has not been a Never Trumper.

“These kinds of often-unfounded accusations have become increasingly common weapons wielded by conspiratorial right-wingers who believe the election was stolen from Trump,” Breland observes. “But they also fit into a longstanding framework of weaponizing children as a part of far-right political projects. In 2019, while QAnon was gaining steam but had not yet gone fully mainstream, I wrote about the history of political movements baselessly portraying children as being in grave danger, as in the moral and Satanic panics of the 1980s.”

Breland notes that QAnon’s influence asserted itself this year when Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri made “attempts to smear Biden’s Supreme Court Justice nominee, Ketanji Brown Jackson, as a pedophile sympathizer.”

QAnon believes that the United States’ federal government has been hijacked by a sinister international cabal of pedophiles, child sex traffickers, Satanists and cannibals and that Trump was elected president in 2016 to fight the cabal. And QAnon, Breland warns, has “normalized” such thinking.

“QAnon, and the ‘80s moral panics that preceded it, established a more elaborate and convoluted mythos,” Breland writes. “Children were being kept in tunnels for a sprawling child sex trafficking ring run by elite pedophiles, and the proof was sitting in plain sight for anyone willing to do the research. This has become so normalized that people attacking Bowers might not even waste their time concocting fabulous stories. They just cut straight to the chase and call him a pedophile. They don’t explain any further, because they don’t need to.”

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

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Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons, a novel and a memoir. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.

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