Ladies and gentlemen, please follow me to a corner of the American Freakshow tent where a group of tubby white guys who got into politics as family values Republicans hang their heads in shame. Faith-based to a thinning hair, while sipping Diet Cokes at local Trump campaign strategy meetings, or representing conservatives in Congress and state legislatures, they were apparently lining up sex with teens and children or -- eek -- flicking through child porn.
If you hang out in right-wing social media silos, you have no problem believing that the Democratic Party is teeming with baby-abusing demons and witches, fanged affiliates of the George Soros global elite pedophile cabal. You have seen Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene shrieking about liberal groomers whenever a TV camera points her way. Perhaps you even belong to QAnon, the fascist movement/religion that holds Donald Trump was sent to Earth to rescue trafficked children. As of last year a majority -- 52 percent -- of Republicans believed in its central tenet, that top Democrats are involved in sex trafficking rings.
Out here, outside the silos, we find this obsession baffling. Why do our proto-fascists see pedophiles under every proverbial bed?
Quite possibly, it’s because they do see them all the time - in broad daylight, in their own ranks.
I’ve always believed that if you prick a rock-ribbed conservative, the kink oozes out. Bullwhips and dominatrices, shoe fetishes, latex, all of it, smashed back in the closet. But what I didn’t see coming was the simultaneous emergence of men whose craving for juvenile flesh is on display and sometimes leads them to prison, belonging to a political party devoted to fanning the flames of a moral panic about the other side trafficking children.
The recent news of Stop The Steal organizer Ali Alexander’s habit of grooming teenage boys for sex -- he solicited dick pics from a number of them by text — got me thinking about this crazy confluence of desire and denial among the hard right herd.
A casual search hauls up an astonishing number of rightist characters from Dixie to DC to the Dakotas who have quite recently, many within the last five years, resigned from office or political jobs, or pled guilty, or been convicted, and are in prison. I’ll flip thorough the rogue’s galley quickly and then discuss what this is. Details are lurid. If you really want more, links are in the resource list at the end.
In Washington, last April, a jury convicted anti-abortion activists and former Republican National Committee staff member, Ruben Verastigui, was caught in a federal sting of a ring of men that traded child porn, including of babies. He admitted to possession of 152 videos and 50 images of child pornography and to receiving and distributing sexual depictions of children. He is serving a 12 and a half year prison sentence.
Two months ago, in Minnesota, a jury convicted Republican political operative Anton Lazzaro of seven counts involving child sex trafficking of 15 and 16 year old girls. Lazzaro “conspired with others to recruit and solicit six people under the age of 18 to engage in commercial sex” between May and December of 2020. Some of the victims testified that he would take them to his luxury Minneapolis condo and feed them Everclear, a 190 proof booze. Each of the seven counts carries a ten year mandatory sentence.
In Oklahoma, former Republican state senator Ralph Shortey was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison in 2018, on a child sex trafficking charge. Shortey was a county campaign coordinator for Trump in 2016. He pled guilty to child sex trafficking after being accused of soliciting sex from a 17-year-old boy in March. Shortey had voted for a measure the Oklahoma legislature passed that would allow business owners to discriminate against gay people.
Clockwise from top left: Folmer, Neal, Lazzaro, Pressler, Moore, Verastigui, Shortey, Koskan. Center: Trump kissing a teen.Image from American Political Freakshow
In Pennsylvania in 2019, Republican state senator Mike Folmer resigned after being arrested and charged with possession of child porn for uploading images to a Tumblr account in 2019. He spent a year in prison and now must keep authorities apprised of his whereabouts.
In Tennessee last May, federal prosecutors charged Putnam County Commissioner Jimmy Ray Neal with possession and distribution of child pornography. He allegedly went by the handle “Tennesseemaster” on an app used to share pictures of pre-pubescent children.
Last November, Joel Koskan, running for the third time as a Republican candidate for the South Dakota legislature, was charged with felony child abuse, after a family member reported that he groomed, molested, and raped her for years, starting when she was 12.
One state closer to Canada, in North Dakota, last spring, the state’s longest serving state senator, Ray Holmberg, resigned after reports that he exchanged a stream of text messages with a man jailed on child porn charges. Holmberg exchanged 72 text messages with Nicholas James Morgan-Derosier, who prosecutors say possessed several thousand images and videos depicting sexually abused children and took two children under the age of 10 from Minnesota to his Grand Forks home, with the intent of sexually abusing them. Holmberg said he couldn’t recall, but thought the texts exchanges were about a patio.
In Texas, anti-gay activist and one-time chairman of the Houston area Republican Party, Jared Woodfill, conceded in a deposition that he ignored complaints about the behavior of his law partner, the Baptist preacher Paul Pressler, with young men. A young man accused Pressler of repeatedly raping him in a church youth group. Woodfill had been informed that the preacher was a predator, who liked to tell young men lewd stories about men “naked on beaches” trying to lure them to skinny dip at his ranch.
In 2020, Trump campaign operative George Nader pled guilty to child porn and sex trafficking and was sentenced to ten years in prison. Prosecutors accused him of possessing pornographic images of children including some featuring toddler-age boys, baby goats, and other farm animals, and of arranging to transport a 14-year-old boy from the Czech Republic to his Washington home.
Trumpworld was creepy with men who had a thing for teens, starting with 45 himself. Alabama’s 2018 U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, was a notorious teen-girl harasser. Six women accused him of pursuing sex with them when they were as young as 14. Moore was so aggressive toward high school girls that a local mall actually banned him, according to the New York Times.
The revelations did not lose him Trump’s endorsement.
An Uncle Fester getting gnarled hands on a nubile is nothing new in conservative circles. The OG of Republican perviness was the late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC), whose sex with a 15-year-old produced a child when he was in his 20s, and who went on to marry women one half and one third his age. Former Rep. Dennis Hastert, the longest serving Republican House Speaker, pled guilty to trying to pay a almost a million dollars in hush money to a teen wrestler he sexually abused while a wrestling coach in Illinois between 1965 bands 1981. At least six Republican Congressmen pleaded with the judge to give him leniency.
Is it just a coincidence that the rash of recent arrests and revelations about Republicans came in the wake of the election of a man who has bragged about walking in on half-naked Miss Teen USA’s getting dressed when they were in his pageants? Might there be something in the MAGA water?
Fascist author and pseudonymous Twitter personality Bronze Age Pervert, intellectual leader of young rightists, in his book Bronze Age Mindset, classifies humanity into three categories: superior men who "desire one thing above all, ever-flowing eternal fame among mortals," natural “bugmen,” dullards and serfs who make up the majority of men, and an intermediate class who alternate between serving the natural aristocracy and enforcing the hierarchy. In the Bronze Age Mindset, women “drain” men of their vitality and are responsible for all the world’s problems.
In the actual Bronze Age, slavery was common, girls were marriageable at 12 and probably younger, first cousins married each other, and females had little agency about who they had sex with. BAP, as he’s known, doesn’t explicitly say it, but an element of the Bronze Age Mindset’s vital male is that he be free to do what he wants with and to the bodies of “lesser” people - usually women, but also, perhaps, children, male or female.
This fantasy appeals beyond incel circles. As feminism empowered adult women, it has become more difficult to carry them off into proverbial caves. Are these self-considered superior men - -the Matt Gaetzes of the world, say -- turning to younger and younger girls?
The right studiously ignores this flaw in their project of elevating the neolithic male model. They blame liberals for a supposed epidemic of child sexualization, while in their ranks, sex criminals are going to prison.
State and federal laws apparently haven’t caught up with the Neanderthal trend.
I am not the first to point out that moral panics, like QAnon’s about children, erupt regularly in response to threatening social change. I recommend terrific discussions about how women going to work gave rise to Satanic panic hysteria in day care centers during the 1980s on the Conspirituality podcast. There are also many great essays, including one in Mother Jones, from which I excerpt:
With Pizzagate and QAnon, the molesters have changed from day-care workers to the liberal elite, and the politics behind the theories now are more explicitly spelled out. But the general context is more or less the same: conservative retrenchment after a period of progressive social gains. If women’s entry into the workplace in the latter half of the 20th century triggered deep anxieties about the decay of traditional gender roles and the family unit, in the 21st century it was same-sex marriage, growing acceptance of transgender rights, and the seeming cultural hegemony of a social justice agenda.
The twisted reality of conservative attitudes toward sex, women and children means that even as their ranks are infiltrated with pervs, they consistently use supposed dangers to women and children as a political cudgel against the other side. “I’ve noticed an alarming pattern when it comes to Judge Jackson’s treatment of sex offenders, especially those preying on children,” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) tweeted before the Ketanji Brown Jackson Supreme Court confirmation hearings. “Judge Jackson has a pattern of letting child porn offenders off the hook for their appalling crimes, both as a judge and as a policymaker.”
In fact that was a lie.
Republicans are the strongest defenders of Lolita-loving state laws allowing child marriage. Between 2000 and 2018, 300,000 girls between age 15 and 17 were married in the U.S. A significant portion of them -- 60,000 -- were under the age of sexual consent in their states. “Run Josh Run” Hawley hails from the great state of Missouri, which just happens to be a “destination wedding spot for 15-year-old brides,” per the Kansas City Star.
Hawley’s Deliverance home state had such lax laws about girl-man marriage that between 2000 and 2014, thousands of children were legally married there, many of them impregnated teens. The state recently increased its legal marriage age to 16, against the objections of legislators who openly supported child marriage. During recent debate about anti-transgender care legislation, one of them, Sen. Mike Moon, doubled down again apropos of parents’ rights to marry off (heterosexually of course) their children, whenever they want. Moon, who had voted no on the bill to raise the marriage age from 15 to 16, asked the legislature, “Do you know any kids who have been married at age 12?” When one of his colleagues replied, “I don’t need to.,” Moon -- a Republican, of course -- replied: “I do, and guess what, they’re still married.”
Woodfill and Pressler
Jimmy Ray Neal
Rep. Mike Moon
Conspirituality podcast (I recommend the episodes on “Michelle Remembers” and recovered memory connections to Satanic panics.
Strom Thurmond’s Lolita
Mother Jonesessay on moral panics
Child marriage in America
Nina Burleigh is a a journalist, author, documentary producer, and publisher ofAmerican Political Freakshow, a Substack on politics. Her journalism has been published in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Airmail, and New York. She is the author of seven books including most recently Virus: Vaccinations, the CDC, and the Hijacking of America's Response to the Pandemic and an adjunct professor at New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.
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