Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene took to Twitter Monday to launch an attack on any senator who indicated they would vote to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court. “Any Senator voting to confirm #KJB is pro-pedophile just like she is,” the far-right congresswoman from Georgia wrote. “Biden chose the one that protects evil child predators.” She singled out the three Republican senators who indicated they would support Jackson’s nomination: “Murkowski, Collins, and Romney are pro-pedophile,” she declared.
Greene doubled down on her comments the next day, taking to “Prime Time with Dr. Gina Loudon” on the Real America’s Voice network to insist that the “Democrats are the party of pedophiles.” (She ignored, of course, evidence of such crimes in her own party.)
The declarations aren’t surprising coming from a woman who was elected to Congress despite her belief in the QAnon conspiracy theory—whose adherents regularly and baselessly accuse Democratic politicians of participating in a satanic pedophile ring—and who received only a slap on the wrist for speaking at a white nationalist conference this winter. While Greene’s accusations are the most flagrant attempt to appeal to QAnon adherents, senators on the far-right wing of the GOP launched an attack in the same vein during Jackson’s confirmation hearing, and they were supported by a wide range of right-wing organizations that amplified a message that Judge Jackson was soft on crime, particularly on pedophiles.
Despite all this, Judge Jackson was confirmed to the Supreme Court Thursday afternoon, making history as the first Black woman to become a Supreme Court justice. But the baseless attacks Jackson overcame are indicative of the playbook Republicans will use this election year.
Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee accused Jackson of displaying, as Sen. Marsha Blackburn said, “a consistent pattern of giving child porn offenders lighter sentences.” She was joined in such declarations by Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, who used their questioning time to grill Jackson about several child porn cases over which she presided.
First, a little fact checking. As Sen. Richard Blumenthal noted during her hearing, Jackson’s sentences in cases involving child porn “matched the recommendation by either the prosecution or the probation office in most of the cases.” And as countless fact checks have made clear, Republicans’ accusations are misleading.
Hawley, for his part, showed his hand before the hearings even began, tweeting a long thread claiming “an alarming pattern when it comes to Judge Jackson’s treatment of sex offenders, especially those preying on children.” During the hearing, Hawley took quotes by Jackson out of context—presenting her questions as if they were statements.
But Hawley’s line of attack probably didn’t originate in his office. The American Accountability Foundation—a right-wing “government corruption watchdog” that boasts of using “guerilla-style tactics”—published on Feb. 25 a note Jackson wrote during her time at Harvard, claiming Jackson “argued that America’s judicial system is ‘unfair’ to sexual predators.”
The claim ought to have been met with immediate skepticism. After all, it was coming from an organization whose stated goal “is to take a big handful of sand and throw it in the gears of the Biden administration, and that’s what we’re going to do every day,” as Tom Jones, founder of AFF and a former Ted Cruz staffer, told Fox News.
Three days after the AFF published their post, The Post Millennial—a source of rage bait for far-right audiences connected to far-right propagandist and “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec—published a story with the same framing, citing AFF. From there, the accusation spread to other right-wing media, with groups like the Koch-connected FreedomWorks, the right-wing Catholic Vote, the right-wing communications and legal shop Judicial Watch, the anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council, Phyllis Schlafly Eagles, and Heritage Action, the 501(c)(4) arm of the right-wing think tank Heritage Foundation, all amplifying the message.
One particularly blatant attack came in the form of an ad campaign from The Article III Project, a conservative organization with a “brass knuckles” approach. “Activist judges like Ketanji Brown Jackson are more concerned about the well-being of pedophiles than the safety of your children—and thanks to her, they may be living in your neighborhood,” the narrator baselessly claims. The campaign targeted more than a dozen lawmakers—Democrats in swing states along with Republican senators who signaled their support of Jackson.
Mike Davis, president of the Article III Project, joined far-right operative Steve Bannon on his “War Room” podcast Monday to promote the campaign. Urging listeners to call their senators, Bannon told them to “give them your unexpurgated opinion on what you think of Judge Jackson in this area of child torture, child rape, baby torture, and baby rape.”
“People need to light up the Senate switchboard and let their senators know that they’re paying attention,” Davis added. “And if they ignore us this week, I don’t think we should ignore them in November.”
Even as media outlets and Democrats rightfully point out how this campaign appeals to the QAnon conspiracy theory movement, Hawley continued his antics, suggesting it was no conspiracy theory. On Tuesday, he went to the Senate floor to introduce a bill to prevent judges from sentencing below federal guidelines in cases involving sexual offenses against children. “I just went to the Senate floor to try to pass a bill toughening sentences on child pornographers. And the Democrats blocked it, again calling the child porn crisis a ‘conspiracy theory.’ And that tells you everything you need to know,” he claimed in a tweet.
While some right-wing actors just wanted to test out an “accuse everyone of being pedophiles” playbook, there were others who just wanted to make Democrats spend money ahead of November. Tony Perkins, president of the religious-right Family Research Council, admitted as much in the beginning of March: “it’s helpful to make the left spend up their money in advance of a midterm election.”