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Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., left, questions witnesses as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, looks on, on the fourth day of the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Bidens nominee for Associate Justice to the Supreme Court, in Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, on Thursday, March 24, 2022. (Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

QAnon Arrives in the US Senate

Cruz and Hawley are Republican presidential prospects for 2024, and the pedophilia theme panders to an increasingly large GOP constituency: QAnon followers.

Steven Harper

Specious claims of soft sentences in child pornography cases were an unlikely theme for Republicans to pursue in a confirmation hearing on a U.S. Supreme Court nominee. Fact checkers had thoroughly debunked the claims. Thoughtful conservatives tried and failed to head them off.

"The allegation appears meritless to the point of demagoguery," Andrew McCarthy wrote in the conservative publication National Review on March 20, 2022.

McCarthy was referring to Sen. Josh Hawley's (R-MO) false claim on Twitter that, as a district court judge, U.S. Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson had an "alarming pattern… of letting child porn offenders off the hook for their appalling crimes, both as a judge and as a policymaker." Likewise before the hearing, the Washington Post dismantled Hawley's claims, awarding him "Three Pinocchios."

None of that mattered to Hawley or his equally dogged ally of the moment, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Over and over again, they returned to the subject. Media coverage of the meritless claims missed a key point: Both men knew better.

So why did they do it?

Preoccupation with Pedophiles

Cruz and Hawley focused most of their questions on Judge Jackson's service on the U.S. Sentencing Commission and her sentences in a handful of child pornography cases. Repeatedly, Judge Jackson explained in detail how she followed the law in imposing sentences appropriate to the factual circumstances of each case. Those sentences put her squarely in the mainstream of all federal judges, regardless of which administration appointed them.

Yet Cruz and Hawley persisted. Facts and truth didn't matter.

Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley are not stupid. Cruz graduated from Princeton University and was Judge Jackson's classmate on the prestigious and highly competitive Law Review at Harvard. Hawley graduated from Stanford University and Yale Law School.

So why did they ignore the fact checkers and pretend not to understand Judge Jackson's complete rebuttal of their suggestions that she is somehow soft on pedophilia?

The QAnon Connection

The answer is that Cruz and Hawley are Republican presidential prospects for 2024, and the pedophilia theme panders to an increasingly large GOP constituency: QAnon followers.

QAnon is an anonymous website that became an internet sensation in 2017. One of its core beliefs is that a group of Satan-worshiping elites run a child sex ring and are trying to control U.S. politics and media. Another foundational tenet is that a storm is coming to sweep away those elites and restore the rightful leader of the country (whom some believe to be former President Donald Trump). They also believe that things are so off track that true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save the country.

Seventy percent of QAnon adherents believe that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump. The infamous "QAnon Shaman" participated in the January 6, 2021 insurrection, for which he was sentenced to 41 months in prison.

According to a February 2022 Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) analysis, 25 percent of Republicans identify as QAnon believers. That's more than enough to tip a GOP presidential primary election.

The New York Times noted that "few QAnon followers appeared to take notice of Judge Jackson's sentencing record before Senator Hawley's tweets." But Hawley and Cruz quickly changed that:

"One prominent QAnon message board immediately amplified the Republican allegations with a post on Tuesday afternoon that wildly and baselessly claimed that there was proof in Judge Jackson's 'office logs' that she sympathized with child abusers. On Monday, after Mr. Hawley's remarks on the hearing's first day, the same website posted a message with copies of the senator's tweets about Judge Jackson and the subject heading, 'Biden's SCOTUS nominee has got a soft spot for pedophiles.'"

Other Republicans on the committee then ran with the fake pedophilia baton, including Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT). Less than a year ago, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) voted to confirm Judge Jackson to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. This time, he badgered and interrupted her repeatedly with angry outbursts.

"Put their ass in jail…" Graham proclaimed. Which, of course, she did. But truth wasn't the point. Pandering to QAnon was the point.

Desperation underlies the demagoguery. Going into the hearings, 58 percent of Americans said that Judge Jackson should be confirmed. That level of support was second only to then-Judge John Roberts, who had 59 percent support prior to his confirmation in 2005. And Senate Republicans know that Judge Jackson is well on her way to the 51 votes needed to join him on the Court.

But Hawley, Cruz, Graham, and the other GOP purveyors of misinformation on the Judiciary committee and throughout the party are playing to the 53 percent of Republicans opposed to her confirmation. QAnon followers are among them.

That's now the party of Lincoln, and it's frightening.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Steven Harper

Steven J. Harper is an attorney, adjunct professor at Northwestern University Law School, and author of several books, including Crossing Hoffa — A Teamster’s Story and The Lawyer Bubble — A Profession in Crisis. He has been a regular columnist for Moyers on Democracy, Dan Rather’s News & Guts, and The American Lawyer.

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