Commentary

Susan J. Demas: Republicans said KBJ was soft on pedophiles. But they have a Michigan problem.

April 11, 2022 2:50 am

Lee Chatfield | Graphic by Susan J. Demas, photo by Andrew Roth

If you sat through the excruciating Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Ketanji Brown Jackson, it was clear just how exceptional the first Black female justice in history had to be just to get there.

Just compare Jackson’s composure and legal analysis in hearings to Brett Kavanagh, who was credibly accused of sexual assault (which naturally seemed to be an asset to the man who nominated him, Donald Trump). Kavanaugh proceeded to stomp his way through the process, displaying the intellectual curiosity (and entitlement) of your very average prep school kid.

But despite Jackson being so eminently qualified, Republicans were determined to make the hearings the circus that Kavanagh’s were (again, because he was credibly accused of sexual assault). So U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) — best known for cheering on Jan. 6 insurrectionists with a fist pump — and others tried out their QAnon midterms strategy by smearing Jackson over her record on sex offender policies.

In case you’re lucky enough not to have relatives ramble on about “the storm” and end super-weird Facebook posts with #SavetheChildren, QAnon is a violent death cult the FBI has labeled a domestic terrorist operation.

The right-wing conspiracy theory rooted in anti-Semitic tropes revolves around Trump hunting down and eventually killing Democratic politicians and wealthy liberals who lead double lives as Satan-worshipping cannibals running a child sex-trafficking ring.

That’s some kooky stuff. But polling shows almost half of Republican voters believe some QAnon tenets. 

So U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) tweeting that “any Senator voting to confirm #KJB is pro-pedophile just like she is,” is absolutely loony — but it’s also meant to rile up the GOP base that always has to feel under siege. 

Ketanji Brown Jackson, nominee to be U.S. Circuit Judge for the District of Columbia Circuit, testifies during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in Dirksen Senate Office Building on April 28, 2021 in Washington, DC. | Tom Williams-Pool/Getty Images

And it’s about enticing enough voters on the margins, especially women, to buy into the far-right GOP agenda of massive rollbacks of basic civil rights — like the constitutional rights to birth control and abortion. If you believe you’re on a noble quest to save children from “groomers,” then you start to accept things you normally never would, like book bans and siccing Child Protective Services on parents of trans kids.

Of course, the Republican Party has a hypocrisy problem. Greene’s MAGA mate, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), is under investigation for sex-trafficking, including accusations he had sex with an underage 17-year-old girl. GOP former House Speaker Dennis Hastert was a “serial child molester” in the words of the judge who sentenced him for hush money payments to his victims. And of course, Trump has been accused of creeping on teenage pageant contestants, in addition to a slew of other sexual assault allegations.

But this hits closer to home for Michiganders with our own Republican former House speaker, Lee Chatfield, whose sister-in-law alleged began sexually assaulting her when she was 15 and a student at Northern Michigan Christian Academy. The school is run by Rusty Chatfield, Lee Chatfield’s father, and the former House speaker was working there at the time. 

“These are allegations that [Lee Chatfield] used his position of power and influence while in the church and school and had an ongoing sexual relationship with this young teenager girl that lasted beyond her teenage years and after [Chatfield’s] brother married her,” said Rebekah Chatfield’s attorney, Jamie White, who also represented survivors of former MSU Dr. Larry Nassar.

Lee Chatfield denies the allegations, with his attorney arguing the two had a consensual “affair” starting when she was an adult. He has not been charged, although police raided the home of his former staffers as part of an ongoing investigation.

Republicans have decided to dance with the QAnon devil this election. But once you uncork unhinged conspiracy theories, you can’t expect to control the crazy.

– Susan J. Demas

While some Republicans have spoken up about the scandal, most leaders have refused to comment. In spite of the national GOP crusade against “grooming,” it’s notable that not one Republican has signed onto Michigan legislation making evidence of grooming admissible in court — which was introduced after the Chatfield allegations.

House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Farwell) also has nixed an ethics investigation into Chatfield that Democrats have demanded, saying the police are on it.

Oh, please. Anyone who’s been in Lansing longer than a minute knows the Legislature is fully capable of investigating whatever it wants — just look at all the hearings on nonexistent voter fraud after the 2020 election Trump lost.

But not even House Oversight Committee Chair Steven Johnson (R-Wayland), who I’m told is a beacon for transparency lovers everywhere, will do anything. I guess the tough, truth-digging act is only reserved for alleged wrongdoing from Democrats.

So why are Republicans so darn disinterested in getting to the bottom of what happened with Chatfield? 

Obviously it undercuts their QAnon-style messaging for the midterms. But there’s also another likely factor: money.

The so-called QAnon shaman at the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol | Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The ex-speaker raised more than $5 million for various funds in a web almost as tangled as the Chatfield family tree — including $2.1 million in 2020, his last year in office. That’s an unprecedented amount, per the nonpartisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network. He also was extremely generous to Republicans across the state, including donating to 73% of current GOP legislators.

While Democrats often shun guilt-by-association attacks, Trump Republicans like GOP attorney general candidate Matt DePerno revel in them. He’s demanded his rival, establishment fave former Speaker Tom Leonard, return Chatfield’s contributions.

“The office of attorney general is the highest-ranking law enforcement office in the state,” DePerno’s campaign said in a statement. “It is of the utmost importance that the future attorney general is not tied to one of the most heinous crimes an individual can commit against an innocent child.”

Republicans have decided to dance with the QAnon devil this election. But once you uncork unhinged conspiracy theories, you can’t expect to control the crazy.

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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 22-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQ+ people, the state budget, the economy and more. She previously served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 90 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 5,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 80 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two kids along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.

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