Commentary

Susan J. Demas: The far-right’s repulsive ‘groomer’ attack is a clarion call for violence

April 26, 2022 3:47 am

Hundreds protest a Trump administration announcement this week that rescinds an Obama-era order allowing transgender students to use school bathrooms matching their gender identities, at the Stonewall Inn on February 23, 2017 in New York City. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Earlier this month, Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton) used her invocation on the Senate dais to launch a political tirade that children are “under attack” from “forces that desire things for them other than what their parents would have them see and hear and know.”

That prompted walkouts from some Democratic senators, so Theis saw an opportunity to make some quick campaign cash, as she’s facing a rough GOP primary with a former President Trump-endorsed challenger.

“Progressive social media trolls like Senator Mallory McMorrow (D-Snowflake) who are outraged they can’t … groom and sexualize kindergarteners or that 8-year-olds are responsible for slavery,” reads Theis’ email titled, “groomers outraged by my invocation.” 

Republicans, banking on the fact that they’ll win the midterms (since the party out of power usually does), have launched savage attacks on LGBTQ+ rights, abortion rights and race equity, from Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law to Idaho’s law allowing families of rapists to sue abortion providers.

Many Democratic officials have avoided direct confrontation, even though none of these measures are popular, oddly ceding ground on basic civil and human rights issues. It’s like they’re already preparing to lose in 2022.

State Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak), April 20, 2022 | Laina G. Stebbins

But if Theis thought McMorrow would adopt a defensive crouch, she was wrong. Instead, the first-term Democrat delivered a fiery Senate speech last week.

“I didn’t expect to wake up yesterday to the news that the senator from the 22nd District had overnight accused, by name, of grooming and sexualizing children in an email fundraising for herself,” she said. “So I sat on it for a while wondering, why me? And then I realized, because I am the biggest threat to your hollow, hateful scheme.”

McMorrow’s “epic takedown” went viral, followed by predictable takes dinging her for her newfound fame and raising serious money from it (interestingly echoing bitter complaints from Theis, who has remained unapologetic).

It’s adorable when the politically savvy pretend they don’t understand how politics works (yes, running for office takes money). But this also conveniently ignores that Theis was the one who fired the first shot by blatantly trying to capitalize off of her anti-LGBTQ+ bigotry, while making McMorrow an explicit target of hate.

Meanwhile, McMorrow’s speech captivated Democratic leaders from President Joe Biden on down, as well as frustrated progressives and folks just concerned with basic common decency.

Even Democratic consultant James Carville, who claims the party is veering too far left with “wokeness” (whatever that means), told the Washington Post McMorrow’s speech was an “enormously effective piece of communication. There’s really no comeback to it.”

It was clearly the right speech at the right time. Nobody knows exactly what will catch fire and what won’t — politics isn’t an exact science — but McMorrow’s self-proclaimed status as a “straight, white, Christian, married, suburban mom” likely didn’t hurt. 

Would a similarly impassioned speech from a gay or trans lawmaker have resonated as deeply? I honestly don’t know and it’s worth considering what that means.

The QAnon-infused “groomer” smear from Republicans that LGBTQ+ people and Democrats are trying to harm and abuse children isn’t just disgusting — it’s dangerous. It’s a call to violence to the far-right base in the name of saving children at a time when political threats are already on the rise.

– Susan J. Demas

But I do know there’s one aspect of this story that needs to be talked about more. The QAnon-infused “groomer” smear from Republicans that LGBTQ+ people and Democrats are trying to harm and abuse children isn’t just disgusting — it’s dangerous.

It’s a call to violence to the far-right base in the name of saving children at a time when political threats are already on the rise. There’s a reason why McMorrow was holding back tears when she recalled talking about Theis’ email to her mother, who cried, was “horrified,” and “asked why I still do this, and to think of my daughter.”

It’s not just LGBTQ+ people and allies who are targets — there even have been stomach-churning reports of their young children being accosted by bigots.

But far-right leaders with enormous platforms, like Fox News host Tucker Carlson, Michigan GOP gubernatorial hopeful Tudor Dixon and U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, don’t show any sign of letting up on gross smears that LGBTQ+ people and Dems are “sexualizing” kids.

Why would they? This is just following the playbook of the radical anti-abortion movement. Remember when right-wing talk show host Bill O’Reilly whipped up fury against Dr. George Tiller, who he repeatedly denounced as a “baby killer”? Tiller was murdered by an anti-abortion activist while attending church in 2009. 

Why pretend this can’t happen again?

Republicans embracing politicians eager for violence like Trump, who has called for shooting anti-police brutality activists and migrants at the border, is part of the party’s march to white nationalism and authoritarianism.

Far-right activists have descended on Michigan’s Capitol multiple times since 2020, with heavily armed protests against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s early COVID-19 health orders and Trump’s 2020 election loss. Since then, there have been a carousel of outrages, from masks to critical race theory to LGBTQ+ people daring to exist.

Conservative protest at the Capitol against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, April 30, 2020 | Anna Liz Nichols

After the first protest in April 2020, Trump was in a frenzy, tweeting, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” It’s also worth remembering what he wrote after rioters with AR-15s and signs like “Tyrants Get the Rope” breached the Capitol later that month in what was a dress rehearsal for the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.

“The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire,” Trump wrote. “These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal.”

This is what fascists do and have always done. They threaten officials and threaten to take over institutions by force, claiming to speak for the majority when they do not. 

Trump’s advice to the sane majority was just to give in and no one would get hurt. The far-right has only become more emboldened in the two years that have followed, putting public health and school board officials in their crosshairs.

That’s why we must stand up every time they target marginalized groups and public servants. It’s easy to dismiss fascists as deranged, but they are relentless. 

They’re counting on those of us fighting to preserve decency and democracy to give in to terror and exhaustion. But that’s not an option.

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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 21-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, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she 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 80 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 4,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 70 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.

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