U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), chair of the House Republican Conference, did a very bad tweet on Friday that basically called everyone who disagrees with her...a pedophile.
Aside from the fact that Democrats have, in fact, proposed a plan to address the baby formula shortage, the “pedo” rhetoric is not new—it’s an unhinged conspiracy theory that’s become so normalized on the Right that House Republican leadership are now casually able to call all Democrats pedophiles without consequence. Jezebel’s Kylie Cheung recently explained this phenomenon after Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and others tried to portray incoming Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson as soft on pedophiles:
If Hawley and other Republicans’ bizarre fixation on framing Jackson as supposedly soft on child sex crimes feels like a twistedly familiar right-wing song and dance at this point, that’s because it is. There’s a reason 15% of Americans have said they believe Satan-worshiping pedophiles run the country. From Pizzagate—the viral 2016 conspiracy theory that the Hillary Clinton campaign ran a child sex trafficking ring at restaurants including a pizzeria in DC—to QAnon, the very online far-right has relied on equating the Democratic Party with pedophilia as its go-to smear. And actual prominent Republican politicians like Hawley, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and others have not-so-subtly been taking their cues from these conspiracy theorists.
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Needless to say, not all—if any, though we haven’t personally investigated—Democrats in Congress and White House are pedophiles, and it’s an objectively unhinged thing to allege on a public forum. So one of Stefanik’s constituents called her House office to ask for an explanation.
Writer Parker Molloy posted the audio of the conversation and transcribed it in her newsletter:
CALLER: She said, “The White House, House Dems and usual pedo grifters.” Now, you start the conversation pretty bad when you say, “The White House, House Dems, and usual pedo grifters.” Who are “the usual pedo grifters?”
STAFFER: So I don’t mean cut you off, I want to... Because we’ve got a few phone calls about this. First off, this is her personal Twitter. Just have to note that. And number two, “pedo” is not short for “pedophile,” it is “pedo” as in “children.” “Pedo” is, if you look it up on Google it’s-
CALLER: Yeah. I know what the word means.
STAFFER: Exactly defines to child.
CALLER: So these are people who are grifting their children? How are they grifting their children? Or are they children who are grifting?
STAFFER: No, not children who are grifting.
CALLER: So they’re not-
STAFFER: Saying people are grifting on behalf of children.
CALLER: They’re grifting on behalf of children?
Stefanik’s official explanation is different: Her office told Mediaite that “Pedo grifters refers to the Lincoln Project,” an anti-Trump Republican group whose co-founder, John Weaver, allegedly “sent unsolicited and sexually provocative messages online to young men.”
First off, I just want to say that having to spin Elise Stefanik’s egregious tweets on phone calls to the people she represents sounds like, truly, the worst job ever.
Secondly, LOL, in no world could the term “pedo” be construed to mean children. It means pedophiles: people who sexually abuse children. And, as explained above, it is an increasingly common accusation Republicans are casually throwing at Democrats without any kind of evidence. The fact that Stefanik, a member of House leadership, is able to toss out this allegation just shows how far right the party has shifted.
Of course, there are actual pedophiles in this world, and many of them, unfortunately, are Republicans. An ex-Republican National Committee staffer, for instance, was just recently sentenced to 12 years in prison for trading child porn.
Needless to say: If you start calling everyone who disagrees with you politically—including the entire White House—“pedophiles,” you’re doing a lot of free PR work for actual pedophiles, who can now check the news and see that they’re in great, powerful company. Just a thing to consider.