The Right’s Moral Panic Over “Grooming”: A Resurgence of Homophobia and Conspiratorial Thinking

The recent moral panic over “grooming” by the right-wing in the United States and Canada has invoked age-old homophobia, targeting liberals and the LGBTQ community with accusations reminiscent of the Satanic Panic. Aja Romano, a writer who focuses on pop culture, media, and ethics, has explored the connection between the far-right stoking moral panic and mainstream conservatism adopting such rhetoric.

The recent “Don’t Say Gay” law in Florida and other homophobic and transphobic legislation have prompted a focus on “grooming” accusations. Conservatives imply that the LGBTQ community, their allies, and liberals are pedophiles or pedophile-enablers. Governor Ron DeSantis’s press secretary even described the Florida law as an “Anti-Grooming Bill.”

QAnon conspiracy theory believers and #SaveTheChildren crusaders use similar language, turning grooming into a mainstream conservative talking point. Fox News runs pedophilia-focused segments, and pundits label transgender-affirming behavior as grooming. Accusations of pedophilia also surfaced during Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearings.

This fear-mongering has led to extremists targeting a school superintendent with violence for allegedly “grooming” children. Online threats could potentially lead to real-world violence. The homophobic playbook frames homosexuality as wicked and queer people as pedophiles. The “Don’t Say Gay” bill and recent anti-gay/trans legal actions in the US recycle this narrative, using “grooming” accusations to attach evil to perceived threats to conservative values.

Grooming is defined as the process by which adults make children vulnerable to sexual assault through manipulation. However, the right-wing may use the term to equate homosexuality to pedophilia. Grooming currently functions as a catchall label for right-wing alarmism, often linked to homophobic and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

This conspiratorial thinking led to events like Pizzagate and the QAnon conspiracy theory, which claims powerful politicians and celebrities kidnap children for sex trafficking and youth serums. Grooming is increasingly used to refer to left-wing indoctrination, including education on gay and trans equality. Rational fears and evidence for these claims are lacking, with grooming accusations meant to stir fear, anger, and hysteria, resembling fringe conspiracy theories.

The new pedophile conspiracy rhetoric shares similarities with older rhetoric, but with an added layer of wrongness. Occult, child endangerment, and anti-Semitism have historical roots in medieval fairy tales and stories. The Satanic Panic in the late 20th century was fueled by discredited books like The Satan Seller and Michelle Remembers. The evangelical aspect blurred the line between allegory and literalism, transforming social issues into spiritual warfare.

The paranoid style of American politics and the tendency towards conspiratorial thinking are evident in right-wing conspiracy theories around liberalism and anti-Semitism. The irony is that conservatives endanger queer and trans children in their zeal to protect them. A second irony is that the concept of “grooming” applies to the conspiracy theory itself.

The erosion of trust in journalism, academia, and expert authority fuels alarmist thinking, leading to the flourishing of misinformation and conspiracy theories. Real-life consequences, such as family alienation and violent events, demonstrate the impact of these beliefs on society.

Sources: https://www.vox.com/culture/23025505/leftist-groomers-homophobia-satanic-panic-explained

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