The World Forum - July 24th, 2024

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The far right’s fixation on pedophilia is dangerous


I’ve just experienced another attack on social media. The harassment on X, as Twitter now calls itself, usually lasts around 36 hours, and while most of the nasties are trolls and bots, I can’t pretend that the hundreds of comments don’t have an effect. I’m a priest, progressive, outspoken. No point in complaining. But a disturbing new aspect of these bombardments are the repeated and constant false accusations of pedophilia – not a libellous dribble, but a flood.

It’s not really about me of course, and I’m in good company. Last month in Belleville, Ont., when Justin Trudeau was swarmed by a right-wing mob, one of the hysterical shouts clearly heard was that he was a child molester. It’s grotesque nonsense about the Prime Minister that swamps social media. In fact, there aren’t many politicians and activists on the left who haven’t been accused of this awful crime.

And with a horribly convenient timing, a new movie, Sound of Freedom, is currently the talk of the far right. Jim Caviezel (who played Jesus in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ) stars as Tim Ballard, a former government agent who rescues children from sex traffickers. As the critic Sam Adams wrote perceptively for the online magazine Slate, it “arrived in theatres surrounded by a cloud of innuendo put forth by its star and its noisiest right-wing supporters – conspiratorial insinuations about who doesn’t want this story to be told and what real-world traffickers are really up to.”

Rescuing children is one thing, and entirely admirable, but this phenomenon goes much further than that. Mr. Caviezel himself has spoken of “the whole adrenochrome empire,” describing the substance as “an elite drug that they’ve used for many years” that is “10 times more potent than heroin” and “has some mystical qualities as far as making you look younger.”

Adrenochrome, zealots claim, can only be obtained from adrenal glands in a living human body, thus the need to abduct children. It’s obscene and dangerous quackery, but that doesn’t help convince the cult of the credulous. This rubbish has its origins in a QAnon belief that powerful, international figures intent on resetting the world, controlling people and destroying religious freedom are also kidnapping little boys and girls.

That was the lunacy behind Pizzagate in 2016, when thousands believed that a pedophilia ring led by those at the highest levels of the Democratic Party was operating out of a Washington pizza restaurant. More than a million messages were sent on Twitter supporting the fantasy, eventually leading to employees being harassed, followed by a shooting and then an arson.

There’s always been a strong dose of homophobia involved, through the venomous old canard of gay men being groomers, in spite of all the facts and evidence. Facts and evidence, however, are the last things relevant in all this. The trans issue magnified the paranoia, and it’s been pushed into the mainstream by a new generation of right-wing politicians.

When Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill was being debated, for example, Governor Ron DeSantis’s press secretary Christina Pushaw wrote that anyone who opposed the legislation was “probably a groomer.” In 2020 on NBC, Donald Trump spoke of his supporters as being “very strongly against pedophilia and I agree with that. And I agree with it very strongly.”