AUDIO: Stefanik staffer twists himself in knots defending "pedo grifters" comment
"...'pedo' is not short for 'pedophile,' it is 'pedo' as in 'children.' 'Pedo' is, if you look it up on Google it's-"
Yesterday, just as I was wrapping up my work for the week, I saw this tweet from Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY):
Not content to just attack the Biden administration (which is fine to do, whether accurate or not, that’s another issue), Stefanik went out of her way to add the term “usual pedo grifters” into the mix. After weeks of Republicans trying to smear LGBTQ people as “groomers” and pedophiles in the wake of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, I hit my breaking point with these continuing attacks and accusations, and said as much on Twitter.
The Present Age is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a subscriber.
Afterward, I received an email containing an audio file of a conversation between someone who supposedly works in the congresswoman’s office and a constituent.
CALLER: Okay. So, she tweeted again. 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?
CALLER: And she thought that the way to say that people who are grifting on behalf of children, which, I don't really understand how... Who's grifting? How is there a grift involved in any of this? Like what's the grift here?
STAFFER: Well, I really can't analyze it for you just because I haven't gotten a statement on it. Again, this is her personal Twitter account.
STAFFER: I'm just giving you the definitions because we've received a lot of calls for clarification. I'm just kind of clarifying what that means.
This is part of a pattern on the right of making outrageous claims and then pretending they did nothing of the sort. It’s cowardly. It’s pathetic. It’s an attempt to pander to the QAnon crowd without being directly associated with them. Again, pathetic.
Just the other day, conservatives were upset over a PolitiFact article setting the record straight on what “grooming” means.
Republicans have recently taken to using an old anti-gay smear against people who oppose laws like Florida’s “parental rights” law, sometimes referred to as “Don’t Say Gay.” Pride flags, LGBTQ teachers, and books that discuss LGBTQ people or topics have been increasingly targeted with accusations of “grooming” children.
“Grooming” typically refers to, to quote the PolitiFact article that has the right so angry, “a process or set of behaviors adults use to make it easier to introduce and complete sexual interactions with a child.” The term is also occasionally used to describe people who use positions of power and trust to sexually prey on subordinates. As you can see here from the multiple times she’s used the word “groom” and “groomer” prior to the current moral panic, Stefanik knows exactly what the word means (she used it in a seemingly accurate way to describe the Democratic former governor of New York Andrew Cuomo).
It doesn’t refer to discussing the existence of LGBTQ people, LGBTQ topics, etc.
For decades, the word "grooming" has been associated with sexual abuse — child sexual abuse in particular.
David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes against Children Research Center and sociology professor at the University of New Hampshire, defined it as "a set of behaviors and manipulations that adults use to make it easier to introduce and complete sexual interactions with a child, without having to use physical force."
Grooming might involve gift-giving, taking a child on special outings, focusing attention and compliments on appearance or providing a child with special privileges. It is typically aimed at one or very few potential victims, not a group.
What it does not refer to is the kind of activity that Florida’s measure now prohibits: instruction that touches on topics of sexual orientation or gender identity.
This narrative is rooted in past anti-gay movements. The weaponization of the term "grooming" is tied to a history of longstanding false claims that gay, lesbian and bisexual people — and men in particular — molest children at higher rates than people who are not LGBTQ.
"When did our public schools, any schools, become what are essentially grooming centers for gender identity radicals?" Fox News host Laura Ingraham said on her March 9 show. "As a mom, I think it’s appalling, it’s frightening, it’s disgusting, it’s despicable."
Jenifer McGuire, professor in the department of family social science at the University of Minnesota, said that perspective stems "from an underlying desire to separate people who are different and to characterize them as less than or as evil. So it’s a new form of homophobia and transphobia — or it’s maybe the same old form but with new language."
Here’s what FiveThirtyEight wrote recently:
For the unfamiliar, “grooming” is a term typically reserved to describe the type of behavior that child sexual abusers use to coerce potential victims without being caught. But now some Republicans are using it against any Democrat (or company) who disagrees with them on certain policy issues. This is a deliberate tactic that was promoted as early as last summer by Christopher Rufo, the same conservative activist who helped muddle the language around critical race theory. “Grooming” is a term that neatly draws together both modern conspiracy theories and old homophobic stereotypes, while comfortably shielding itself under the guise of protecting children. Who, after all, can argue against the safety of kids? But by adopting this language to bolster their latest political pursuits, the right is both giving a nod to fringe conspiracy theorists and using an age-old tactic to dismantle LGBTQ rights.
But as FiveThirtyEight also notes, the reason Republicans have taken up using words with a specific meaning like “groomer,” and inaccurately deploying them, is that it gives them cover and plausible deniability:
[Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s press secretary Christina] Pushaw [who was one of the first to refer to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill as an “anti-grooming” bill], for her part, denies that any of this rhetoric is homophobic. She told Vice News she “never once singled out LGBTQ people” and that the “assumption that criticism of grooming is criticism of the LGBTQ community equates LGBTQ people to groomers, which is both bigoted and inaccurate. Do better. And, any adult who wants to discuss sexual and gender identity topics with other people’s 5- to 8-year-old children—while keeping this a secret from their parents—is either a groomer or is complicit in promoting an environment where grooming becomes normalized.”
But what’s being normalized here isn’t grooming; it’s the use of homophobic rhetoric and conspiracy theory language. And it’s intended not to protect children but to advance political causes and slander political enemies.
Just as Pushaw’s attempt to pretend like the Florida bill isn’t meant as an attack on LGBTQ people and that calling people who oppose the anti-LGBTQ bill “pro-grooming” is nonsense, so, too, is Stefanik’s attempt to wink and nod to the QAnon right while pretending that she didn’t mean “pedophile” when she said “usual pedo grifters.”
It’s time that journalists press people on the right to say exactly what they mean. No more dancing around it with this “Oh, how could you possibly think I was trying to call people [pedophiles, groomers, etc.]” stuff. If Stefanik appears on a Sunday show this weekend, I sure hope she gets pressed on this topic because enough is enough.
Wanted to add a link to this Mediaite story containing her office’s eventual official explanation:
When asked for comment, Stefanik’s office told Mediaite, “Pedo grifters refers to the Lincoln Project.”
The Lincoln Project is a political action committee founded by Republicans and former Republicans who have been highly critical of former President Donald Trump and his allies. The group released an attack ad against Stefanik in January of last year. Around that time, one of its co-founders, John Weaver, was alleged to have “sent unsolicited and sexually provocative messages online to young men.”
Weaver is no longer associated with the PAC.
I am posting this in good faith. Both Washington, DC, and New York have one-party consent laws for recording phone calls, so I have no reason to believe this recording was made illegally. The clip was sent to me unsolicited.