Conservative media has found a new boogeyman to froth over: civically engaged women.
Last week, women all over the country left their homes and workplaces to protest the confirmation of a Supreme Court justice who they believe represents an ongoing crusade against their rights. They marched by the thousands. They screamed in the faces of their elected officials. They gritted their teeth and, once again, told horrifying stories of sexual abuse, so that their friends, family and colleagues might be heard too.
They were still doing so Wednesday.
This worries the right-wing media and the politicians who read it. Even after Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, conservative news is trying to downplay, belittle and flat-out lie about protesters. Fox News, The Washington Times, Town Hall and The Daily Caller, among other outlets, latched on to storylines about “paid protesters” attending various anti-Kavanaugh rallies. The Blaze called the demonstrators “unhinged” and said their numbers were padded by “liberal celebrities”; a Fox News contributor called them “screaming animals” who should be “tasered, handcuffed and dragged out of the building”; Town Hall even published a column comparing the Kavanaugh protesters to Kermit Gosnell, a doctor who was convicted of murdering three infants.
“The darkness of evil infiltrated the nation’s capital during the Senate confirmation process of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh,” Town Hall columnist Rebecca Hagelin wrote. “You could feel the vitriol in the shrills of protesters interrupting the hearings and the confirmation vote.”
The list goes on. To conservative media, liberal women are rabid in their efforts to take down Kavanaugh; the wider point about the Me Too movement and the reproductive rights at stake are lost in the outrage. For some of the more extreme, Infowars-style websites on the right, fear-mongering headlines aren’t a surprise. But the content pipeline between those sites, Fox News and the president’s Twitter account is extremely short.
With each day comes another round of stories portraying peaceful protesters as either violent or part of a bad-faith campaign funded by liberal donors. President Donald Trump thinks anti-Kavanaugh demonstrators were a little of both, calling victims of sexual assault who cornered their congressmen “paid D.C. protesters” and “screamers”:
Trump has been using this tactic against protesters since his presidential campaign, and he often gets his ideas for such rhetoric from the media he consumes. This particular outburst likely came from a Fox News segment, in which Wall Street Journal writer Asra Q. Nomani said that protesters are “waiting for their check.”
Nomani, who once famously wrote about casting her vote for Trump, had been brought on air to talk about her op-ed claiming the “protests and unlawful disruptions” were staged by a “well-funded network.” She later backpedaled and said that “most individual protesters are not paid,” but called the protests “not organic.” Her comments gave the appearance of credibility to this conspiracy theory: Here was a Wall Street Journal writer ― a former reporter for the paper, no less ― claiming to be a “liberal feminist” and yet implying that there was some sinister connection between billionaire George Soros and protesters.
Nomani may have been unable draw a connection between paid organizers and real protesters — of which there were thousands in D.C. over the course of last week alone — but she didn’t have to. The headline of her story was all anyone needed: “George Soros’s March on Washington.” That, and her comment on Fox News, allowed Republicans to make that connection for her, even though it’s not true.
If organizers getting paid were a scandal, every Trump rally would be a scandal. But a scandal is what Republicans needed, and Nomani’s poor judgment helped give them one. This is how the bad-faith echo chamber works, and GOP lawmakers were happy to join in.
As The Daily Beast reports, Sens. Chuck Grassley, John Cornyn and Mitch McConnell were among the politicians calling anti-Kavanaugh protesters a “mob.” McConnell said senators were “literally under assault.”
Conservative media truly wants its audience to believe that women are being paid to do this. So far, women are not fazed.
Ana Maria Archila, the co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy who cornered Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) in an elevator to tell him about her sexual assault, was featured in the Wall Street Journal piece ― along with her salary. Archila was subsequently forced to defend herself against Trump’s “paid protesters” tweet.
“No one can pay for someone’s lived experiences,” Archila said in a statement. “The pain, the trauma, and the rage that I expressed when I spoke with Senator Jeff Flake in an elevator were my own, and I held it for more than 30 years to protect the people I love from it.”