Republican Senators Play the QAnon Game

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee have spent the last week smearing Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Biden’s nominee for the Supreme Court, as indifferent to (and soft on) child sexual abuse.

Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri began the attack last week with a lengthy thread on Twitter, accusing Jackson of showing undue leniency toward child pornographers while serving as vice chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission. “I think we just have a basic question to ask,” Hawley told Fox News. “Are we gonna get a judge here who’s gonna protect children, or who’s gonna protect child predators?”

Senator Mike Lee of Utah joined his colleague in attempting to tie Jackson to child pornographers. “The White House’s whataboutist response to Judge Jackson’s very real record in child pornography cases is dismissive, dangerous and offensive,” he said on Twitter “We need real answers.”

Hawley and Lee followed through on their promise to get “answers” from Jackson, taking every available opportunity to paint the judge — who would be the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court — as overly lenient toward, if not somehow sympathetic to, child pornographers and other sexual predators. Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Tom Cotton of Arkansas joined in.

“Judge Jackson, like so many far left activists, thinks that mandatory minimums for drug crimes are too harsh, just like she apparently thinks that mandatory minimums for child pornography are too harsh,” Cotton told Laura Ingraham. “She consistently sentences on the lowest end of the sentencing guidelines or even deviates downward from the sentencing guidelines. That’s what we’ve seen over the last two days examining her record — she is a far left activist who always — almost always — finds a way to sympathize with the criminals, not with the victims.”

“Every judge who does what you are doing is making it easier for the children to be exploited,” Graham said.

These attacks are nonsense, a willful twisting of the facts. What those facts show is that Jackson is no more lenient than her colleagues in the federal judiciary when it comes to sentencing for “nonproduction” child pornography crimes, meaning crimes where the offender views or distributes material but does not produce it. As the legal scholar Douglas A. Berman wrote in response to Hawley, Judge Jackson’s sentencing decisions placed her in the “mainstream” of federal judges. Her record, he writes, “does show she is quite skeptical of the ranges set by the guidelines, but so too were prosecutors in the majority of her cases and so too are district judges nationwide (appointed by presidents of both parties).”

This attack is so spurious and dishonest that National Review denounced it as “meritless to the point of demagoguery.”

Of course, “demagoguery” is the point. It’s no accident that Republicans have landed on this particular accusation. The belief that Democrats are pedophiles — and that at its top levels the Democratic Party is an elaborate pedophilia ring — looms large in the QAnon conspiracy theory, which is something like orthodoxy for a substantial portion of the Republican base. In a poll taken just before the 2020 election, half of Donald Trump supporters agreed that “top Democrats are involved in elite child sex-trafficking rings.” And in a poll taken last year by the Public Religion Research Institute, 15 percent of Americans say that “the levers of power are controlled by a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles.”

The Republican attacks on Jackson are a QAnon dogwhistle, and QAnon followers have heard the message. In a recent piece, my newsroom colleagues David D. Kirkpatrick and Stuart A. Thompson describe how “the online world of adherents to the QAnon conspiracy theory sprang into action almost as soon as Senator Josh Hawley tweeted his alarm.” On forums and in videos, QAnon supporters have blasted Judge Jackson as “an apologist for child molesters” and a “pedophile-enabler.”

Where the Republican base goes, the politicians follow. That was true with the Tea Party, it was true with Trump, and now it is true with QAnon. Indeed, it is already the case that one of the most high-profile and sought-after politicians within the Republican Party, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, is a QAnon influencer. For Hawley, Cotton and Cruz, whose presidential ambitions were clear from the moment they entered office, playing the QAnon game is a no-brainer.

It is also a travesty, a wicked and immoral use of the power of public office. Of course, neither wickedness nor immorality are, or have ever been, obstacles to political power. If they were then, well, we wouldn’t be living in this world.

What I Wrote

My Friday column was on the Republican agenda as revealed through comments made during the hearings for President Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, Ketanji Brown Jackson.

For the latest episode of my podcast with the journalist John Ganz, we discussed the 1991 Vietnam War movie “Flight of the Intruder.” I also joined the Slate Culture Gabfest to talk Matt Reeves’ “The Batman,” the wonderful Japanese drama “Drive My Car” and the question of whether movies are too long these days.

Now Reading

My colleague Parker Richards on American exceptionalism for The New Republic.

Linda Greenhouse on Supreme Court reform in The New York Review of Books.

Jonna Perrillo on education and nation-building in Boston Review.

Abraham Riesman on the Book of Job in Slate magazine.

Alex Pareene on voter fraud in his Substack newsletter.

Feedback If you’re enjoying what you’re reading, please consider recommending it to your friends. They can sign up here. If you want to share your thoughts on an item in this week’s newsletter or on the newsletter in general, please email me at [email protected]. You can follow me on Twitter (@jbouie) and Instagram.

Photo of the Week

There’s a big classic car scene in central Virginia, and I always try to attend a few car shows during the warm weather months, to take pictures and talk about gear. The toddler likes to come too since, you know, kids love cars. I took this picture of a 1960s-vintage Chevrolet Impala at a small car show in Lovingston, Va., a small town south of Charlottesville. I used my Leica range finder and an interesting lens that is designed to render images with a classic look.

Now Eating: Salmon Croquettes

Salmon croquettes are a regular part of our dinner rotation (usually with grits and a green salad) but I don’t have a “recipe” as much as I have a technique. That said, this recipe, which comes from NYT Cooking, is pretty close to my method, so I thought I would share it. The only change I would make is to add more herbs! In addition to parsley, I usually add a generous amount of chopped dill and chopped cilantro. If I have other herbs around — mint or tarragon — I’ll use those too. You can buy a salmon filet and cook it for this recipe, but I think canned salmon is best. Whatever you like will work for this.


  • 1 (14-ounce) can boneless, skinless salmon or 1 pound cooked salmon

  • ½ green bell pepper, finely chopped

  • ½ cup diced onion

  • 1 garlic clove, grated

  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten

  • ½ cup all-purpose flour

  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley

  • 1 teaspoon seafood seasoning, such as Old Bay

  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce, plus more for serving

  • ½ teaspoon coarse kosher salt

  • ½ teaspoon black pepper

  • ½ cup panko bread crumbs

  • 2 teaspoons seasoning of choice, such as onion powder, garlic powder, paprika or a combination

  • olive oil, for frying


If using canned salmon, drain and discard the liquid. Flake the salmon into a large bowl; set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium and sauté peppers and onions until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for another 30 seconds; let cool slightly.

Add the sautéed veggies to the bowl with the salmon, along with 1 egg, ¼ cup flour, the parsley, seafood seasoning, hot sauce, salt and pepper. Chill the mixture in the refrigerator for 20 minutes, or pop into the freezer for 5 to 10 minutes.

Using your hands, shape the chilled mixture into 1-inch-thick patties.

Set up three separate plates or shallow bowls: one filled with the remaining ¼ cup flour, another with the egg and a third with the panko. Season the panko with the seasoning of your choice, then lightly dip each croquette into the flour, egg then panko, coating to cover. Set the croquettes aside.

Wipe out the same pan, and heat about ¼ cup olive oil over medium. Drop a bread crumb in the oil, and see if it sizzles.

Gently place croquettes in oil, making sure not to crowd the pan, and pan fry until golden brown on both sides, about 3 to 5 minutes per side.

Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and serve warm, with tartar sauce or hot sauce if desired.

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