October 1, 2022

OPINION: Meet the woman who inspired Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ “grooming” slur

OPINION: Meet the woman who inspired Florida Governor Ron DeSantis' "grooming" slur

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Republicans are busy promoting a new homophobic talking point as copycat versions of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bills spread across the country. The law, which was recently signed by Ron DeSantis, bars classroom discussion of gender and sexual orientation from grades K-3rd grade and has language that allows the Florida Department of Education to arbitrarily decide if these topics are “age-appropriate” for other grades. It’s a clear attempt to stir up homophobic outrage by throwing red meat to Republican base voters while erasing gay and trans youth.

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The new attack line tactic being promoted by Republican operatives and elected officials consists of calling LGBTQ individuals and allies who oppose their hateful legislation “groomers” in an attempt to smear them as pedophiles. It’s all over conservative media with Fox News hosts like Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson adopting it on their shows.

But it was in Florida that the “Don’t Say Gay” bill caught fire as the latest culture war obsession of Republican voters, and it was DeSantis’ spokesperson and chief propagandist Christina Pushaw who helped spread the smear far and wide. A report by Media Matters details how Pushaw, who was recently suspended from Twitter after threatening a reporter from the Associated Press, took inspiration from a far-right, anti-LGBTQ Twitter account called Libs of Tik Tok. Pushaw has been interacting with the account since at least July 2021

There is a social media firestorm currently centered around Libs of Tik Tok after a Washington Post story detailed how the account is central in fueling right-wing outrage. Libs of Tik Tok is best known for misrepresenting statements and positions of progressive and liberal advocates, especially those focused on issues like LGBTQ rights and racial equality. The account boasted about supposedly getting teachers fired from their jobs.

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Pushaw was one of the first Republican operatives to adopt the “groomer” smear against opponents of the Don’t Say Gay bill with a tweet on March 4th. In apparent coordination, other major right-wing influencers and figures started using similar messaging.

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According to Media Matters, Pushaw, who gets paid $120,000 a year by taxpayers to basically spread misinformation on Twitter all day, directly mentioned Libs of TikTok in 97 tweets and praised it as “one of the best accounts on here.” Libs of Tik Tok has returned the favor, praising Pushaw as one of the “greatest accounts” on Twitter and mentioning her in 41 tweets. In what is an insanely inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars, Pushaw uses her time on the clock getting paid by taxpayers to encourage Twitter users to engage with the Libs of Tik Tok account.

The “grooming” smear continues to be viciously used by Pushaw and the DeSantis administration to smear opponents. Since initially using it on March 4th, Pushaw has used similar language another 22 times, earning over ​​23,000 total interactions, or an average of 1,000 interactions per post. She continues to interact with the Libs of Tik Tok account, asking it for information to weaponize against Florida teachers.

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As her attacks on the Associated Press show, Pushaw is more than willing to attack the press and individuals who oppose her political views. She has even attacked me by posting (and later deleting) tweets calling me a “weirdo” for publicly criticizing Ron DeSantis.

This is the spokesperson for the governor of the third-largest state in the United States: an unhinged bully who spreads anti-semitic conspiracy theories, attacks critics, and spends her time figuring out messaging for Ron DeSantis’ political campaigning — all on the dime of Florida’s taxpayers. It’s inappropriate and unacceptable, but as the full-throated adoption of the “groomer” smear by the DeSantis administration shows, it’s exactly what the governor is looking for in the person who speaks for him.

Thomas Kennedy is an elected Democratic National Committee member representing Florida. He tweets from@tomaskenn.

RELATED STORY: OPINION: Ron DeSantis’ latest Florida gerrymander is killing democracy in the state

Thomas Kennedy

is a reported opinion columnist and roving correspondent. He's an elected member of the Democratic National Committee from Florida and a Director of Sunshine Agenda Inc. a government transparency nonprofit organization.

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