One can almost taste Roy Moore’s complete outrage over getting called out on the national level over his habit of preying upon teenaged girls back in his lawdog days. As we talked about last time, he was simply acting out the fantasies of every red-blooded Southern fundagelical (wealthy powerful straight white cis) man–and now he’s getting criticized for what many men in his culture would see as livin’ the dream. How mean of us! He’s had a succession of lame excuses for his behavior, too, and he’s clearly just as outraged that these excuses are, themselves, being demolished far and wide. I’ll show you what his excuses are, how they fit into his culture, and why we are perfectly justified in rejecting them.
Incidentally, there’s so much to cover today that we won’t be dealing with his supporters’ excuses. We may cover that next time. Today we’re just looking at the wealth of excuses Roy Moore has made himself to excuse his crimes.
How Excuses Function in Broken Systems.
In a broken system–like the fundagelical bubble that Roy Moore inhabits–excuses serve a very important function for those in power. Because failure is part of the system, rather than an aberration of it, the masters of that system need a way to explain why those failures keep happening–but they also need to explain those failures in a way that will keep the system going the way that benefits them the most.
That’s the function that excuses serve: they let offenders off the hook without anyone having to make big changes that’ll potentially impact the power and proclivities of the beneficiaries of the power imbalances that mark broken systems.
When you see a fundagelical hemming and hawing about how it was totally okay for Roy Moore to prey upon underage girls because reasons, be looking for how that fundagelical is implicitly declaring that there’s really nothing that needs changing in their social system: no teaching that must be challenged and altered, no beliefs that are or were simply wrong and must be addressed, no customs that are immoral and unjust that therefore need to be condemned.
Someone who feels that they benefit from the way a broken system operates is always going to want to keep the system going that way to continue reaping those perceived benefits. Power guards itself in the broken system. We must never forget that first and foremost principle. Change cannot happen from the inside in the broken system because the masters of it will not allow anything to happen that would seriously limit their overreach. We must also never forget that second principle. So the more that a fundagelical feels they will lose if they make real changes in their system, the more excuses they’ll offer and the further those excuses will be from anything that addresses the inequalities within their system that allowed that situation to happen.
The worst part, to me at least, of the fundagelical habit of using excuses to plaster over their system’s real problems is how those excuses function as thought stoppers. Once the excuses is deployed or received, fundagelicals stop wondering why these scandals just keep happening one after another every single day at every single level of their culture. And that’s the effect that is desired. Their memories tend to be very short; they literally don’t remember other scandals, nor put together just how frequent and high-reaching those scandals get. They can’t use pattern recognition to understand any of it because to them there is no pattern–just a series of aberrations, flies in the
vaseline ointment. They successfully stop themselves from retaining that information through the simple technique of not ever letting it get to their innermost minds. They’ve got a force-field radiating around themselves at all times that literally stops conflicting or contradictory information from reaching their consciousness. Non-fundagelicals simply don’t understand how completely this analogy describes fundagelical thinking, nor grasp just how effective their defenses are.
Very seldom will someone in their culture–much less someone high up its pyramid of authority–get further than hearing the excuse before then nodding smartly in understanding. It happens occasionally, as we’ve seen and discussed here before, but even then most of the time it just stays at that level. Nobody in the system who wants to keep the system going is going to want to hear the real answers to those seldom-asked questions.
This viewpoint is the lens through which I will be viewing Roy Moore’s excuses, so I wanted to get that out ahead of the discussion. But it’s also how I view the similar scandals occurring among Roy Moore’s ideological enemies–especially regarding differences in how those scandals are addressed.
Roy Moore’s Selective Amnesia.
“I don’t know Ms. Corfman from anybody.” (source)
This excuse is his very favorite. He doesn’t know her. He’s not familiar with her. He doesn’t have any idea who she is. He can’t remember anything she claims he did or said. He’s used the oh I totally don’t remember that excuse on almost all of the eight accusers he’s actually responded to at this point. (Yes, there are eight now.)
The problem: Leigh Corfman sure seems to know a lot about him, and her story has a lot of consistencies with other accusers of his. The Washington Post did quite a lot of legwork to validate whatever parts of her story they could. They know that the situation Ms. Corfman describes as their introduction actually happened (her mother was indeed in court the day her daughter describes, for the reason her daughter remembers, and yes, Moore really was hanging around that day). They interviewed two of her childhood friends, who remembered her talking about “seeing an older man,” and one of them said it was definitely Moore. They interviewed her mother, who said her daughter told her about the attack some years later when Moore gained prominence as a judge.
So if Roy Moore doesn’t remember Leigh Corfman, that speaks very poorly of either his memory or his honesty.
It gets worse, though. He’s claimed the same thing about a girl he tried to rape when she was 16. Beverly Young Nelson is the fifth victim to come forward. She claims he tried to rape her in his car in the 1970s, then choked her, told her she was “just a child,” and dumped her in a parking lot after telling her that because she was “just a child” and he was “the district attorney of Etowah County,” nobody’d ever believe her if she said a word about the attempted rape. Moore, however, claims he has no idea who she is. Moore responded that he had no idea who she was and wasn’t at all familiar with the restaurant she worked at at the time, which is where she says he was a regular customer. But he signed her yearbook with a creepy little message to “a sweeter more beautiful girl I could not say,” and about all fundagelicals can do is attack her credibility by claiming that she forged his message.
The girls he victimized even remembered the same detail about the kind of underwear he favored (tighty whities). As Slate’s William Saletan writes of Leigh Corfman’s account being corroborated by a later boyfriend, “To discount Corfman’s story, you’d have to believe not only that she’s trying to sabotage Moore’s campaign but that she prepared the attack 38 years ago.”
Whoops, How’d He Get That Wrong.
“This county is a dry county. We never would have had liquor.” (source)
In an interview with Sean Hannity, Moore dealt with the accusations of Gloria Thacker Deason, the fourth victim to come forward with accusations of assault. She’d told WaPo that Moore had taken her to a particular pizza restaurant in town and bought her wine to drink, which of course would have been illegal because as an 18-year-old she was below the legal drinking age of 19. He claimed that this was totally impossible because wine wasn’t legal to buy in his county in Alabama. He also told Hannity that he’d only kinda known her through her parents (“I seem to remember I had some sort of knowledge of her parents, her mother in particular”), not on a personal level, and he recalled her as “a good girl,” which he seems to think would have placed her outside his reach entirely. He told Hannity this stuff as a way to extricate himself from any picture that might include his accuser. He couldn’t have bought her wine; she was under the legal drinking age. He couldn’t have bought her wine; nobody could buy wine at the time.
The problem: As ABC News discovered, by the time Moore was pressing himself on Ms. Deason, alcohol sales would have been legal in his county for seven years already. Further, the pizza place she names has been confirmed as selling wine at the time of the incidents she described. Even more damning, though, is that Moore himself had no problem with pursuing girls considerably younger than 18, creeping on them, and raping and assaulting them. I don’t think anyone but his tribe believes that he had such a care for the legal drinking age in his county, or had any trouble with buying wine from outside the county if need be, which is how people always handle living in dry counties (see also: Bootleggers and Baptists), that he wouldn’t have gotten it if he wanted it. But it turns out he didn’t need to go so far to obtain alcohol.
The backfire effect of his selective amnesia: We are left to think that maybe there are just so many victims of Roy Moore’s predations that he literally can’t remember them all, in the way that someone who’s had a lot of sex partners might not remember all of them. We’re also left to think that he is dishonestly trying to disavow any association with his victims when it’s glaringly apparent that not only was he actively seeking to impress the young women in question, but also to impress their families with his suitability as a consort.
Getting important dates wrong is something almost anybody can do. Hell, you know how bad my memory is for exact dates. I look up everything possible to ensure that reality conforms to my memories. But when it’s done in such a crude way, a way that’s so easy to refute and undermine, it says something really bad about his credibility elsewhere. Since he’s a judge, one would think it’d be pretty easy for him to figure out when alcohol sales became legal in his county. But somehow he never did that in his rush to make excuses to Sean Hannity.
Roy Moore Didn’t “Generally” Date Girls So Young. Except When He Did.
“Not generally, no. If did [sic], you know, I’m not going to dispute anything but I don’t remember anything like that.” But: “… after my return from the military, I dated a lot of young ladies.” (source)
In his interview with Sean Hannity, Moore also let listeners know that yes, he certainly had “dated a lot of young ladies” and that he didn’t “generally” go sniffing around 17-year-old girls–at least that he remembered.
But “generally” means he concedes that he totally did do that, at least sometimes. And that’s what we see with his accusers’ accounts. Some were 18 or 19, but one was 14. Another was 14 when she met him and 16 when he began peppering her with unwanted requests for dates. Another was 17. Another was 16 when he tried his damndest to rape her and then choked her while trying to force her to blow him. Only two of his currently-eight accusers were in their 20s when he creeped on them and groped them.
He preferred his victims to be too young to be empowered to seek help against him, but if he couldn’t get them young then he’d happily creep on women who were otherwise at a serious power disadvantage against him. One 22-year-old victim at the time, Becky Gray, was creeped on at her job at the newly-opened mall in town–and when she finally complained to the store manager, she learned that this was not the first time he’d had to field complaints about Moore creeping around the mall looking for victims, which meshes completely with other people’s memories of it being “common knowledge” that Moore habitually did exactly that as well as hanging around high school football games. A 28-year-old victim at the time, Tina Johnson, was groped during a meeting with him in 1991–in his capacity as a lawyer, I’m assuming; he was elected in 2001 to his first Chief Justice position, and was a year away from his first appointment as a circuit judge, which happened despite deep personal reservations of the District Attorney at the time–and which Moore attributed to “God.” She was there to talk about a custody petition involving her son, and was horrified and ashamed when he made a big deal of frequently complimenting her appearance and followed it all up with “grabbing” her ass.
And his preferences were well-known to his peers. In addition to people remembering he had a long-standing habit of creeping around the mall and high school sporting events, a colleague of his in the DA’s office at the time said that it was “common knowledge that Roy [Moore] dated high school girls.” If he thinks that he didn’t usually date girls that young, his peers in the 70s sure thought that it was the other way around.
The backfire effect: When so many people are saying to so many news crews that why yes, Moore did indeed do exactly what he’s saying he didn’t “generally” do, it sure doesn’t make him look very good. And I’m sure more than a few folks are noticing his attempt to use distancing language. He’s built his own personal permission slip into his denial. He didn’t “generally” do this. That means that if it comes out definitively that he did do this, then he can retreat into saying that well, that definite truth doesn’t totally conflict with his very equivocal denial.
But in the real world, there’s no excuse for molesting children. Ever. People don’t “generally” pursue or assault teenagers because we’re not immoral hypocrites like Roy Moore is. With this excuse, Roy Moore actually shows us in living color that he is unfit for office and nobody that anyone with sense would ever give him an ounce of power.
Roy Moore Thinks It’s All Okay ‘Cuz He Always Had Parental Permission.
In addition to telling Sean Hannity that he didn’t “generally” date high school girls when he was in his 30s, he also let Hannity know that in the event that he did dip that young, that he always had the permission of his victims’ parents. But his appeal to Southern honor culture is one of the excuses that backfires most for him.
“I don’t remember ever dating any girl without the permission of her mother.” And: “In their statements that they made these two young girls said their mother actually encouraged them to be friends with me. And you know that’s what they said. I don’t remember.” (source)
People already think that Southern honor culture, that peculiar blend of religiously-commanded sexism and toxic masculinity that defines Southern states and therefore fundagelicals in particular since they dominate those states’ politics and culture still, is downright barbaric in its treatment of women. That’d be because it is. Though the first purity ball occurred in 1998 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, it was like a ceremony custom-designed for the very worst aspects of fundagelical culture–and when outside culture found out about them considerably later, we were all completely repulsed and disgusted by this grotesque over-sexualization of children and overreach in their private lives. I wonder sometimes how we’d have reacted as a culture if we’d found out about purity balls in, say, the 1980s or 1990s. Either way, people are far enough away from that mindset now to think that if these young girls’ parents were totes fine with them dating a 30something adult man with a long history of sniffing around teenagers, that permission doesn’t magically make his proclivities and crimes okay.
Roy Moore, however, thinks that as long as he had their parents’ permission to be “friends” with these girls, he had every right to pursue them. To him, the owners of these girls’ sexuality–their parents, specifically their mothers–were handing him the keys to their daughters’ chastity belts. That’s not at all an uncommon viewpoint in fundagelicalism–making Roy Moore an “exemplar” rather than a “hypocrite” in his culture, as Jay Michaelson puts it in The Daily Beast.
Further and worse, though, if Moore had permission to be “friends” with these considerably-younger women, that sure isn’t permission for him to creep at them and scare them and rape them and choke them and grab them and rip at their clothes and finally, when he realized he wasn’t going to coerce them into giving him their bodies, threaten them into silence. It’s unlikely that these girls’ parents had any idea that’s what he really wanted with their kids, considering that even he offers up the example of a mother who refused him permission to “go robbing the cradle” with her 16-year-old daughter. The mother who clearly did have an idea of what he really intended to do didn’t want him anywhere near her kid. If he wasn’t telling them what he really planned to do, then their permission rings even more hollow. Leigh Corfman’s mother, for example, told WaPo in that first story that she had no idea that a man of his age and station would do anything at all to a 14-year-old girl. She gave him permission to babysit the girl in their initial meeting, but there’s no indication she knew that he’d later chat her daughter up on the phone and then take her out driving alone to molest her.
The backfire effect: When it came out that Roy Moore held tightly to this I totally had permission idea as a justification for his pursuit of underage girls, the nation got what might well have been its first real look at Southern honor culture. And we did not like it. If anything, Roy Moore’s lopsided good ol’ boy grin only contrasted with his victim’s harrowing stories of fear, pain, humiliation, and violation.
We picked up very quickly on the fact that Roy Moore doesn’t ever talk about the girls themselves showing interest in him. (In fact, one victim, Gena Richardson, told ABC News that she’d refused to give him her phone number when he demanded it upon their first meeting, which occurred during a creeping session at the mall. His response was to find out where she went to school and then call the school to get in touch with her. Roy Moore’s campaign concluded in response with a statement that “if you are a liberal and hate Judge Moore, apparently he groped you,” which is similar to a ubiquitous and canonical Men’s Rights Activism talking point about how women define a sexual assault by how attractive the perpetrator is to them, so that probably won’t go over well either with people familiar with the mindset, nor should it. But I digress.)
In fact in his victims’ accounts there’s a common thread of him creeping all over them, pushing date requests and demands for their time upon them long after they’ve made it clear that they have no interest in him and want nothing to do with him. Many victims mentioned that they were extremely reluctant to go out with him, likely feeling coerced into it, and that they had to become vehement before he took them seriously and left them alone. In Southern honor culture, they were never the gatekeepers or owners of their own bodies–their parents were. Fundagelicals view the entire concept of consent with deep suspicion and disgust as a feminist idea meant to destroy their cultural identity–and in a very real way, they’re right to fear those outcomes. If Roy Moore had respected consent, he’d never have creeped on high school girls to begin with, and he certainly never would have gotten far enough with those girls to assault them.
Roy Moore’s Such a Poor Widdle Victim.
“These charges are politically motivated.” And: “Obviously you don’t wait 40 years to bring out something like this. . . They [his tribe’s enemies] don’t want to hear the truth in Washington and they don’t want to hear the truths about God and about the Constitution.” (source)
It didn’t take long for Roy Moore to start whining that he’s the victim of politically-motivated attacks by mean ole libruls, and that’s exactly what happened in his Sean Hannity interview. He paints his accusers as having been induced to lie about him to the press, which is of course one of the big tribal enemies of fundagelicalism generally (and since fundagelicals have taken control of the Republican Party, of the GOP as well). He theorizes, without any evidence of course which is rather odd for a judge to do, that the women are secretly in cahoots with his enemy and opponent Doug Jones, who is a Democrat.
His casting of the scandal as a concerted attack by his politicized religion’s enemies may well be behind his bizarre decision to employ a completely incompetent lawyer to attack news outlets publishing articles about the scandal. (Seriously, check it out. His lawyer comes across as a barely-literate idiot in his demand letter to various news outlets.) Given that this lawyer lost his license for 91 days just a few years ago after getting caught impersonating a pastor while trying to solicit business, this hiring decision sounds a lot like it was made not because of the lawyer’s actual abilities but because he was a tribemate in very good standing.
Roy Moore told Hannity that the women had waited 40 years to “bring out something like this” because it was all a bunch of lies meant to “undermine” him and his campaign. These nameless, formless “they” enemies he blames in his whinefest are the enemies not only of the Republican Party but also of his entire religion, and he assumes that Hannity will roll with that. And Hannity does, thanking him shortly afterward for revealing “his side” of the scandal to a network that prides itself on being “fair and balanced.” He did not bring up the fact that the women might have had good reason to keep Moore’s attacks secret, nor that they had been talking privately with friends and family for decades already.
Meanwhile, Moore’s campaign described the scandal as “a witch hunt,” which is ironic considering that it’s almost always male politicians saying that–just as male politicians led the very real witch hunts of the 16th and 17th centuries in both Europe and America. (As the NYT notes, fundagelicals have their old pal Richard Nixon to thank for this little bit of political redirection and chicanery along with all that he did to politicize them as a voting bloc with his cynically-deployed culture-war appeals.)
The problem here: The women said they didn’t know each other and didn’t have contact with anyone involved with the Democratic Party. Their stories are consistent entirely, and there are literally decades of corroborating accounts. If this is some orchestrated attack on his campaign, then Roy Moore’s got a serious lot of work to do to get past all that evidence.
And the backfire effect: When someone who’s assaulted many women over many years tries to whine about his own victimhood, it reminds people that there are very real victims that he’s doing his best to cover up. His excuses simply don’t fly in the face of the evidence against him. He comes out looking not only dishonest but heartless, like he just has no idea why everyone’s so mad at him except in light of victimhood.
In other words, the party of personal responsibility continues to be the living contradiction of the phrase.
A Rejection of Self-Limitation.
A major reason why fundagelical excuses just don’t work like they used to may have to do with our new cultural tendency to see patterns and connect dots between events and behavior. People today are simply not as self-limited as they used to be. I might just be a part of the last generation of Americans to think of braces as optional toys for the wealthy and of college degrees as this special thing that only the most motivated and dedicated would ever want to obtain. We see ourselves as a global village in a lot of ways now–connected around the world not only through our connections on social media but through the news we consume and the products we purchase.
But even more than that, we are exposing ourselves to whole new ways of looking at the world. The social penalties of interaction have been lowered to the point of meaninglessness in many ways. Nobody even has to know that a fundagelical is reading forbidden books and websites. When the time comes to perpetuate fundagelical ideology in one’s own life, that notion can be totally rejected in a number of ways–through death by a thousand little cuts as one platform of the ideology after another is whittled away till nothing’s left of it, or by wholesale rejection. If the group retaliates, their victim can simply leave, either by quitting the group or leaving the whole geographical area. Victims don’t always feel compelled to remain and take the abuse their group doles out to them in retaliation for noncompliance, not anymore. It happens sometimes–especially when those victims are very young or corralled by family ties they value more than their own freedom–but it’s happening less and less often. Most groups, especially in urban areas, simply cannot concentrate their wrath upon any one member because there are just so many members that aren’t compliant with their demands.
Combine that lessening of retaliatory power with a much greater availability of contradictory information, and abusers within fundagelical circles simply can’t expect to hold the same power they used to enjoy. That’s not to say they aren’t trying to keep it by clamping down even harder on their victims and their ideology, but again, their victims aren’t staying put for that abuse like they used to do in times past. The harder abusers clamp down, the faster their victims–and their credibility–evaporate.
The ironic thing is that fundagelicals can’t do anything else when they’re challenged but clamp down harder, even though that tactic is going to backfire the hardest in terms of their churn rate. Their broken system literally won’t let them handle their shrinking reach in any other way at all.
On that note, I found a variation of the Timperator’s favorite graphic:
If I didn’t know how many victims are being hurt by fundagelical excuse-making and how many have been and will continue to be hurt by fundagelicals’ system of injustice and inequality, it’d be comical to see how bad their ages-old habitual clinging to the broken system is hurting them now in every single direction. Maybe at least we can comfort ourselves by knowing that the more fundagelicals act out, the harder they will get rejected both by non-fundagelicals and their own more decent and compassionate members.