This has been a difficult month for state Sen. Scott Wiener, and not just because he’s running for re-election on Nov. 3.
Wiener has been the target of death threats on social media (“I’ll publicly execute you,” one reads), according to screenshots of posts he shared on Twitter, and says he’s been doxxed, with his home address posted online.
He’s been called a pedophile thousands of times — in hashtags, direct messages and comments on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
And because he’s Jewish and gay, Wiener has borne the brunt of unrelenting antisemitic and homophobic comments and posts. “We’re watching you Schlomo,” one reads. A post that made the rounds in recent days before being removed from Instagram featured a crudely doctored image showing Wiener with an elongated nose and wearing the garb and hairstyle of an Orthodox Jew.
In an Aug. 21 interview with J., the San Francisco resident said that a “significant chunk” of the online attacks have come with antisemitic invective. “Maybe 20 to 25 percent,” Wiener said.
The barrage is coming from believers in QAnon, the sweeping conspiracy theory that Democrats run a pedophile ring that President Donald Trump is secretly battling. Antisemitism, including the claim that rich Jews secretly control the world, is a recurring feature of the conspiracy.
The QAnon movement has grown in recent months with people spending more time online, adherents winning nominating contests for public office and Trump declining to condemn it. In one prominent example, a Republican congressional candidate who has embraced the movement, Marjorie Taylor Greene, won her Georgia primary with the eager backing of the president.
“It’s been really extreme and hard,” Wiener told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on Tuesday about the onslaught he’s experienced. “It’s been pretty consistent. No matter what I post about, there are an enormous number of comments calling me a pedophile, and it’s very disheartening that this is what the country has come to, that we have this cult, QAnon, that is gradually taking over the Republican Party.”
Wiener, 50, a former San Francisco supervisor who was elected to Democratic state office in 2016, said his Jewish identity has made him a target before, and he pointed to Trump’s leadership as a factor.
“In that world, it’s sort of par for the course,” he said. “You attack the Jews, and that’s been unleashed under this president.”
Why is Wiener being called a pedophile?
It’s because he introduced a bill that removes a discrepancy regarding who has to register as a sex offender.
SB 145, which has the support of many LGBTQ groups, would change a California law to give judges more discretion in cases of consensual gay sex with a minor. Currently the prosecuted adult is automatically put onto the sex offender registry. The bill is meant to give parity to the law so that judges have decision-making discretion regardless of whether the sex is homosexual or heterosexual.
Wiener says the current law “disproportionately targets LGBT young people for mandatory sex offender registration.”
SB 145 has passed the state Senate and is awaiting the governor’s signature.
The bill’s content and Jewish author are flypaper to QAnon adherents, who view themselves as part of a global effort to combat sex abuse of children. Opponents are mischaracterizing the measure, falsely saying that it legalizes pedophilia or allows a 24-year-old to rape a 14-year-old without consequences.
Though untrue, the accusations have spread, and mischaracterizations of the bill have been amplified by random social media accounts as well as national figures like Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, and Donald Trump Jr.
“Today’s CA Dems believe we need more adults having sex with children, and when they do, they shouldn’t register as sex offenders,” Cruz tweeted on Sept. 3. “This is extreme & very harmful to kids.”
Trump Jr. falsely claimed that California Democrats are “pander[ing] to the wishes of pedophiles and child rapists.”
Locally, meanwhile, opponents of the bill say that making penalties for anal and oral sex equivalent to those for vaginal sex weakens anti-pedophilia measures. Melissa Melendez, a Republican state senator in Southern California, called it “disgusting.”
“SB145 allows adults who have ‘consensual’ sex with a 14 year old to not be charged as sex offenders,” she tweeted on Sept. 4. “It’s a disgusting bill and one that should be promptly vetoed. Call the Governor and tell him to protect kids and veto this bill.”
Wiener said the vast majority of Republicans in the state Senate have not engaged in such rhetoric, but also noted that none of those colleagues have stood up for him publicly.
“I wouldn’t expect them to,” he said. “Their party is unfortunately being more and more influenced by QAnon.”
This marks the second time this year that Wiener has been targeted publicly with antisemitism. In June, a California trade union posted an ad showing Wiener holding Monopoly money and accusing him of “selling out California.” The ad was later withdrawn.
Wiener said the latest wave of smears has made it harder for him to post on social media — the invective accompanies whatever he posts. One comment said “We need to end jewish zionism and jewish interference in white countries.”
The lawmaker also said he has to be judicious about tagging colleagues because he doesn’t want the abuse to then rain down on them.
The solution, Wiener said, is for social media companies to take a larger role in policing hate speech on their platforms, though he added, “I’m not saying they should be the thought police.” He has no immediate plans to work on legislation to that effect, he said.
In the meantime, Wiener said all he can do is “manage” the hate he receives. While it’s made his life more difficult, he hasn’t given up on politics.
“Politics is hard and there’s a lot of ugliness around it, but with that said, politics is a big part of how we make positive change,” he said. “And so this hasn’t discouraged me at all.”