On Friday morning, right wing fringe types and #QAnon believers on Twitter and Reddit started passing around old tweets from “Guardians of the Galaxy” director James Gunn. They had been dug up by professional conservative outrage pushers, and served as “proof” that Gunn was some kind of horrific child rapist, flaunting his proclivities to the world.
These tweets, some going as far back as 2009, were indeed jokes about pedophilia and sexual contact with children. They’re gross, puerile, offensive, and most of all, not funny.
Gunn had already apologized for making these comments, essentially calling them jokes that tried (and failed) to push the envelope of what’s acceptable in shock humor.
But to the online mob, not only were they brand new, they were”proof” that Gunn was an out and proud pedophile, rapist, sexual deviant, occultist, and child torturer.
Never mind that there was no actual evidence any of this was true. It was true to them.
And so the fake outrage machine started up, fueled by the bottomless anger of the pro-Trump online community, and stoked by the professional outrage pimps who create and cash in on these hate mobs.
I came in at the very beginning of the “controversy” (if one can call an entirely evidence-free crusade to punish someone over tweets that are nearly a decade old) and commented about how it was yet another example of the right wing Twitter mob finding “hard evidence” of pedophilia before they found an actual victim.
That number of comments indicates what happened next.
I went off to do other things, and when I came back near the end of the day, Disney (parent company of the Marvel movie universe) had fired Gunn from the upcoming GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY sequel he was writing – and my Twitter mentions were a sewer.
I was accused over and over again of defending pedophilia, being an idiot, being a pedophile myself, worshiping Satan, having “something to hide,” and that I would get what was coming to me.
While I don’t know “what’s coming to me,” I do know that I’m not a pedophile, and that I would never defend such vile behavior. Nor am I defending Gunn’s old tweets, because they’re gross and stupid, and he was right to apologize for them.
But I am defending James Gunn himself.
And you should be, too.
Because when the angry Twitter mob decides that you’ve done something they deem to be wrong, they could come after you next. It won’t matter why, they just will. And they’ll ruin you for it.
And that’s all it takes – the groupthink decision that you’ve done something wrong. Even if there’s no evidence that you have.
That’s not to say pedophilia isn’t a terrible crime – a constant strawman leveled against those singled out by the mob, that “pedophilia defenders” claim it’s not real.
Of course it’s real, and one of the worst crimes imaginable.
But in Gunn’s case, there’s no credible accusation that he’s ever touched a child inappropriately. There’s no victim claiming Gunn has done anything of the sort. He’s never been arrested, he’s never been indicted, he’s never been charged, he’s never even been investigated, at least not according to publicly available information.
It’s entirely possible (though unlikely, given the age of the tweets) that someone will come forward with a credible accusation. And then I’ll look like a fool for writing this.
But that hasn’t happened, thus far.
What has happened is that James Gunn has been convicted and punished for committing a crime that has not actually taken place.
So how do you commit a violent crime without a victim?
That’s not a question the mob is interested in asking or answering. All they want is blood. Anyone’s blood. Well, not just anyone. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
Gunn is the latest victim in a crowdsourced moral panic that finds pedophilia everywhere, committed by anyone they want to believe has committed it.
Like Joe McCarthy’s self-serving, self-appointed crusade to root out Communism in places where it didn’t exist, the online crusaders of Twitter and #QAnon see child sexual exploitation brazenly flouted by power players at the highest levels of government, business, and entertainment.
And they’ve taken it upon themselves to stop it. Even if it’s not there.
The crowdsourced moral panic is the mentality that gave us Pizzagate, the conspiracy theory that Democratic power brokers were running a massive child sex trafficking ring out of a DC pizza joint, based on some distasteful artwork and a few weird phrases in hacked emails belonging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager.
Never mind that nobody ever found even the slightest evidence that such a trafficking ring existed, or even that anyone was claiming to be a victim of such a ring.
Pizzagate kept going, fueled by online concern trolls screaming about “the children” and Hillary eating babies, until it reached its inevitable conclusion – a dude showing up at the pizza place with a gun and shooting into the air demanding someone show him the non-existent basement where the non-existent children being trafficked by the non-existent ring were being kept.
But the crowdsourced moral panic didn’t end there, it only mutated into QAnon. This is the conspiracy theory that President Trump is secretly leading some kind of massive effort to destroy the pedophile rings that have infested Washington and Hollywood since time immemorial.
These are the people that judged, sentenced, and convicted James Gunn of pedophilia based on his admittedly stupid and offensive tweets.
To the angry mob, joking about doing a thing and doing a thing are the same.
So they went after Gunn, hard. They passed around screenshots of the old tweets, appalled at how sick and depraved Gunn is, and declaring that he must, MUST, be a pedophile. And they demanded Disney fire him, which they did – despite knowing for years that these tweets existed.
Then they started going after anyone who balked at the mob’s existence. Because that’s what mobs do. They don’t stop and think about what they’re doing, they just string more people up on the whims of their leaders.
They went after Patton Oswald, Michael Ian Black, Dan Harmon, various GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY cast members, and THE LAST JEDI director Rian Johnson – all well-known figures in Hollywood who either questioned the wisdom of the mob, defended Gunn (while not defending the jokes he made), or just made the mistake of deleting old tweets.
They must all be pedophiles, too. Right? Who would dare defend such a person?
Everyone’s a pedophile to the angry mob. Else what’s an angry mob for?
All of this anguished rending of garments over “the children” would be a lot more plausible if it wasn’t coming from people who have, over and over, demonstrated that they don’t actually give a shit about children.
The right wing mob has demonstrated not one iota of concern for the thousands of children ripped away from their parents at the US/Mexico border, many imprisoned in conditions that would likely violate the Geneva Convention’s rules for the treatment of POW’s. Some of these children have been lost forever, likely disappearing into the clutches of traffickers.
Where are the outcries from #QAnon believers? Nowhere, because they think it’s a “distraction” from the “narrative” that Q has been trying to expose.
Likewise, the online mob has been utterly silent about the accusations piling up against Republican congressman Jim Jordan, who has been accused of looking the other way while an Ohio State wrestling coach molested dozens or even hundreds of young men over a decade.
After all, Jordan is one of Trump’s most fervent foot soldiers in the government, using all his power to obstruct and obfuscate investigations into the president.
And then there’s Donald Trump, who has been credibly accused by numerous women of unwanted sexual contact. The angry mob has no outrage directed toward him, because he’s their guy.
And that’s what the online mob is really doing. They’re not defending children. They couldn’t care less about children. They’re punishing anti-Trump wrongthink. And that’s what James Gunn was guilty of.
Gunn relentlessly bashed the president on Twitter – like Black, Oswald, and many of the other angry mob victims do as well. He was unapologetic about his belief that the president was doing harm to this country.
And so he came into the crosshairs of the professional outrage pimps who populate right wing infotainment. The people who use the actual, vile crime of child sex abuse as a cudgel to attack their enemies and prop up the president who coincides with their business interests.
It’s not because their victims did anything wrong, but because, to quote a classic STAR TREK episode, they are not of the body.
The dust has begun to settle, and while Gunn has lost a lucrative gig, he’ll be fine in the long term. So will the others attacked by the angry mob.
But in the meantime, free speech is chilled just a bit more, and the mob congratulates itself for getting a scalp – while furiously digging up the old, dumb tweets of its next victim.
What they don’t know is that the next scalp could be any of them. Or even you.
Because in the end, that’s how an angry mob rolls.