Mainstream support for Roy Moore, the Alabama Republican whose campaign for the U.S. Senate has been derailed by multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against teenage girls, has evaporated in the heat of the growing scandal.
But among religious conservatives who have been fans of the twice-elected, twice-removed former state Supreme Court judge since his first battles with the Establishment Clause, the most unpopular man in the Republican Party is “the hero of the day.”
More than a dozen religious activists from around the country gathered at the Birmingham Marriott on Thursday afternoon to publicly declare their allegiance to Moore behind a lectern emblazoned with the hashtag #SupportRoyMoore.
Organizers of the two-hour event, initially characterized as a “press conference,” lashed out at targets ranging from “anti-God Republicans” and “communist Democrats” to “homosexualist gay terrorists” and the “lynch mob media,” all players in a vast conspiracy to assassinate the character of “our valiant leader, Judge Roy Moore.”
“Facts should matter more than feelings, and the facts appear to show us that Roy Moore was framed,” said blogger Elizabeth Johnson, whose website Activist Mommy falsely accused one of Moore’s accusers of working for the Democratic National Committee.
Moore himself appeared only briefly at the event’s conclusion, breaking the ice with a joke about hemorrhoids before denouncing the campaign against him as “an effort by Mitch McConnell and his cronies to steal this election from the people of Alabama.”
“I want to tell you who needs to step down,” Moore thundered. “That’s Mitch McConnell.”
Moore has been accused of making unwanted sexual advances on a total of seven teenage girls in the 1970s and 1980s, when he was in his 30s. The women ranged in age from 14 to 18 at the time of the alleged misconduct, which included forceful kissing, guiding a 14-year-old girl’s hands over his genitals, and attempted sexual assault. Moore has denied all of the allegations and dismissed as a forgery a signature in the yearbook of one accuser.
Since the allegations were first made public, the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court has tanked in polls against Democratic opponent Doug Jones—one survey of likely voters released on Thursday evening showed Moore trailing the former prosecutor by 8 points—and hemorrhaged support from mainstream Republicans and Trump administration figures ranging from Sen. Ted Cruz to Ivanka Trump.
Where the Republican mainstream has peeled away, however, the religious base most dedicated to so-called moral values issues has rallied behind Moore. The event on Thursday was organized by anti-abortion activist and noted birther conspiracy theorist Janet Folger Porter, founder and president of conservative group Faith2Action, and was attended by some of the most persistent stars in the religious conservative firmament.
Flip Benham, a fixture in the anti-abortion world, warned the assembled journalists that “homosexual sodomy destroys those who participate in it and nations who approve of it.” Perennial Republican political candidate Alan Keyes cautioned that Moore’s loss in the Dec. 12 election would leave America “worse than the Soviet Union.” Rabbi Noson Leiter, who once blamed Hurricane Sandy’s destruction on same-sex marriage, praised Moore for standing up “to the LGBT transgender mafia” and decried his critics as pawns of “homosexualist gay terrorism and blackmail.”
After Moore’s brief remarks, members of the press were invited to ask questions not of Moore but of Porter, and only if the questions focused on “the issues.” (The issue of sexual harassment and assault was forbidden.) After the first two questions ignored Porter’s edict, the press conference adjourned as Moore, his wife, Kayla, and the majority of his supporters stormed out of the room.
The appearance did little to disarm Moore’s critics, if another press conference held moments later was any indication.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, addressing the White House press corps for the first time since President Donald Trump returned from Asia, stopped short of asking for Moore to step aside, noting only that Trump "believes that these allegations are very troubling and should be taken seriously, and he thinks that the people of Alabama should make their decision on who their next senator should be.”