Hours after California professor Christine Blasey Ford came forward to accuse Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of attempting to rape her in high school, the internet swamps had posted her address, cooked up conspiracies about her family, and attacked a porn account of a similar name.
Ford, 51, has accused Kavanaugh of sexual assaulting her when they were both in high school. She initially detailed the account in a letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) but requested anonymity. She came forward publicly in an interview with The Washington Post, after it became clear to her that her identity would not stay private.
Shortly after that interview was published on Sunday afternoon, everyone from top officials at the White House to online trolls began attempting to discredit her—the very thing that had compelled Ford to request that her name be concealed in the first place.
In the seediest corners of the internet, that meant a retaliation campaign that looked to discredit Ford’s entire family. On an 8chan board for QAnon, a sweeping right-wing conspiracy theory that claims all Donald Trump’s enemies are actually in a Satanic child trafficking ring, users posted Ford’s home address.
Always eager to allege a vast, decades-long conspiracy, QAnoners pushed a theory that Ford was lashing out at Kavanaugh because his mother (also a judge) appears to have overseen a foreclosure case in the '90s involving Ford’s parents. But the trolls’ own screenshots of court dockets revealed that the elder Kavanaugh had ruled in favor of Ford’s family, killing the conspiracy upon arrival.
Nevertheless, the theory found its way to the pro-Trump blog America First Media (which is being sued for pushing wild conspiracies targeting the family of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich). America First Media had previously paid for Facebook ads attacking Ford, and published this latest conspiracy about Ford’s family without noting its obvious flaws.
“The list of coincidences continues, we’re sure this is just another one of those instances,” the blog wrote. “We’ll let you decide as we keep bringing you the truth America!”
The sheer amount of content online underscored just how charged the debate over Kavanaugh had become in the wake of the Post story. That it was quickly picked up by prominent pro-Trump pundits illustrated the speed with which the dreck of the internet can now make its way into semi-mainstream political dialogue.
“I don't buy any of it,” wrote Kurt Schlichter, a right-wing columnist, in apparently misinterpreting Kavanaugh’s mother’s role in the Ford foreclosure suit. Sebastian Gorka, a former Trump White House official and Breitbart editor, retweeted Schlichter, and added, “ALSO: Why has Blasey Ford’s Social Media profile been scrubbed? (BleachBit?),” a reference to the software Hillary Clinton used to erase data on her infamous home server. There is no indication that Ford used any such software to erase social media posts.
Elsewhere on QAnon 8chan, conspiracy theorists found a Facebook pornbot named Christine Ford and attacked it as though it were Ford herself. It wasn’t. Nevertheless, posters wrote that the porn account was unqualified to be a professor while others accused her of being an asset of the CIA’s long-defunct MK Ultra program.
Like many 8chan threads, the comments quickly devolved into porn, open anti-semitism, and pro-Hitler memes.
While conspiracy theorist and Trump-aligned activists took to the web to spread specious dirt on Ford, liberals groups opposed to Kavanaugh’s nomination launched a more traditional type of internet campaign following the Post’s revelations. Groups such as NARAL, Emily’s List, and Planned Parenthood swamped Facebook pages with ads hammering home the allegations against Kavanaugh, and demanding that key swing-vote senators oppose his confirmation.
But plenty of pro-Kavanaugh pages also got in on the action, buying up ads in an attempt to undercut Ford’s allegations against Kavanaugh. A page called Personal Liberty, associated with 9/11 truther columnist Bob Livingston, bought a handful of ads asking readers to vote in a poll questioning whether Ford’s allegations are “legitimate or a desperate smear tactic by Democrats.”
Others used the opportunity to call for more civility in the process, underscoring just how ugly the confirmation fight has become—and will likely get. Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R-ME), for instance, bought a Facebook ad solely to come to the defense of fellow Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who—as a critical swing vote—has been aggressively targeted by Kavanaugh opponents
“Whether you agree with her decisions or not, the tactics of calling her offices to curse staffers or leaving voicemails saying you hope harm or violence comes to them is completely unacceptable,” Poliquin wrote in a sponsored post paid for by his reelection campaign. “This should have no place in Maine and should be rejected as unacceptable behavior.”