The slogan “Women for Kavanaugh” has become more of a meme than a rallying cry in recent days, as photographers have captured men traveling on buses emblazoned with the phrase, or sporting it on T-shirts. But it also represents a very real segment of conservative American women—some of whom were sexually abused themselves—who found themselves torn while watching Christine Blasey Ford testify before the Senate that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh tried to rape her in the 1980s.
“I thought she seemed credible,” said Tammy Ring, a 43-year-old Kavanaugh supporter from Cocoa, Florida, who told The Daily Beast she had been both sexually harassed and assaulted. “I don't know that I believe that Judge Kavanaugh assaulted her, but I think that she believes that he did. She didn’t come across as somebody that was making this up or coming forward with a lie.”
For male politicians in the post-#MeToo era, supporting Kavanaugh has meant striking a delicate balance between advocating for the nominee and not looking too eager to write off his accuser. Even President Donald Trump–who has called his own accusers “liars” and “horrible women”–said Friday that he found Ford’s testimony “very compelling.”
But for many of Kavanaugh’s female backers, supporting him means reconciling their desire for a conservative justice with the emotional testimony of a sympathetic accuser, and—in some cases—their own experiences of sexual abuse. For some, this means questioning the power of their own memories.
“I remember things that happened to me as a child that I talked to my sisters about, and they remembered it totally different than I did,” said Debby Leach, 65, of Tracys Landing, Maryland, who says she was sexually abused as a child. “How I remember it versus how they remember it are two entirely different things. So I think that after a number of years go by, you believe a certain thing. You convince yourself of a certain thing.”
To that end, several of the women raised a theory—also cited by some lawmakers who back Kavanaugh—that Ford had simply misidentified the man she says pinned her down and tried to rip off her clothes. The scenario was most prominently floated by conservative strategist Ed Whelan, who posted a lengthy Twitter thread suggesting one of Kavanaugh’s classmates could have been the assailant.
Ford forcefully denied the theory on Thursday, saying she was “100 percent” certain of her assailant’s identity, and Whelan eventually deleted the Twitter threat, calling it an “inexcusable mistake of judgment.” But the idea didn’t seem too outlandish to some of Kavanaugh’s more ardent female supporters.
“It feels mistaken identity to me,” said Sonia Souza, a San Diego resident who said she experienced in her past something “slightly less serious” than the attack Ford described. “I haven’t seen these pictures, but I hear there are a couple people who look like [Kavanaugh]… It’s definitely open to misidentification.”
Souza was also struck by a specific detail in Ford’s account: that six or eight weeks later, she had spotted the man who allegedly helped Kavanaugh attack her—and she waved at him.
“I was like, “What? Why would you say hi to him?’” Souza said, citing her own experience as a survivor of sexual misconduct.
Despite Ford’s forceful denial of political motivations—“I am fiercely independent, and I am no one’s pawn,” she told the committee—many of the women suggested the professor had been used by Democratic lawmakers for political gain. Souza, 43, said she found it suspect that Ford’s name was leaked to the press after she specifically asked for anonymity. The hearing, she said, seemed to be “pushed forward” by Democratic interests—although Ford testified that she had tried to alert the Senate about Kavanaugh before he was even the nominee.
“There’s definitely a tactic here to just delay because they don’t like [Kavanaugh], or because of whatever they think is going to vote on Roe v Wade,” Souza said, referencing the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide. “There’s some left side that is definitely pushing this.”
The women also raised questions about who had paid Ford’s legal bills, and pointed to the hundreds of thousands of dollars supporters had donated through crowdfunding campaigns. (Ford’s attorneys said they were working pro bono, and Ford said the donations were paying for security she needed after receiving death threats.)
Leach went as far as to suggest that Ford had been “paid off” for her testimony, noting that Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) passed an envelope to the professor’s legal team before the hearing. (The congresswoman says the envelope contained notes from women who were not allowed in the hearing room.)
Far from blaming Ford, however, all of the woman expressed sympathy for her; one actually said Ford had been “raped” by the Democratic party. Pressed repeatedly on why Ford would come forward with false allegations, the women refused to criticize the research professor, outside of saying she seemed “coached.”
“It feels to me like she was used in this process and that makes me really sad,” Ring said. “Because she herself seems very sincere and she deserves to be treated better.”