The stakes are so high in Missouri’s U.S. Senate race on November 6 that money is pouring in from everywhere, much of it dark, in an effort to sway the election, which could well determine whether Republicans maintain control of Congress’ most impactful body. Most alarming, to many African Americans, are some of the ads that Republican interests are running on urban radio in an attempt to undermine blacks’ historic allegiance to the Democratic Party.
The worst of the attack ads, as the Kansas City Star reported, “seeks to frighten black voters away from U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill’s campaign by suggesting the Democrat supports lynchings.” This ad features two black women discussing the grilling that Brett Kavanaugh endured from Democratic senators during his Senate confirmation hearings and claims that black men will be presumed guilty if accused of rape should Democrats return to power in Washington, D.C.
“Black folk will be catching hell again,” one woman says in the ad.
The Missouri ad is nearly identical to an ad being aired in a U.S. House race in Arkansas, the Star notes, though the Missouri ad omits the explicit use of the word “lynching,” which is used in the Arkansas ad. But the lynching subtext in the Missouri ad is hardly submerged.
“I’m voting for Josh Hawley for Senate because we have to protect our men and boys,” one woman says in the Missouri ad. “We can’t afford to let Claire McCaskill take us back to the bad old days of race verdicts, life sentences or worse when someone screams rape.” That “or worse” business is where the lynching claim is barely submerged.
There is so much disinformation in this ad the EYE hardly knows where to begin. First, the racial strategy behind the ad deserves some unpacking.
The most effective disinformation contains a kernel of information, the best lies have a grain of truth, and that is the case with this ad. Namely, one of the weaknesses of #BelieveHer as an imperative in rape allegations is that some women, in fact, have lied when they claimed rape, and there is a racial component to this dynamic that this ad attempts to exploit. And one can find examples without hearkening back to the “bad old days.”
In June of this year, a 19-year-old white woman named Nikki Yovino confessed that she lied when she claimed two young black men – football players, like the young Brett Kavanaugh – raped her at a party. In fact, as she eventually confessed, she initiated consensual group sex with the young men, but then claimed rape after the fact.
“She admitted that she made up the allegation of sexual assault against (the football players) because it was the first thing that came to mind and she didn’t want to lose (another male student) as a friend and potential boyfriend,” according to the arrest warrant affidavit, as reported by the Connecticut Post. “She stated that she believed when (the other male student) heard the allegation it would make him angry and sympathetic to her.”
Before she confessed to her damaging lies, her victims had lost their scholarships and been bounced from Sacred Heart University – all because this white woman would rather crush the lives of strangers by falsely accusing them of rape rather than let it be known that she willingly invited two black guys into a bathroom to have sex with her.
So, yes, #BelieveHer might give African Americans pause, if it’s meant to imply that every woman who alleges rape is necessarily a victim of rape or attempted rape. But this has nothing to do with McCaskill’s rejection of Kavanaugh. And it has nothing to do with what will happen should Democrats reclaim control of the Senate (or the U.S. House of Representatives). Constitutional protections for presumption of innocence and the accuser having the burden of proof are so ironclad – and men hold such a large majority over women in both houses of Congress – that #BelieveHer may become a moral imperative but is not likely to influence the adjudication of rape cases in the way this attack ad insinuates.
To be clear, Kavanaugh was not facing a criminal complaint that compelled constitutional protections for presumption of innocence and the accuser having the burden of proof. He was going through a job interview process – for one of the most powerful positions in the world, which is a lifetime appointment – and certainly many people have been denied lesser jobs on flimsier grounds than that more than one woman accused him of sexual assault. That is, Kavanaugh would not have been “lynched” or suffered an unconstitutional denial of due process had he been denied this job over these allegations, particularly considering the credible and compelling testimony of the only alleged victim who testified before the Senate, Christine Blasey Ford.
Then there is the fact that McCaskill did not interview Kavanaugh regarding his confirmation, as she does not serve on the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary. She did not even speak when his confirmation was debated before the full Senate. She did oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination, but not because of the allegations of sexual assault that emerged late in the confirmation process.
"[My] decision is not based on those allegations but rather on his positions on several key issues, most importantly the avalanche of dark, anonymous money that is crushing our democracy," McCaskill wrote on Twitter. "He has revealed his bias against limits on campaign donations which places him completely out of the mainstream of this nation.”
In one of the many cruel ironies of this attack ad, McCaskill is being attacked for a position that she did not take – namely, that sexual assault allegations were enough to disqualify Kavanaugh from the Supreme Court in the absence of substantial supporting evidence – when McCaskill also was attacked by her own base because she did not take that position. That is, some voters who know what is going on attacked McCaskill for not doing something that they expected her to do, while voters who do not know what is going on stand to be confused into believing McCaskill did that thing and should be punished for it.
This ad reminds us of another truism of lies: the big lie can be easier to pull off than the little lie, particularly (as Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels said) if you repeat it often enough (and these ads have been in heavy rotation). The big lie here is that the election of Democratic majorities would make it more dangerous to be black in America. If Kanye West believes this to be true, he might be the only black person who does. The Republican majorities in Congress protect President Donald Trump and his policies – Donald Trump, who openly claimed to be a “nationalist,” understood by most sentient beings to imply “white nationalist,” and who said of the white nationalists and Nazis who marched in Charlottesville that their ranks included “some good people.”
The McCaskill attack has a black woman claiming that “black folk will be catching hell again” if McCaskill is reelected. In fact, black folks have never stopped catching hell, but that got a whole lot worse with the election of Trump, and the defeat of McCaskill and election of Hawley would only further embolden and empower the dangerous white nationalist in the White House.
As for the attack ads, they were paid for by a North Carolina-based political action committee, not the Hawley campaign. The Star reported that it took Hawley’s campaign more than four hours to respond to the ads. Then their only response was: “Of course we don’t support this.” Of course, the EYE does not believe that.