Wiener fights back against QAnon conspiracies over sex offender registry bill

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday August 13, 2020
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During an August 13 news conference, state Senator Scott Wiener criticized conspiracy theorists who have made online threats against him because of his bill to modernize California's sex offender registry. Photo: Screenshot via Zoom
During an August 13 news conference, state Senator Scott Wiener criticized conspiracy theorists who have made online threats against him because of his bill to modernize California's sex offender registry. Photo: Screenshot via Zoom

State Senator Scott Wiener held a news conference with other public officials and nonprofit leaders August 13 to clarify what Senate Bill 145 — which would change who qualifies for the California Sex Offender Registry — would do, in the face of alleged attacks from adherents of QAnon conspiracy theories.

As the Bay Area Reporter previously reported, the gay lawmaker's bill would grant judges discretion over whether to include on the registry people over the age of 18 who have been convicted of oral or anal intercourse with someone between the ages of 14 and 17, provided that the individual so convicted is within 10 years of age of their consensual sexual partner. (The bill stalled last year and was brought back again this legislative session.)

Under current law, judges have this discretion if someone is convicted of a charge of statutory rape only if they had penile-vaginal intercourse. Wiener and the others in the news conference said this is discriminatory toward LGBTQ people.

However, as Mother Jones first reported last week, Wiener has "received thousands of messages targeting him for the bill," which he said include homophobic and anti-Semitic language (Wiener is Jewish).

"I had not anticipated holding this press conference," Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat, said at the outset of the virtual event. "The events of the last few weeks, unfortunately, have necessitated spelling out SB 145 and why it is an important civil rights bill.

"I have been the subject of death threats, people saying that they'll decapitate me and send my head to my mother, or decapitate me and shit down my neck," he added.

Wiener said that the harassment began several weeks ago after an Instagram post from a QAnon adherent called attention to SB 145.

"They identified this bill and said it was about protecting pedophiles, which it is not, and saying I'm a pedophile," Wiener said. "This slander not only against me but against our community is outrageous and we need to speak up."

Wiener's general election opponent, queer educator Jackie Fielder, condemned the online harassment in a text message to the B.A.R. August 13. She had also done so in a previous tweet.

"Scott Wiener and I have our differences but I absolutely and categorically condemn the rightwing harassment campaign against him," she wrote. "Threats and online abuse have no place in our political discourse."

Fielder added that she supports SB 145.

QAnon is an unfounded conspiracy theory that alleges President Donald Trump is engaged in a struggle with an international cabal of sex traffickers, including prominent Hollywood actors and Democratic politicians.

Just Thursday, InfoWars — the right-wing website owned by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones — falsely stated that the SB 145 would "decriminalize adult men having sex with boys."

Wiener's bill does not change criminal statutes, only who qualifies for the registry.

According to Brad McCartt of the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office, law enforcement organizations have been wanting to narrow who qualifies for the registry to exclude people who are not likely to be repeat offenders, such as 18-year-olds who have oral or anal sex with their 17-year-old partners.

The number of people on the registry for such offenses makes the process of identifying sexual predators in a local community harder during a crime-in-progress, such as an abduction, he said.

"The origin of this bill is the Los Angeles district attorney's office," McCartt, a gay man, explained. He said district attorneys are frustrated that a 19-year-old who has sex with a 15-year-old may not end up on the registry one week while you "fast forward and this week you have two young men or two young women and one of the individuals is going to be on the sex offender registry."

"This is not hypothetical. It's what I see every single day as a child sex crimes prosecutor," McCartt said, before telling the story of why he was inspired to support SB 145.

"I had a personal example of this: two young women, varsity athletes, a junior and a senior. The 17-year-old's mother found out her daughter had a homosexual relationship and called the police. That call was brought to us and, as it turned out, the younger one had asked the older one on a date."

Charges were not brought, McCartt said, but the unnamed 17-year-old's mother told the college that the unnamed 18-year-old had planned to attend that the latter was a sex offender, and she lost both her scholarship and admission.

"As a member of the LGBTQ community, I think back to my senior year of high school and think this could have been me being treated differently," McCartt said.

When asked by the B.A.R. how many individuals last year were added to the registry for anal or oral copulation, who would not have been so added had SB 145 been law, McCartt said he could not cite exact numbers but that through research he found that the current law was being applied unevenly throughout the state in conjunction with local attitudes.

"We found every single county was acting differently based on knowledge and education," McCartt said.

Assemblywoman Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-Los Angeles) said that the current qualifications for the registry are antiquated, dating to a time when vaginal intercourse was the only sex act legal in the state of California. (The registry was initially founded in 1947; oral and anal intercourse between consenting adults was not legal until 1976.)

"No California law should be rooted in bigotry, end of story, and that's what this bill is intended to do," Kamlager-Dove said. "It's time to be honest and real about the law and the issue. This law was put in place at a more conservative time in California and was used to remove people who are LGBT from our society. The law SB 145 is aiming to change is a vestige of our discriminatory and very ugly past."

Kamlager-Dove said the debate is particularly important now, when many conversations are happening around the country about criminal justice reform, in the wake of nationwide protests over police brutality and the killings of Black people by police officers.

"There are Black LGBTQ people ... and we have a right to stand with them and to let everyone know they are part of our family," she said. "I am proud to stand with Senator Scott Wiener in support of this bill."

Rick Chavez Zbur, a gay man who is the head of Equality California, also praised Wiener.

"Having worked with him in the last four years, I've seen him take on important issues regardless of personal consequences to him and his willingness to stand with marginalized people even when no one else will," Zbur said. "Today, we stand with you."

EQCA is a co-sponsor of SB 145, along with the Los Angeles district attorney's office.

The news conference was rounded out with John L. Finley of the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, who said that sex crimes should not be used "as an excuse" to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

"CALCASA has been clear that this law is discriminatory," Finley said of the current situation. "It does absolutely nothing to advance the cause of preventing sexual violence before it happens in California. ... We want to ensure bigotry and discrimination don't occur on the backs of sexual assault survivors and victims of sexual abuse.

SB 145 is currently making its way through the state Assembly. Most recently, on July 9, it was approved 6-2 by the committee on public safety, and was sent to the appropriations committee.

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