This past Thursday, when the story emerged of KABC radio host Leeann Tweeden accusing Minnesota Senator Al Franken of kissing her aggressively and groping her against her will, many on the left were disappointed and crushed, according to NBC News. Franken had not only been one of the staunchest advocates in Congress for both women’s and LGBTQ rights, he was also one of the harshest critics of the Trump administration and seemingly the politician most willing to hold their feet to the fire about their ties to Vladimir Putin and Russia. Later, cracks in Tweeden’s story began to throw doubt on the truthfulness of her allegation. Monday morning, a second woman, Lindsay Menz, came forward to claim that Franken touched her buttocks while they were having a photo taken in 2010, NPR reported. This story is beginning to show cracks as well. It’s quite possible that what we are seeing here isn’t the truth at all, but a determined, organized attack, not only on Al Franken, but also on women, the left and the very #MeToo movement itself.
The #MeToo movement started when scores of women began accusing film industry mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment, sexual assault and even rape. The allegations accumulated to the point that it has destroyed Weinstein’s career and, as of this writing, it’s entirely possible that he could face serious legal ramifications for his actions. Since Weinstein, #MeToo has become a wave engulfing numerous other celebrities, such as Kevin Spacey, Brett Ratner, James Toback, George Takei, and many others. Just today, allegations have emerged from eight women against celebrated journalist Charlie Rose, according to the Washington Post.
The movement has begun to spill over into politics, as well. Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore has been accused by nine women now of sexually harassing or trying to rape them, with many of the women claiming the incidents happened while they were teenagers, reported the Washington Post. Donald Trump himself has as many as 16 women who accuse him of everything from walking in on them in a dressing room to unwanted touching to violent rape, according to New York Magazine. It’s important to note that some of these charges also come from women who were as young as 13 at the time they claim the incidents occurred.
Men have been getting away with murder (or at least rape and sexual assault) for as long as men have held power over women, which is to say, forever. For the first time in recorded history, women are being believed when they begin to talk about the belittling and humiliating ordeals they’ve had to withstand at the hands of powerful men. The simple phrase “believe the women” is becoming a mantra, as one sexual predator after another is exposed, shamed, and destroyed. This is exactly as it should be. The patriarchy has long been due for a massive overhaul.
There is, however, a problem that I see. We are at a place now where our compassion and empathy are flowing and our decency demands that we believe the women. We want to believe the women. We want to give them their time to be believed and to help them smash the patriarchy once and for all. We know, deep down inside, that it would be good for all humankind, not only women. There are political players, though, who see our compassion and empathy and decency as weaknesses and would be more than happy to use them against us. We live in a world with people like Steve Bannon, Roger Stone and Kellyanne Conway, not to mention the AltRight talking heads and crazies who populate the Twitterverse. Do you have any doubt that they would love to turn the #MeToo movement on its head and weaponize it as they send it right back at us?
I think there’s a good possibility that this is what is happening here. Steve Bannon and Breitbart News have been perfectly happy to “believe the women” as long as the power of the movement has been directed at the liberal Hollywood stars they hate so much. As soon as the #MeToo finger began pointing at right-wing darlings like Roy Moore and Donald Trump, however, their tune changed completely. The women accusing Moore and Trump are not to be believed, they say. The women accusing liberals are telling the truth but the ones accusing the far right are liars.
Then along came Al Franken.
Late last Thursday, the day that Franken was accused, it was revealed that self-avowed “political hit-man” and staunch Trump supporter Roger Stone had tweeted that Al Franken’s “time in the barrel is about to come” hours before the story even broke, according to CBS News. InfoWars correspondent Rob Dew also “predicted” the allegations that were about to hit Franken on Wednesday night. Tweeden didn’t release her statement until the following morning. How would these two have known of the impending charges? Stone has since been banned from Twitter but Dew’s tweet remains.
Since then, several YouTube videos have been released showing Franken accuser Leeann Tweeden forcefully kissing and grabbing the behind of comedian Robin Williams on an earlier USO tour and grinding with and grabbing the buttocks of a singer on the same 2006 USO tour that she worked with Franken.
Franken has apologized and asked for an ethics investigation, while Tweeden says she forgives him and doesn’t need the investigation, the first instance in my memory of an alleged victim wanting an investigation less than the alleged culprit. Monday’s new allegation is a little suspect as well. Lindsay Metz, who claims that Franken groped her while her husband was taking a photograph of them, also says that she made a social media post about it a few days ago to backup her claims. In spite of a great deal of searching, this social media post has yet to be found.
The reasons, I think, that extreme right-wing elements in this country would welcome pushing a false #MeToo narrative at this point are two-fold. First, they have a big problem with Roy Moore and Donald Trump, who are most likely both sexual deviants of the first order and will be proven as such in the near future. They need a distraction and Franken fits the bill perfectly. Secondly, for white male power to remain undiminished in America, the #MeToo movement needs to be discredited. We on the left can call on Franken to resign, as quite a few commentators already have. If we do that, we lose a senator who is one of the toughest bulwarks against Trump’s hideous agenda. If we don’t have Franken resign, however, we are saying that the women in this instance are not to be believed and then the InfoWars and Breitbart crowd can claim that we don’t live up to our lofty, compassionate ideals. “If Al Franken’s accusers are not to be believed,” they will say, “why should we believe Roy Moore’s or Donald Trump’s accusers?” It’s actually an extremely brilliant and devious plan. It’s also why I say that women and the #MeToo movement itself are under attack here. We create a precedent where the women are not believed and it becomes all too easy to just return to business as usual and not believe women in the future when they make obviously credible claims.
There is a way out of this, though. Women should be given the benefit of the doubt. Every claim against a liberal or Democrat should be investigated to the fullest. If Al Franken or any other Democrat is found to be a sexual predator or abuser (and I guarantee you there will be genuine cases of Democratic abuse) then these men need to be publically shamed and forced from office without mercy. We can have no room for hesitance or partisan bias in this. Men who are true sexual predators are the last thing we want on our side. We need to remember, though, that we live in a world with Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, so it’s preposterous to state that all women always tell the truth. We also live in a world with men like Roger Stone, Steve Bannon and Sean Hannity who will always jump at the chance to use our very decency against us. This isn’t the first time we’ve been attacked in this manner and it certainly won’t be the last.
[Featured Image by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Images]