It was that Twitter thread. It had to be. Honestly, wait—I’m pausing right now to make myself go truly read it end to end, because in every prior encounter with it my eyeballs slid over it while my mind recoiled in horror and vicarious embarrassment, a vicarious embarrassment felt on behalf of people who have cauterized away their own ability to experience shame.
Did Ed Whelan, the co-editor of Scalia Speaks and author of the linked series of 26 speculative tweets (left up to spread all night and then deleted in the morning), talk to the Washington Post’s Pulitzer Prize–winning columnist Kathleen Parker before she wrote her own column guessing or wishing that Brett Kavanaugh had been mistaken for a lookalike, to find a sliver of possibility between calling Christine Blasey Ford a liar for saying Kavanaugh tried to rape her in high school and calling Kavanaugh a liar for denying it? The Kavanaugh defenders were not doing well with the alternatives: attacking the person who’d reluctantly seen her story of teenage trauma spattered across the maximally partisan media, or defending attempted rape. There may have been real enthusiasm for those approaches, especially the latter one, among the most committed Kavanaugh supporters, but neither one was playing well.
Enter Ed Whelan, armed with floor plans of a house in Chevy Chase that had all the necessary features: a room for teens to drink in, stairs from the first story to the second, an upstairs bedroom, an upstairs bathroom. The perfect crime scene—and the home of a different Georgetown Prep football player, whose black-and-white yearbook photo looked as much like Kavanaugh’s black-and-white yearbook photo as any two photos of two young white men in coats and ties with the same year’s haircut might look. Whelan went so far as to publish the other teen’s name and childhood address.
One could, on examining the photographs, start to conclude that Kavanaugh and the other man looked about as different as two members of the same prep school’s football team could look: The other teenager’s brow and jaw look heavier, his neck thicker, his— But even to play along is to humiliate yourself, to crawl down the same eternally branching sewer whose fumes gave crazed Redditors one destructively wrong portfolio of evidence after another about the identity of the Boston Marathon bombers. Now that sewer pipe is the mainstream of the discourse; the Washington Post had to run a story quoting Ford explaining that she knew both young men and could easily tell them apart.
But to compare Ed Whelan to the slander-flinging Redditors is unfair to the Redditors. Reckless as that detective mob was, they were laying down their tangles of MS Paint in the hopes that a pattern would emerge, leading them and the rest of the world to the truth about the bombers. The Kavanaugh-doppelganger theorists are working backwards—taking the straight-line fact that this woman says that man did this thing, and trying to tangle it into absurdity and confusion. “I have no idea what, if anything, did or did not happen in that bedroom at the top of the stairs, and I therefore do not state, imply or insinuate that [NAME OF FLAGRANTLY LIBELED PERSON REDACTED] or anyone else committed the sexual assault,” Whelan wrote, 22 tweets into a blow-by-blow account of how this third party could have been a would-be rapist. It was completely dishonest but also true: The point is that Whelan didn’t care what the truth is, and if he and his collaborators work hard enough, maybe they can make it so you won’t care either.