Arizona Republic Whitewashes Cindy McCain’s Promotion of Sex-Trafficking Panic, Comparing Her Favorably to QAnon

Cindy McCain, worried that QAnon is stealing her glory. (Screenshot via Arizona Governor' Office of Youth, Faith and Family)
Long before QAnon came along, Cindy McCain was pouring kerosene on the moral panic of child sex trafficking, with fear-mongering, fake statistics and outright lies.

The Arizona Republic is so deep in Cindy McCain’s designer tote bag that its reporters must think her lint brush is Mount Kilimanjaro.

As a pubic disservice, Phoenix’s paper of record provides a megaphone for the Queen of Cornville’s every utterance. For example, when the 66-year-old RiNO (Republican in Name Only) endorsed Biden for president recently, the Republic gave her the Queen Elizabeth treatment, featuring a large, Home & Garden-style photo of Cindy and her deck furniture — color-coordinated in royal blue — on A1, above the fold, natch.

The Arizona Republic  paints Cindy McCain as a legit source on sex trafficking . . . in comparison to QAnon. (Anthony Crider via Flickr)

But the Republic’s scribes outdid themselves recently in a piece comparing Cindy’s many years of peddling the moral panic of sex trafficking to the rag-tag, Trump-era conspiracy theory known as QAnon. This 4chan-inspired fever dream posits that a worldwide ring of Democratic elites sells minors for sex while feasting on the flesh of infants and undermining the presidency of Donald J. Trump.

Due to the rise of QAnon — propelled by a supposedly super-secret government insider known only as “Q” — veteran anti-trafficking activists worry “there will be less concern and support to combat the all too real issue of women and girls being forced into sex trafficking and prostitution,” the Republic reports.

In other words, it’s a turf war, with all these unwashed newbies attempting to usurp the anti-trafficking throne currently inhabited by the widow of the late warmonger, Senator John McCain.

“McCain and her ilk believe in facts regarding trafficking!? Since when? She’s never let facts get in the way of a good moral panic.” — Tucson filmmaker and ex-sex worker, Julianna Piccillo

The Republic depicts Cindy McCain as the doyenne of responsible sex trafficking hysteria. It reports that during a recent meeting of Arizona Governor Doug Ducey’s Human Trafficking Council, which McCain co-chairs, she blasted the QAnon movement as “despicable” and “frustrating for all of us who participate in this.”

She further expressed the opinion that the “whole point” of the QAnon craze is “to affect the election,” an ironic statement given the page-one treatment garnered by her own attempt to influence the outcome of the current presidential race.

“It’s the lowest common denominator,” she harrumphed of QAnon. “But that’s exactly what’s going on and they’re doing it on the backs of trafficked children.”

(Shortly before this article was published, the McCain Institute issued a statement condemning QAnon, while Cindy McCain took QAnon to task on Twitter for its “lies.” Pot. Kettle. Black.)

Talk about projection. Aided and abetted, time and again, by mainstream news outlets, Cindy McCain has spread dangerous misinformation and myths about sex trafficking, citing debunked statistics, prevaricating about her own experiences, and falling back on racist tropes — all in a narcissistic bid to maintain her media profile.

But the white savior routine isn’t quite selling as it once did, regardless of lackadaisical newshounds who lap it up like bacon grease.

A Resume of Lies

Asked to comment on the Republic piece, filmmaker and former sex worker Julianna Piccillo, a founding member of the Tucson chapter of the Sex Workers Outreach Project, didn’t spare the buckshot.

“This is fucking rich,” she texted Front Page Confidential. “McCain and her ilk believe in facts regarding trafficking!? Since when? She’s never let facts get in the way of a good moral panic.”

She added that the O.K. Corral-style shootout between Mother McCain and QAnon was telling.

“It underscores how anti-trafficking activism is a ladies-who-lunch hobby meant to give meaning and publicity to their privileged lives,” she wrote. “McCain is upset that the focus isn’t on her as the great white hope, and, further, she probably fears that debunking QAnon will debunk her work.”

McCain and the article earned a spanking on Twitter, as well. There, sex worker, author and acid-tongued savant Maggie McNeill commented that McCain’s all about the spotlight.

“That has always been her motivation, since long before the [sex trafficking] hysteria started,” McNeill observed.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown, a senior editor at Reason magazine, who for years has targeted the lies of what some wags call the “anti-trafficking industrial complex,” tweeted that she found it “both fun and frustrating watching anti-sex trafficking grifters” such as McCain “get mad at QAnon for cutting into their grift.”

How can the Republic‘s writers kowtow to McCain, considering McCain’s checkered past with this issue, not to mention with the truth?

Answer: They ignore it.

For instance, the Republic notes that Arizona’s human trafficking council “was created in 2014 . . . months before Arizona hosted a Super Bowl, an event which itself has been seen, incorrectly, as a driver of child sex trafficking.”

Left unsaid is that Cindy McCain pushed this disproven notion from jump, castigating the NFL and calling the event, “the largest human trafficking event on the planet,” a tattered myth that’s been disproven more often than the faked moon landing hoax, yet remains harder to kill than the Jersey Devil.

Both she and her husband’s namesake, the McCain Institute at Arizona State University, have trotted out the bogus statistic that 100,000 to 300,000 minors in the U.S.  are “at risk” of commercial sexual exploitation.

This spurious factoid was the product of a flawed university study done in the 1990s, and has been thoroughly and repeatedly refuted, at least as early as 2011.

But Cindy McCain brushed her teeth with it, amplifying its inaccuracy by rewording it to her liking, telling the Phoenix Business Journal  in 2015, “Our estimates run about 300,000 children are being trafficked in our borders today.”

Reality is, child sex trafficking happens, but not at the “epidemic” proportions that McCain and others like her would have the public believe.

As Reason’s Brown has pointed out on more than one occasion, the FBI’s annual crime stats show that “human trafficking arrests are rare in most states,” and those involving child sex trafficking, even rarer.

Which is one reason activists like McCain and her enablers in the press play so fast and loose with language surrounding trafficking.

“Human trafficking” is an umbrella term encompassing both forced labor and sex. Sex trafficking, as defined by federal statute, refers to minors involved in commercial sex, or adults lured into trading sex-for-money via force, fraud or coercion.

Prostitution, on the other hand, is normally a minor offense, which involves consensual commercial sex among adults. 

Obscuring such distinctions helps divert attention from the relative paucity of sex trafficking cases in comparison to far more common violent crimes, like murder and rape. It also helps to demonize sex workers and rob them of their agency.

Crackpot Cindy

Certainly, Cindy McCain is not the only non-QAnon purveyor of sex trafficking hysteria, but to promote her as some sort of legitimate authority on sex trafficking requires overlooking a host of sins — you know, like her getting caught ripping off opioids meant for sick and ailing children from a nonprofit she ran, and lying about it, even years later.

As recently as a year ago, McCain’s credibility again came into question when she went on a Phoenix talk radio show to claim that she had rescued a child from sex trafficking at Sky Harbor International Airport by reporting to law enforcement “a woman of a different ethnicity than . . . this little toddler that she had.”

She said the woman was “waiting for the guy who bought the child to get off the airplane,” which was 100 percent false. Police investigated. There was no trafficking, no illegality of any kind.

It’s one of several unverifiable yarns she’s told over the years, like her “origin” story, wherein McCain supposedly encountered a number of trafficked girls being held beneath the floorboard of a sari shop in India.

Or the vignette she described in 2017 before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, when she testified that she “witnessed with my own eyes six little girls lined up against a wall inside a casino just outside of Phoenix on display for customers.”

Add to these fairy tales McCain’s weird admission concerning serial sex-offender Jefferey Epstein, while she was speaking at a conference at Florida International University

“We all knew about him,” she told an audience during a Q&A. “We all knew what he was doing.”

And this is the expert that the Republic wants us to revere?

Interestingly, in 2019, in the above-mentioned talk radio program, she again repeated the Baron von Munchausen-sized canard about the Super Bowl being a massive draw for sex traffickers.

It’s a hoax that even the McCain Institute’s pet researcher, ASU prof Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, could find “no empirical evidence” to support.

Which is saying something. Roe-Sepowitz is the Dr. Strangelove of anti-trafficking extremists, infamous for masterminding a discredited and now-defunct program of the Phoenix Police Department that forced sex workers to choose between prosecution and attending church-based diversion programs.

McCain’s history is so problematic that it makes this passage from the recent Republic article read like a Babylon Bee parody:

“Backed by powerful figures such as Cindy McCain, law enforcement was trained to see the issue as one of domestic sex trafficking and the women involved not as criminals, but as victims that need rescuing.”

Talk about an asinine, not to mention inaccurate, statement. Sex workers are on the front line of abuses by law enforcement. Hence the battle cry, “Rights not rescue.”

Or as the sex workers’ rights group Desiree Alliance tweeted in response to the Republic article,

“With friends like Cindy, who need enemies?”

And for more on Cindy McCain, check out these FPC classics:
Mother McCain Meltdown: Cindy Comes Clean on Jeffrey Epstein
How John and Cindy McCain Came to Hate Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin

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About Stephen Lemons

Stephen Lemons is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than 20 years of experience covering everything from government corruption to white-supremacist gangs. In addition to Front Page Confidential, his work has appeared in Phoenix New Times, the Los Angeles Times,, and the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report magazine.

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