Roy Moore, a former jurist and the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate from Alabama, has carefully crafted an image over the years as an ultraconservative religious zealot. He bashes gays and lesbians, denounces abortion and brings his hateful brand of religion into the courtroom, where it runs afoul of the U.S. Constitution.
Now, it turns out, Moore has been accused of pedophilia. A 53-year-old Alabama woman told The Washington Post that Moore sexually molested her when she was 14 years old and he was a 32-year-old prosecutor.
If you are surprised, you shouldn't be. Moore's bigoted Bible-thumping is just the sort of worldview that masks misogyny, sexual exploitation and all manner of sordid private behavior. The pages of history are littered with tales of men like Moore, men who brandished the Bible as a weapon and held themselves up as paragons of virtue, all the while engaging in the sort of private behavior they publicly castigated.
Just last year, Republican Robert Bentley resigned as governor of Alabama as reports of his adulterous affair with an aide overwhelmed his office. Bentley didn't commission and display public monuments to the Ten Commandments as Moore has done, but he did run for office as a rigid Baptist deacon with a Puritanical moral code. So much for that.
Then there's former U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., who resigned last month after the hypocrisy of his "pro-life" stance was exposed. A Pennsylvania newspaper published text messages he had exchanged with a woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair; he had apparently urged her to have an abortion. Murphy was a member of the House Pro-Life Caucus and had been lauded by various anti-abortion groups.
Moore, for his part, has vehemently denied the charges of inappropriate sexual conduct, calling The Washington Post report a "completely false and desperate political attack." For good measure, his campaign team threw in the term "fake news."
But the woman's account rings true. Leigh Corfman told Post reporters that Moore, who was not married at the time, took her to his secluded home more than once in 1979. On one occasion, she said, he undressed her down to her underwear and stripped down to his undershorts. He proceeded to touch her through her bra and panties and guide her hand to touch his genitals, she said. She told friends about the episode at the time and told her mother a decade later.
Corfman said she voted for Republicans in the last three presidential elections, but she recalls the encounters with Moore with what seems like dread and disgust. She said she considered going public earlier, but Moore -- who later won election as the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court -- was a powerful man in the state, and she was afraid she would not have been believed.
"I have prayed over this," Corfman told the Post. "All I know is that I can't sit back and let this continue, let him continue without the mask being removed."
Three other women told Post reporters that Moore, then an assistant district attorney in his early 30s, pursued them, too, when they were teenagers -- between the ages of 16 and 18. None of them reported any sexual contact beyond kissing.
Democratic operatives have been increasingly optimistic about the candidacy of attorney Doug Jones, a Birmingham lawyer, who is Moore's opponent for the seat vacated when Jeff Sessions became Attorney General. Some believe that Corfman's charges give Jones a significant boost. Even a handful of prominent Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have called on Moore to step aside if the allegations are true.
But Moore, as has been the case throughout a career that has included a middle-finger salute to the U.S. Supreme Court, has been defiant. He won't step aside.
And it is unlikely Corfman's charges will hurt Moore with his base of pseudo-pious churchgoers. After all, Alabama's white Christian conservatives voted overwhelmingly for President Donald Trump, who had been caught on video bragging about sexually molesting women.
Already, one Republican state official, Auditor Jim Zeigler, has defended Moore by citing, inexplicably, the biblical story of Mary and Joseph. Even if Corfman's account is true, Zeigler said, "There's just nothing immoral or illegal here."
Here in the Bible Belt, misogyny is baked into conservative theology, women are still taught in many churches to be submissive, and many white men still believe that straight white male privilege is ordained by God. Moore is a perfect representative of that sort of Christianity.