Is this credible? Hey, would a man who turned a porn star who reneged on a payoff into a paragon of civic virtue lie? Early this morning, Michael Avenatti publicly accused Brett Kavanaugh of running child-care centers in the 1980s where satanic abuse took place. Oh wait, wrong social panic!

This one’s almost as ridiculous (via Leah Barkoukis):

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh faced a storm of new sexual misconduct allegations Sunday after attorney Michael Avenatti said he had knowledge that Kavanaugh and high school friend Mark Judge targeted women with drugs and alcohol in order to “allow a ‘train’ of men to subsequently gang rape them.” …

In Avenatti’s email, a screenshot of which he posted to Twitter, the lawyer told Davis that he had “significant evidence of multiple house parties in the Washington D.C. area during the early 1980s” where Kavanaugh, Judge and others “would participate in the targeting of women with alcohol/drugs.”

Avenatti included a list of questions for Senate investigators to ask Kavanaugh, including: “Did you ever attend any house party during which a woman was gang raped or used for sex by multiple men?”

Here are the memos, in case you need the agita:

Avenatti issued another tweet in which he insisted that he decoded the gang-rape conspiracy from reading Kavanaugh’s yearbook. I wish I was kidding:

Gee, how did the FBI miss that in six background checks? Full disclosure: My yearbooks from high school have more than one inscription that reads, “May you have all your ups and downs in bed.” At the time it was adolescent wishful thinking, bit now I’m pretty sure that disqualifies me for public service. Was that code for sexual assault, Mr. Morrissey?

It’s insane. It’s so ridiculous that one has to wonder whether Avenatti might inadvertently crash the whole anti-Kavanaugh project with the backlash. The motives behind these attacks, and their increasingly unhinged quality, have become so painfully obvious that all of the claims will lilely get wrapped up together in a blanket of absurdity.

Of course, we all thought that in retrospect after the collapse of the McMartin Preschool case, too. And yet here we are thirty years later, believing “recalled” memory all over again despite a lack of corroborative evidence, ready to sail right into the next moral panic. And we have the same kind of “pack journalism” Douglas Linder noted in his analysis of the case fifteen years later:

There are many lessons to be learned from the McMartin Preschool Trial. There are lessons for police and prosecutors, but there are also lessons for the media. It was “pack journalism”–slanted heavily toward the prosecution, providing sensational headlines day after day, almost never seriously questioning the allegations–that turned the McMartin trial into the expensive and damaging fiasco that it became.

However, Avenatti’s last-minute contributions to the Kavanaugh witch hunt do provide a valuable lesson. This is what happens when large numbers of people “believe” accusations without corroborating evidence when it meets their political goals. It sets up a series of incentives that reward unsubstantiated allegations and give free rein to those with axes to grind to organize them. Avenatti has multiple axes to grind — he’s made himself into a household name as a leader of La Résistance to Trump and has openly talked about running for president himself. What better way to accomplish it than by leading the ruination of a Trump appointee, who has spent his professional life in public service? Who cares if any of it is trueWe have to save the women even if it’s not true!

This is what due process and the traditional requirements for evidence before “belief” are designed to protect us from — the lynch mobs, and the leaders lynch mobs produce. I warned about this last week:

Shifting the burden of proof on Senate confirmations, appointments, and elections changes all the incentives for public service. If we are not to evaluate claims on “facts” in order to determine whether the “essence” actually is “real,” then what should form the basis of our evaluation? Whether or not we like the accused? Which party does he or she represent, or which party appointed him?

This is not a recipe for justice, but instead an environment for bare-knuckled politics and a breeding ground for a return to Salem circa 1692. Such an environment will repel men and women of goodwill and good character from public service, incentivizing only the most insensitive and impervious personalities to choose to serve. That will lead to even further degradation of public discourse and an erosion of trust in institutions, which will make witch hunts and smear campaigns even more likely.

We’ve gotten to the point where we deserve Michael Avenatti. Basta, indeed.