Before Senator and former California Attorney General Kamala Harris was chosen as Joe Biden's running mate in the 2020 election, she played a role in a campaign to force a website called Backpage.com to stop operating on the grounds that it was used to facilitate sex trafficking.
"Backpage.com needs to shut itself down, when it has created as its business model the profiting off of selling human beings and the purchase of human beings," Harris said at a 2012 press conference.
She would go on to spread misinformation about the site and its co-founders, Michael Lacey and James Larkin, and she co-filed criminal charges that were quickly dismissed but succeeded at garnering headlines and photo ops that raised her political profile. In reality, Backpage.com had become a powerful tool for law enforcement to help catch sex traffickers because of the cooperation and commitment of the site's founders to that cause, whom Harris and many other states' attorneys general had painted as villains.
Reason's Elizabeth Nolan-Brown revealed secret Justice Department memos showing prosecutors spent years trying to build a child sex trafficking case against Backpage but failed "to uncover compelling evidence of criminal intent or a pattern of reckless conduct regarding minors." Instead, Justice Department officials found Backpage was "remarkably responsive" to law enforcement requests and proactively sent ads containing minors to authorities
The memos revealed a story that didn't match the characterization that Harris and other politicians, attorneys general, and activists had been pushing for years.
This is an excerpt from a longer documentary, available here.
Produced by Paul Detrick.
Sen. Kamala Harris at podium and microphone: CARLOS BARRIA/REUTERS/Newscom; Harris campaigning: Howard Lipin/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Harris walking: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Newscom; Lacey and Larkin in the courtroom: Hector Amezcua/TNS/Newscom; Harris on election night: ARMANDO ARORIZO/EFE/Newscom; Backpage screen: ZUMA Press/Newscom; Photos of Sacramento courtroom: Hector Amezcua/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Harris: Hector Amezcua/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Harris in the elevator: Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS/Newscom; Harris at the podium: MARIO ANZUONI/REUTERS/Newscom; Harris; Credit: Jeff Malet Photography/Newscom