Sealed memos fought over in federal court last week show authorities have known for years that claims about Backpage were bogus.
By Elizabeth Nolan Brown | 26 August 2019
REASON — For nearly a decade, Backpage has been demonized by politicians, denounced in legislatures, and dramatically mischaracterized by the press, Hollywood, and well-funded activist groups. As early as 2010, top prosecutors from 21 states claimed the classified-ad platform was “exploiting women and children.” In 2012 Washington state passed the first (but not last) law aimed specifically at toppling Backpage, and by 2015 U.S. senators were investigating the company.
Though the Department of Justice shut down Backpage.com in 2018, it still activates strong scorn in some corners. (“They were selling children,” the California senator and Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris said in March.) Several founders and former executives of the company—arrested last year on federal charges of conspiracy, facilitating prostitution, and money laundering—are now awaiting a 2020 trial, as they try to fend off prosecutors eager to seize their assets and disqualify their lawyers.
“For far too long, Backpage.com existed as…a place where sex traffickers frequently advertised children and adults alike,” said then–Attorney General Jeff Sessions upon their April 2018 arrest. U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Strange alleged that Backpage made “hundreds of millions” by “placing profits over the well-being and safety” of victims.