Turning Point USA Founder and President Charlie Kirk, left, with Adam Hageman, then a Turning Point USA campus event coordinator, at the group's 2017 Student Action Summit.
(Uncredited photo via TPUSA - SIUE)
A former Commerce Department official in the Trump administration was sentenced to a five-and-a-half year prison term after pleading guilty to possession of child pornography, federal prosecutors announced last week in a court filing. Under the terms of his plea deal, Adam Hageman was also sentenced to five years of parole after release and a mandatory requirement to register as a sex offender.
Hageman was arrested in November of 2020 after he was found to be a member of an online group chat dedicated to sharing images of child sexual abuse.
The site’s name on which the discussions allegedly took place has not been publicly disclosed, but according to an affidavit filed by prosecutors, Hageman shared with members at least one video of a child being molested, claimed to have sexually abused a child as young as 15, and indicated that he wanted to sexually assault children between the ages of 12 and 16 years old. Prosecutors asserted that they found “dozens” of child sexual abuse videos on Hageman’s phone after federal authorities executed a search warrant against him.
According to court documents, Hageman also requested that the members of the group find “a dad with a young kid he will rent out to us.”
Before working for the Commerce Department, Hageman lived in Arizona and worked at Turning Point USA, a Christian supremacist organization which markets far-right political views to high school students. He appears to have established a connection with the group while a student at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
Though not stated by federal officials, the evidence suggests that Hageman, who was working as a political appointee in an event management role for the Commerce Department at the time of his arrest, was in the same group with a Republican political operative, Ruben Verastigui, who was sentenced in April to 12 years in prison following a guilty plea. Politico first reported the possible connection.
In separate court filings, prosecutors stated that their investigations of both Hageman and Verastigui began around June 12, 2020. Both men were said to be in a group with “at least 18 members” and Homeland Security special agent Raymond Abruzzese was an investigator in both cases. Both men also lived in Arizona, where officials said each investigation began.
According to Verastigui’s guilty plea, he asked group members for videos of babies being raped, saying that they were his “absolute favorite” and rejoiced when a clip was sent in reply.
Verastigui worked for various congressional Republican committee groups from 2018 until 2020, Politico reported. He served at the Republican National Committee from 2017 to 2018, the website reported.
Both Verastigui and Hageman had access to a number of prominent Republicans. On Instagram, Verastigui repeatedly posted photos of himself at the White House and the U.S. Capitol. Hageman was also pictured at the White House and alongside right-wing celebrities including Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), in 2020 when Cawthorn was a candidate, and former senior Trump White House official Sebastian Gorka. Hageman also posted a photo of himself with Turning Point USA co-founder Charlie Kirk.
Spreading wild and unfounded allegations of pedophilia and “grooming” behavior has become a prominent feature of Republican politics as Christian extremist groups have sought to roll back advancements in LGBTQ rights. The tactic has been embraced by the fringe QAnon movement, a conspiracy culture that has been connected to multiple acts of violence, including the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Former president Donald Trump is the central hero to QAnon adherents, who spread false theories about global child abuse rings.
Kirk has been among the many far-right figures who have promoted false pedophilia stories, particularly against doctors and teachers. "If they want us to stop calling them 'groomers' and 'pedophiles' maybe they should stop being groomers and pedophiles…just a thought," he wrote in a May Twitter post.
TYT National Correspondent Matthew Sheffield is a writer and analyst who focuses on right-wing extremism. You can find him on Twitter @MattSheffield.