“Renate Alumnius,” “Devil’s Triangle,” and “boofing,” explained.
To Senate Republicans, the job of the FBI investigation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is simple: either to prove that he sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford or harassed Deborah Ramirez (as a high-schooler and college student, respectively), or to clear the way for his confirmation later this week.
But to Democrats and much of the public the question has become: is Brett Kavanaugh lying — and did he lie to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday — about the sort of person he says he was?
Kavanaugh’s denial of the allegations against him has rested on the claim that he is not the kind of person who would ever have done such things. He maintains that he couldn’t have assaulted Ford when he was too drunk to remember it afterward, because he’s never been “blackout” drunk. He maintains that he couldn’t have gone to the summer 1982 party at which Ford says he assaulted her because he was out of town most weekends that summer, and he was too focused on work and basketball to go out drinking on a weeknight.
Obviously, no one is nominating 17-year-old Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. But the defense that Kavanaugh is making isn’t just that he did some regrettable things and now regrets them, but that he didn’t engage in any serious misbehavior — nothing beyond a few “things that make (him) cringe” today, as his opening statement for Thursday’s hearing said.
Kavanaugh’s depiction of himself is hard to square with the image he presented at the time — an image that’s been memorialized in his senior yearbook.
“Our yearbook was a disaster,” Kavanaugh said during Thursday’s hearing. “I think some editors and students wanted the yearbook to be some combination of Animal House, Caddy Shack and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which were all recent movies at that time. Many of us went along in the yearbook to the point of absurdity. This past week, my friends and I have cringed when we read about it and talked to each other.”
But when questioned by Democrats about specific items in the yearbook that appeared to allude to drinking and/or sex, Kavanaugh reverted to denying any misconduct — with harangues about his focus on academics and service in high school, or specific explanations that seemed implausible, at best.
To Kavanaugh’s defenders, asking about his yearbook is a new low for Supreme Court confirmation hearings; the implication is that in such a demeaning situation, it’s understandable for Kavanaugh to lie a little bit. To his critics, Kavanaugh disqualified himself from the Supreme Court by lying to Congress — showing disrespect for either the oath, or the Senators questioning him — regardless of what happened to Christine Blasey Ford.
Here’s the text of the yearbook entry, in full (with some names redacted). Annotations on particularly noteworthy elements are below.
Varsity Football 3, 4; J. V. Football 2; Freshman Football 1; Varsity Basketball 3, 4 (Captain); Frosh Basketball (Captain); J. V. Basketball (Captain); Varsity Spring Track 3; Little Hoya 3, 4*** Landon Rocks and Bowling Alley Assault — What a Night; Georgetown vs. Louisville — Who Won That Game Anyway?; Extinguisher; Summer of ‘82 — Total Spins (Rehobeth 10, 9…); Orioles vs. Red Sox — Who Won, Anyway?; Keg City Club (Treasurer) — 100 Kegs or Bust; [redacted] — I Survived the FFFFFFFourth of July; Renate Alumnius; Malibu Fan Club; Ow, Neatness 2, 3; Devil’s Triangle; Down Geezer, Easy, Spike, How ya’ doin’, Errr Ah; Rehobeth Police Fan Club (with Shorty); St. Michael’s…This is a Whack; [redacted] Fan Club; Judge — Have You Boofed Yet?; Beach Week Ralph Club — Biggest Contributor; [redacted] — Tainted Whack; [redacted]; Beach Week 3-107th Street; Those Prep Guys are the Biggest…; GONZAGA YOU’RE LUCKY.
“Varsity Football 3, 4; J. V. Football 2; Freshman Football 1; Varsity Basketball 3, 4 (Captain); Frosh Basketball (Captain); J. V. Basketball (Captain); Varsity Spring Track 3; Little Hoya 3, 4”
This is the straightforward part of the yearbook entry: listing Kavanaugh’s extracurriculars and the years he was involved with them (the numbers 1-4 refer to freshman through senior years). Kavanaugh was a jock, playing football and basketball (where he was team captain) for all four years at Georgetown Prep, as well as adding track in spring of his junior year. His only non-athletic extracurricular activity was the school paper, Little Hoya, which he joined for his junior and senior years.
“Georgetown vs. Louisville — Who Won That Game, Anyway?” and “Orioles vs. Red Sox — Who Won, Anyway?”
There are two yearbook references to sports games — one college, one pro — that at least one attendee didn’t know or couldn’t remember the result of. Are these jokes about being blackout drunk? Hard to say for sure, of course, but given the reference to alcohol consumption in the yearbook and accounts of the school’s party culture by people who were there, it’s certainly a possibility.
Whether Kavanaugh ever got that drunk at Georgetown Prep is a key question in judging Ford’s allegations — it raises the possibility that Kavanaugh, whom Ford described as “stumbling drunk” during the alleged incident, might have committed the assault but been too drunk to remember it after.
But Kavanaugh swore to the Senate Judiciary Committee that not only was it impossible that he attended a party with Ford in which he blacked out from drinking, he’s never been that drunk in his life. “I’ve never blacked out,” he told the committee. He answered “no” to a series of questions from guest prosecutor Rachel Mitchell about whether he’d ever, for example, been told about something he did while drunk that he hadn’t remembered or woken up without knowing how he got there. (Mitchell quickly sidelined soon afterward.) And when asked by Senator Amy Klobuchar if he’d ever drank so much that he’d been unable to remember things, he retorted, “I don’t know. Have you?” (Kavanaugh apologized to Klobuchar later in the hearing.)
This is at odds with the accounts of some contemporaries — particularly some of Kavanaugh’s Yale classmates. James Roche, Kavanaugh’s freshman roommate, told the New Yorker that he remembers Kavanaugh “frequently drinking excessively and becoming incoherently drunk.” Another college classmate, who’s now a doctor, told the Washington Post that “there’s no medical way I can say that he was blacked out. … But it’s not credible for him to say that he has had no memory lapses in the nights that he drank to excess.”
Kavanaugh’s closest high school friend, Mark Judge, has said he got blackout drunk frequently while at Georgetown Prep. He wrote an entire memoir about his own drinking during that time, which features episodes in which Judge doesn’t remember what he’s done.
Of course, Judge’s behavior doesn’t necessarily imply anything about Kavanaugh. One ex-girlfriend of Kavanaugh’s told the Associated Press that Kavanaugh “hung around with a group of guys that were maybe a little bit crazier than he was. He was one of the more responsible ones in the group.”
The “alcohol-soaked culture” of Georgetown Prep, and particularly Kavanaugh’s crowd, does not appear to be in dispute, however.
“Summer of ‘82 — Total Spins (Rehobeth 10, 9…)”
This entry is of note if only because the question of Kavanaugh’s behavior during the “Summer of ‘82” is one Kavanaugh himself has already tried to answer.
Christine Blasey Ford believes that Kavanaugh assaulted her at some point during that summer, though she doesn’t remember the date. On Wednesday, in an attempt to rebut this, Kavanaugh produced calendar pages from May, June, July, and August 1982 — showing a mix of organized activities like basketball camp, “grounded” weekends, and social events (including an entry to “Go to Timmy’s for skis” — more likely a reference to brewskis than hitting the slopes of Maryland in July).
Nothing in the calendar pages is an obvious reference to the party at which Ford claims Kavanaugh assaulted her. But nothing in them is an obvious reference to “spins,” either.
Some Kavanaugh critics have pointed to a specific gathering on July 1st as a close match to Ford’s description of a party. But the yearbook reference is a reminder that not everything that happened that summer was necessarily written down.
“Keg City Club (Treasurer) — 100 Kegs Or Bust”
This is the only explicit reference to alcohol in the yearbook blurb. But it’s a doozy.
In his memoir, Mark Judge talks about a group effort to drink 100 kegs of beer during their senior year of high school — in other words, a “100 Kegs Or Bust” campaign. Here’s how Judge discusses it (hat tip to Steven Portnoy for finding this passage):
It was Sunday morning, and the night before we had polished off keg number sixty-two. For the past four months, we had thrown parties every weekend as well as after school, and had even snuck a keg into the parking lot during the basketball game. We were going to be graduating in May, and now that football was over, we had one objective: 100 kegs. The football team had gone five and four, but, more important, we had emptied more than sixty kegs, bringing us within sight of the magic number.
Kavanaugh acknowledged to the Senate Judiciary Committee that he drank in high school — even, sometimes, to excess. But crucially, he characterized it as legal drinking.
My friends and I sometimes got together and had parties on weekends. The drinking age was 18 in Maryland for most of my time in high school, and was 18 in D.C. for all of my time in high school. I drank beer with my friends. Almost everyone did. Sometimes I had too many beers. Sometimes others did.
Kavanaugh’s longtime friend Scott McCaleb told the Associated Press something similar: According to the AP, McCaleb “hung out with Kavanaugh ‘weekend after weekend’ when they were teens. He didn’t characterize the youthful alcohol consumption as anything out of the ordinary, noting the drinking age was 18 at the time.”
Here’s the problem: Any drinking Kavanaugh himself engaged in as a Georgetown Prep student in Maryland — which is to say, at his house or any of his friends’ houses — would have been underage drinking.
In 1982, the year before Kavanaugh turned 18, Maryland raised the drinking age from 18 to 21. Kavanaugh’s friend Mark Judge might have been exempt, as the law allowed Marylanders who turned 18 before July 1982 to drink legally. (Judge was born in 1964, though the date of his birth isn’t publicly known.) Kavanaugh, who wouldn’t turn 18 until February 1983, was not.
Kavanaugh didn’t explicitly say that he himself was drinking legally. But that’s the implication of his bringing up the legal drinking age — after all, the fact that other people were drinking legally isn’t relevant to the allegations against Kavanaugh.
So the misdirection regarding the drinking age raises questions about whether Kavanaugh is also underselling the extent of his drinking, by characterizing it as limited and moderate. Presumably one doesn’t become treasurer of the Keg City Club without consuming some large share of the 100 kegs.
Thanks to a New York Times article, the American public now knows that this is a reference to Renate Schroeder (now Renate Schroeder Dolphin) — a high school acquaintance of Kavanaugh’s who went to a Catholic girls’ school in the area, and who was one of the 65 women who signed a letter earlier this month attesting that Kavanaugh “behaved honorably and treated women with respect” during his high school years.
Kavanaugh was one of 14 Georgetown Prep students whose yearbook entries made some reference to Renate. (Another student’s yearbook page featured a short poem: “You need a date / And it’s getting late / So don’t hesitate / To call Renate.”) There’s even a picture of “Renate Alumni” in the yearbook, featuring nine football players — including Kavanaugh.
Dolphin appears not to have known about the yearbook in-joke until recently — and when she found out, she was so upset that she withdrew her endorsement of the sign-on letter.
“I don’t know what ‘Renate Alumnus’ actually means,” Dolphin told the Times. “I can’t begin to comprehend what goes through the minds of 17-year-old boys who write such things, but the insinuation is horrible, hurtful and simply untrue. I pray their daughters are never treated this way.”
The “insinuation” in question is spelled out by two classmates of Kavanaugh’s, who told the Times the yearbook jokes were a form of bragging about sexual “conquest.”
Kavanaugh disputes that characterization. “That yearbook reference was clumsily intended to show affection, and that she was one of us,” he said Thursday. “But in this circus, the media’s interpreted the term is related to sex.”
Kavanaugh told MacCallum that he remained a virgin “well into college.” That doesn’t directly rebut Ford’s allegations — the only ones ostensibly under discussion Thursday. But it does speak to his efforts to portray himself as the opposite of the boorish partier depicted in both Ramirez’s and Ford’s accounts.
Let’s take Kavanaugh at his word. That means that he and 13 of his classmates all made jokes in a yearbook — complete with a group photo — about having gone on dates with a particular girl. And the girl wasn’t in on the “joke.”
Kavanaugh apologized to Dolphin (though not by name) on Thursday: “I’m so sorry to her for that yearbook reference. This may sound a bit trivial, given all that we are here for, but one thing I want to try to make sure — sure of in the future is my friendship with her. She was and is a great person.” But if the yearbook entry was intended solely to show affection, what, exactly, was Kavanaugh apologizing for?
While Kavanaugh spent most of the hearing attempting to minimize his involvement with drinking, he volunteered an explanation that he put a reference to a drinking fame in his yearbook when asked by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) about the term “Devil’s triangle.”
WHITEHOUSE: Devil’s triangle?
KAVANAUGH: Drinking game.
WHITEHOUSE: How’s it played?
KAVANAUGH: Three glasses in a triangle.
KAVANAUGH: You ever played quarters?
WHITEHOUSE: No (ph).
KAVANAUGH: OK. It’s a quarters game.
Here’s the problem. No one else appears to have heard “Devil’s Triangle” used to describe a drinking game, or heard of a game that fits that description.
Meanwhile, many people have heard the term used to refer to a sexual position involving two men and one woman.
Even if it is what Kavanaugh meant, it doesn’t mean he lied to MacCallum about his virginity — a classmate of Kavanaugh’s told the New York Times that Kavanaugh’s crowd was full of sexual “braggadocio,” and it seems totally plausible that Kavanaugh would sneak in a reference to something he hadn’t experienced yet.
But in a pre-hearing interview conducted by Senate Judiciary Committee staffers, Kavanaugh responded to Julie Swetnick’s allegations that he had participated in gang rape with an oddly specific denial:
I’ve never participated in sexual activity with more than one woman present and me. I think — yeah. Just making sure I accurately described that. In other words, I’ve never had a threesome or more than a threesome.
A threesome isn’t just “sexual activity with more than one woman present,” despite Kavanaugh’s “in other words” elision of the two (and, for the record, “more than one woman present” doesn’t describe Swetnick’s allegation either). And a Devil’s Triangle, specifically, is a threesome that wouldn’t fit Kavanaugh’s definition.
As weird as it seems, the debate over Kavanaugh’s fitness for the Supreme Court may rest in part on whether he was an insecure late bloomer who bragged about exploits he didn’t actually have, or whether he was sincere then and is now lying to cover up sexual activity — including, perhaps, the nonconsensual kind.
“(Rehobeth 10, 9…),” Rehobeth Police Fan Club,” “Beach Week Ralph Club—Biggest Contributor,” and “Beach Week 3-107th Street”
“Rehobeth” is likely a reference to (and misspelling of) Rehoboth, a Delaware beach that’s a popular getaway destination for people in the DC metro area. That would be consistent with the two references to “Beach Week,” which the Washington Post describes as an annual Maryland prep school excursion to Delaware:
Every summer, the “Holton girls” would pack into a rented house for Beach Week, an annual bacchanal of high-schoolers from around the region. The prep schools that formed Ford’s overlapping social circles usually gathered at a Delaware beach town each year. Kavanaugh, in his senior-year yearbook, cited his own membership in the “Beach Week Ralph Club.”
Like Kavanaugh, Ford was part of that alcohol-fueled culture. But those unchaperoned parties, at beach rentals and Bethesda basements alike, frequently left the girls feeling embattled.
Again, Kavanaugh is spending a lot of yearbook space making references to environments that were notable for being alcohol-soaked. It’s possible that he personally didn’t witness any underage drinking — if, that is, Kavanaugh himself didn’t drink.
But that raises questions about the “Beach Week Ralph Club,” which Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) did on Thursday:
WHITEHOUSE: Let’s look at, “Beach Week Ralph Club — Biggest Contributor,” what does the word Ralph mean in that?
KAVANAUGH: That probably refers to throwing up. I’m known to have a weak stomach and I always have. In fact, the last time I was here, you asked me about having ketchup on spaghetti. I always have had a weak stomach. … this is well-known. Anyone who’s known me, like a lot of these people behind me — known me my whole life — know, you know. I got a weak stomach, whether it’s with beer or with spicy food or anything.
Unlike his explanations of other yearbook entries, Kavanaugh didn’t explicitly deny that he joined the “Ralph Club” by drinking to the point of vomiting. And when pressed about it, he refused to answer the question:
WHITEHOUSE: Did it relate to alcohol? You haven’t answered that.
KAVANAUGH: I like beer. I like beer. I don’t know if you do…
KAVANAUGH: … do you like beer, Senator, or not?
WHITEHOUSE: Um, next…
KAVANAUGH: What do you like to drink?
WHITEHOUSE: Next one is…
KAVANAUGH: Senator, what do you like to drink?
“Judge — Have You Boofed Yet?”
“Judge” is clearly Mark Judge. Even if this weren’t obvious given that the two were close friends, Mark Judge’s yearbook entry asks a parallel question: “Bart — Have You Boofed Yet?” (Judge’s reference to “Bart” is especially interesting as there is a character in Judge’s memoir named “Bart O’Kavanaugh,” who is mentioned once, in passing, for getting drunk and throwing up in a car.)
But what really needs explaining here is the meaning of “boofed.” There, I am afraid, I cannot help you.
Brett Kavanaugh, on Thursday, told Sen. Whitehouse, “that refers to flatulence. We were 16.” But like “devil’s triangle,” that’s a definition that no one else Kavanaugh’s age seems to be familiar with. “Boof” was slang in circulation at the time, but it meant something else.
Some people, such as Jia Tolentino of the New Yorker, seem to see “boof” as a clear reference to the practice of ingesting alcohol or drugs anally. (That’s definitely the top definition for the term on Urban Dictionary.) But Urban Dictionary is a repository of slang from the 2000s and 2010s — it’s not generally known for its ability to capture how a term might have been used by its users’ parents when they were high school students.
People closer to Kavanaugh’s age often define the term slightly differently: as a reference to anal sex. As one Daily Kos blogger who claims to be of Kavanaugh’s generation wrote:
I was a teenager in the 80’s, and “boof” was a little bit of slang we tossed around, thinking ourselves funny. I think “bufu” was also in somewhat common use. I don’t know what “boof” meant in Brett Kavanaugh and Mark Judge’s world, but I recall it to mean the act of having sex with someone in the “back door”, as we would have said.
Kavanaugh may very well be lying. If so, it’s a dumb and trivial lie. To his defenders, that’s the point: it has no bearing on whether or not he assaulted Christine Blasey Ford, and it doesn’t undermine his jurisprudence. To some of his critics, lying to a Senate committee in sworn testimony would itself be disqualifying. To others, lying about something so tame and trivial makes it harder to believe Kavanaugh’s categorical denials that he never did anything that would, years later, be understood as sexual assault.