American Principles Project and its president Terry Schilling are at the vanguard of the anti-trans movement, but mainstream coverage of the organization often sanitizes or disregards the group’s open bigotry. The most recent example of this was in Politico, which ran uncritical coverage of Schilling the same day APP released a belligerent, virulently anti-trans ad in Arizona. The commercial was based on misinformation designed to discourage provision of gender-affirming care.
Unfortunately, Politico’s story is illustrative of much of the coverage APP receives, and it doesn’t mark the first time the outlet has written a puff piece on the group. APP has also received write-ups in The New York Times that often focus on the group’s tactics and perceived efficacy, while deemphasizing its extremism, and The Washington Post editorial section published a piece Schilling co-wrote in the run-up to the Virginia gubernatorial election in 2021.
As is all too typical in mainstream outlets, Politico’s story, which is largely about trans people, doesn’t quote any openly trans people. The piece also ignores Schilling’s well-documented history of making bigoted comments about LGBTQ communities.
Politico instead focused on the strategy that APP and fellow conservative organization The 1776 Project have adopted in states throughout the country, pumping money into school board races and trying to juice turnout by pushing anti-LGBTQ policies. Covering that effort is, of course, reasonable and perhaps necessary. But by treating the well-being of trans children simply as an afterthought in a grand game of power politics, Politico is helping to launder APP into mainstream discourse and legitimize a group that is not only anti-trans, but also creates and distributes disinformation.
The recent Arizona ad, for instance, features Dr. Miriam Grossman, an anti-trans activist with a history of downplaying the number of trans people in the world. Grossman is a key voice in the anti-trans film What Is A Woman? from The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh and has falsely labeled gender-affirming care as experimental. She has also incorrectly claimed that suicidality statistics among trans people are inflated.
The ad also repeatedly shows top surgery scars as a scare tactic, though the procedure is safe and can be a lifesaving technique for trans people who need it. And, like any mark on the body, the results don’t carry any inherent aesthetic value; they are simply the after-effects of a surgical procedure that can be presented in an affirming way or can be demonized, as in the APP ad.
Politico’s story was published hours before the ad aired, so it likely couldn’t have included information about Grossman’s anti-trans history to contextualize her participation in it. Still, nothing in the commercial was a surprise, and even a cursory examination of Schilling’s media appearances reveals his open bigotry.
Schilling's right-wing media appearances
Just this month, Schilling appeared on failing conservative network One America News purportedly to discuss gender-affirming care that a Chicago hospital offered to children. He didn’t actually discuss that care, though. He denigrated trans children and their parents.
“I think what's happening is these parents are encouraging their children to reject who they actually are,” Schilling said. “They're encouraging them to reject their bodies, to reject their names, their God-given biological sex.”
“This is, there is nothing affirming about any of this transgender stuff,” he added. “It is a bodily and life rejection. It’s a step toward suicide.”
Schilling continued, arguing, incorrectly, that gender-affirming care is “never gonna solve the suicidalities or the self-harm rates,” before referring to the care itself as “self-harm.”
In fact, numerous peer-reviewed studies have found that access to gender-affirming care is associated with better mental health outcomes, including lower rates of self-harm, depression, and suicidality.
Schilling is also a frequent guest on Steve Bannon’s tech-impaired podcast. In April, he explained that his group’s goal is to use the coercive power of the state to make society more broadly hostile to trans people.
“Politics is part of the culture and it's the easiest part of our culture where we can have the most immediate wins and gains. When you change the law, you can affect the culture, and that's our whole strategy,” Schilling said.
In a separate appearance that same month, Schilling lamented the period that “started in the '50s and '60s when we started to get women out of the home, started to denigrate the housewife, started to denigrate wives in general and they made the economic conditions so terrible for the family that we don't even have kids anymore to protect.”
Schilling’s moronic history lesson aside, his comment speaks to a real desire in conservatism to restore more overtly patriarchal power structures both in the private home and in public space. Those hierarchies depend not only on clear gender roles and expectations, but also on rigid gender and sexuality binaries. When Schilling talks about “the family” as a social concept, the only acceptable family is one populated exclusively with heterosexual, cisgender identities -- a de facto eliminationist agenda.
The threat that Schilling and APP pose to families that don’t adhere to their narrow and bigoted definitions is not abstract. Just one month earlier, Schilling had appeared on Bannon’s show to celebrate an order from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott that could have been used to separate trans children from parents who support necessary and safe affirming care.
In that appearance, Schilling misled Bannon’s viewers about the impetus for the order, saying that right-wing activist and then-candidate for the Texas House of Representatives Jeff Younger lost custody of his child because he rejected her “sex transitions.” He actually lost custody for failing to pay child support. Schilling had previously claimed on Bannon’s show to have raised $750,000 to lobby Abbott to adopt the executive directive.
Bizarre comments about childhood sexuality
Schilling’s anti-trans activism extends beyond media appearances as well. He recently demonstrated outside Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., with “Billboard Chris” Elston, in a continuation of a loosely affiliated terror campaign that Elston and other anti-trans activists, have waged against trans youth health care providers.
Those efforts have yielded exactly the results that trans advocates warned about. On September 15, the FBI arrested Catherine Leavy on suspicion of calling in a fake bomb threat to the hospital. “There is a bomb on the way to the hospital,” Leavy is alleged to have said, according to NBC. “You better evacuate everybody, you sickos.”
Schilling and APP’s anti-LGBTQ actions go back years. In 2020, Facebook allowed APP to run ads attacking trans athletes, which were meant to hurt supportive Democratic politicians in the upcoming elections. (Facebook took the ads down after coming under pressure from Media Matters and LGBTQ advocacy organizations.)
Schilling also posted and deleted several anti-gay and anti-trans tweets in 2019 and 2020, including hypothetically talking to his children about “butt sex” and referring to gay communities as “sordid.”
In fact, children’s sexuality is a recurring theme for Schilling, a topic he speaks about in uncomfortable and uninformed ways. “These children that go through the puberty blockers and all that — they can never orgasm,” he said in an appearance on OAN. “They can never have sexual fulfillment. They can never have a family. They can never procreate.”
Despite his near-obsession with this topic, Schilling is profoundly ignorant about every aspect of gender affirmation, both surgical and nonsurgical. Setting aside his absurd claims about trans people not being able to have a family, he’s also wrong on the narrower point about the effects of gender-affirming care on long-term sexual health and fulfillment.
Bizarre comments about his own sex life
Schilling’s preoccupation with sex doesn’t end with trans children and teens, though. At a recent Turning Point USA conference, he described his and his wife’s sexual practices following the birth of their sixth child.
“Yes, they’re all ours. Yes, we know what causes it, and I’d say we’re pros at it by this point,” Schilling said. “Yes, we have a TV, but it’s been broken for a while now. No, they weren’t planned; they were all happy little accidents.”
“Yes, we do, in fact, know what birth control is, and we think it’s great stuff for people with ugly children,” he continued. “Finally, no, we aren’t done, unless God decides that we’re done.”
Remarks like that at a political conference would be uncomfortable under the best of circumstances. Given Schilling’s fixation on other people’s sexual and gender identities, and the fact that earlier this year TPUSA held a conference where one speaker told the primarily high school- and college-aged girls in attendance to have “more babies,” his comments fall somewhere between mortifying and creepy.
The creepiness doesn’t end there, either. Politico, to its credit, noted that APP has paid Logan Circle Group for political advertising, the same marketing firm that Matt Gaetz used to threaten to sue journalists who reported on allegations that he’d paid a 17-year-old girl for sex.
But the outlet didn’t include the bottom-line number — that APP has paid Logan Circle more than $500,000 just in the 2021-2022 campaign cycle, according to FEC filings. And it’s worth underscoring here that where APP purports to be acting on behalf of children, its primary — if not exclusive — marketing company has worked on behalf of a member of Congress credibly accused of, at the very least, having sex with an underage girl.