Right-wing media are pushing for vigilantism against trans people and drag queens. Fascists are answering the call.
The right’s attacks – both physical and rhetorical – on trans people and drag queens are designed to terrify the LGBTQ community and encourage future pogroms
Over the last several months, the right-wing media has raised its anti-trans rhetoric to new heights, often calling for direct action against trans and gender-nonconforming individuals, communities, and those standing in solidarity with them. Consumers of this media have heard the call. Fascist street gangs have disrupted Pride events, and far-right figures have engaged in targeted harassment, intimidation, and threats against trans people, drag shows, and other LGBTQ events with increasing frequency in recent years. Incidents of anti-LGBTQ demonstrations and violence rose from 15 events in 2020 to 61 in 2021, according to data collected by Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project. There have already been 33 incidents in 2022, putting it on track to be even worse than last year.
As legacy media helped to mainstream transphobia – typically by dismissing it as part of the “culture wars” or “identity politics” – the far-right has grown increasingly confident in its freedom to issue open threats and implicit calls to action against LGBTQ communities. The result is a vicious cycle of escalation in which right-wing media figures attempt to outdo one another in their eliminationist rhetoric.
With each new call to action, the risks to trans people and LGBTQ communities increase. The New Republic’s Melissa Gira Grant has warned that the right is creating the conditions for a possible “Pizzagate in every city,” referencing the attack on Comet Ping Pong in 2016 after right-wing conspiracy theorists accused the Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant of being at the center of a pedophile ring. In some cases, the right-wing media’s call to action is specific, and fascist gangs descend on the events in a seemingly direct, causal chain of events. But other times the rhetoric from the right is more generalized, designed not to target a specific person or place, but an entire community. Either way, the result is the same: Trans people are put at an increased risk of physical violence and intimidation, which is the exact intention of this bigoted rhetoric.
Right-wing media increasingly calls for direct action against LGBTQ people
Fox News’ biggest star, Tucker Carlson, is the standard bearer for conservative media. He sets the agenda with his monologues and amplifies fringe voices to open up space for more extreme views – including calls to confront LGBTQ people and their allies.
In March, Carlson interviewed virulently anti-trans right-wing pundit Matt Walsh of The Daily Wire. The Fox host stated that teachers who discuss “gender identity” with students “should be beaten up.”
Then in April, Carlson spoke with Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance, where both pushed the false narrative that teachers – especially those who are gay, trans, or both – are “groomers” who are a threat to children, and therefore deserve to be attacked.
“I don't understand where the men are. Like where are the dads?” Carlson asked. “You know, some teacher's pushing sex values on your third grader why don't you go in and thrash the teacher?”
In February, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) fantasized about enacting vigilante violence against trans people in an interview with far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. If her child had a trans camp counselor, she said, her “husband would’ve beat” the counselor “into the ground,” adding, “This is exactly how we need to stand up against this stuff.”
Greene later appeared again on Jones’ show to deny she’d advocated for violence, while simultaneously saying she’d spoken with her husband so she could “double down” on her initial threat.
Greene’s language would soon be echoed by Charlie Kirk, the co-founder of Turning Point USA, which held a Young Women’s Leadership Summit in early June. Kirk addressed the crowd about Lia Thomas – a trans woman swimmer who he referred to as “it” – culminating in a call to confront trans athletes more broadly.
“Where are the men actually standing up against these men who think they’re women that are trying to compete in these female sports?” Kirk asked the crowd, adding that they “shouldn’t put up with it any more.”
In March, Kirk accused Thomas of “terrorizing” women, and issued a “challenge for every man across America” to physically “intervene” to prevent trans student-athletes from competing.
“You need to show up to the sporting event and be like this is not happening actually,” he said.
Kirk’s colleague Drew Hernandez hosts Turning Point’s daily show Frontlines and has spent Pride Month harassing and demonizing LGBTQ people over “grooming” smears, including making at least one explicit call to action.
“It absolutely is disgusting, and you just should not sit there and put up with this,” he said.
Right-wing media’s anti-LGBTQ campaign escalates from pushing “grooming” smears to identifying specific targets
One of the single largest drivers of anti-LGBTQ harassment and implicit calls to action this year has been the far-right Twitter account “Libs of TikTok,” run by Chaya Raichik. Over the course of Pride Month, Raichik has posted about several events that were later disrupted by individuals or fascist gangs. In one case, she amplified the protest of a drag brunch in Dallas, organized by self-described “Christian fascist” Kelly Neidert. Other far-right extremists joined Neidert to harass and intimidate drag performers, calling them “groomers.” (Neidert was suspended from Twitter on June 20, after suggesting that people who participate in Pride Month events should be “rounded up.”)
The disruption was covered widely in right-wing media. Conservative outlet PJ Media, adopted Kirk’s framework, celebrating “real men” – that is, the “brave protestors [who] showed up to stand up for the children and decry what was being done to them.”
Beyond Dallas, at least two Pride events singled out by Raichik were targeted by fascist street gangs. Proud Boys threatened drag performer Panda Dulce in San Lorenzo, in the San Francisco Bay area, and members of neo-fascist group Patriot Front were intercepted by police en route to riot at a Pride event in Idaho. Raichik then appeared to celebrate one of the disruptions she’d called for. Libs of TikTok also appears to have inspired a neo-Nazi gang in the northeast to target certain people, including harassing a professor following one of Raichik’s posts.
Twitter reportedly contemplated banning Raichik’s account, but the company has so far refused to take permanent action against it. “I don’t get how this account, which exists solely to generate targeted violence at marginalized people, continues to be allowed to post,” a Twitter employee allegedly wrote in an internal chat.
Other figures on the right have become increasingly comfortable with calls for direct action as well. Publisher and editor of far-right site American Greatness Chris Buskirk referred to the Dallas drag performers as “evil people” in an interview with former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka. Buskirk then issued his own call to action.
“As people who just support basic decency, and treating kids right, there is almost nothing that can be done that is over the line to stop this,” he said.
The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh recently released an anti-trans film called What Is A Woman? and has become one of the most vocal anti-LGBTQ bigots in the right-wing media ecosystem, including praising the targeted harassment of the drag performers in Dallas.
“One bright spot in the story is the protesters outside confronting and shaming the groomers,” he said. “We need a lot more of that.”
Walsh’s rhetoric is explicitly eliminationist, and his preferred policies would result in a total prohibition of trans identity and the criminalization of gender-affirming care. In the immediate aftermath of the Dallas drag brunch confrontation, he approvingly quoted a tweet that read, “It should be illegal for anyone of any age to transition. Period.” Walsh added, “Yes. Put another way: it should be illegal for doctors to do this to anyone of any age.”
Calls for state violence against trans people
Walsh’s demands for criminalization of care for trans people and other carceral interventions are becoming increasingly common on the right, as are even more horrific demands for state violence against LGBTQ communities. Conservative media figures and politicians have proposed that family-friendly drag events be banned, while others say parents who take their kids to them should be investigated or even lose their parental rights altogether.
“It’s disgusting. There was a time in this country of just a little more decency, where if someone voiced the idea of taking your kid to a drag show they would be arrested,” Jimmy Failla said on Fox News, responding to the Dallas brunch.
The Daily Wire’s Candace Owen made the same argument. Parents of trans kids, and parents who attend family-friendly drag events, “should have their children taken away from them because it's child abuse,” she said.
Other figures on the right have voiced extreme calls for state violence. Mississippi Republican Robert Foster tweeted that trans people and allies to be “lined up against [a] wall before a firing squad and sent to an early judgment.”
Foster then doubled down on his comments in a statement to the Mississippi Free Press.
“The law should be changed so that anyone trying to sexually groom children and/or advocating to put men pretending to be women in locker rooms and bathrooms with young women should receive the death penalty by firing squad.”
Foster isn’t alone in his sadistic fantasies. Christian nationalist pastor and candidate for Congress in South Carolina Mark Burns called for parents of trans children and their adult allies in schools to be arrested for “abuse” for “LGBTQ indoctrination.” He went on to argue that trans children are a “national security threat” that will “destabilize” the United States, and the adults who support them should be “held accountable for treason.” He added that he wanted to “start executing people who are found guilty for their treasonous acts.”
In north Texas, Pastor Dillon Awes also called for mass executions of LGBTQ people. “These people should be put to death. Every single homosexual in our country should be charged with a crime,” Awes said in a sermon before his congregation. “They should be sentenced with death. They should be lined up against the wall and shot in the back of the head.”
The right’s anti-LGBTQ rhetoric manifests as violence and intimidation across the country
In the last few months alone there have been innumerable anti-LGBTQ confrontations and threats in addition to Dallas, San Lorenzo, and Idaho.
- In Arlington, Texas, Neidert led a protest against an adults-only drag brunch. One anti-LGBTQ activist present said they were there to “protect kids,” despite no children being present, clearly revealing that they oppose the mere existence of gay and trans people.
- Organizers of a drag show in Jasper, Indiana, were forced to cancel their event over safety concerns after Libs of TikTok posted about it. The account then celebrated the cancellation.
- In Atlanta, a youth justice group was forced to cancel their rally in support of trans-rights after an organizer received a specific “vulgar death threat,” according to NBC News.
- A Kalama, Washington, school was put on lockdown after an anti-trans student threatened a mass shooting, following a broad student walk-out in support of a trans classmate who had been assaulted.
- Vandals graffitied “pervs work here” on an elementary school in Ventura County, California, following a local right-wing paper’s story about a third-grade teacher who affirmed a trans student’s name and pronouns.
- In the lead up to Pride Month, anti-LBGTQ activist Ethan Schmidt-Crockett vowed to “hunt” gay and trans people and their allies at Target and elsewhere, following the store’s decision to celebrate Pride. He made the same threat the month before. In June, he attended the counterprotest of a pro-gun control “March for Our Lives” demonstration carrying an AR-15-style rifle.
- In Kiel, Wisconsin, schools were forced to shut down and go virtual after bomb threats in response to the district’s investigation of anti-trans harassment by three students.
Media Matters and others who research the right have warned for years that anti-LGBTQ rhetoric increases the risk of physical violence, threats, and intimidation toward those communities. The right-wing media figures who are issuing these calls know that: They are deliberately seeking to provoke these reactions, emboldening fascist street gangs, and making future acts of violence more likely.