Some right-wing media figures and influencers have doubled down on using inflammatory rhetoric against the LGBTQ community in the wake of Saturday night’s shooting at a Colorado gay club that killed five people.
The rhetoric reflects what LGBTQ advocates have been warning about for months, especially false claims that children are being sexualized or “groomed” by LGBTQ people and events. The motive of the Colorado shooter is unknown, but the prime suspect, Anderson Lee Aldrich, faces five counts of first-degree murder and five counts of bodily harm causing hate crimes, more commonly known as hate crimes. Aldrich’s first court appearance is scheduled for Wednesday.
On Monday night, Fox News host Tucker Carlson condemned the shooting, focusing on the suspect’s reported history of making a bomb threat in 2021. Three minutes into his nearly 15-minute monologue, however, Carlson’s show showed a graphic reading “STOP THE SEXUALIZATION OF CHILDREN.” On Tuesday night, Carlson hosted a guest who said the shootings would continue to occur “until we end this evil agenda targeting children.”
Alejandra Caraballo, a clinical instructor at Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic, said repetitive messages from Carlson and others have opened the door to violence against LGBTQ people.
“The way they soften support for this type of violence is essentially by making it seem morally justified in the minds of the people who believe this,” Caraballo said. “The way they do this is by constantly painting LGBT people as pedophiles and hairdressers, and so people feel morally justified in carrying out this violence.”
Some closely followed social media accounts that have routinely and misleadingly associated LGBTQ people with the sexualization of children have continued to do so in recent days.
Tim Pool, a conservative internet personality with 1.4 million Twitter followers, pointed to the location, Club Q, where the shooting occurred.
“We should not tolerate pedophiles harassing children,” Pool tweeted. “Club Q had a grooming event. How to prevent violence and stop grooming? Pool seemed to be referring to the all-ages Sunday brunches being hosted at the venue.
Ari Drennen, the director of the LGBTQ program at Media Matters, a progressive watchdog organization, called Pool’s tweet untrue and “insanely dangerous and irresponsible to say.” Drennen, who tracks media narratives about LGBTQ people, said he didn’t even in his “worst nightmare scenario” predict responses to the Colorado mass shooting.
“A lot of these folks seem to have crossed into territory where they feel very comfortable advocating for people to take matters into their own hands,” Drennen said.
Libs of TikTok, a prominent conservative social media brand created by Chaya Raichik that has 1.5 million followers on Twitter and focuses on the LGBTQ community, proceeded with business as usual on the platform on Sunday and Monday, reposting videos and posts from LGBTQ creators with smaller followings. and exposing them to bullying and criticism. In a Sunday post, the account focused specifically on Colorado, highlighting a nonprofit organization that hosts events for kids interested in drag.
Matt Walsh, a prominent conservative YouTuber known for his criticism of LGBTQ people, posted a video Tuesday titled “Why the Left is So Desperate to Expose Kids to Drag Queens.” Walsh, who has 1.9 million YouTube subscribers, called the shooting “tragic” but doubled down on his attacks on drag queens. “Is it so hard not to crossdress in front of the children? Is the compulsion that overwhelming? he asked him in the video. “If you are causing so much chaos and violence, why do you insist on continuing to do so?”
Carlson, Raichik, Walsh and Pool did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of LGBTQ advocacy GLAAD, said the continued demonization of LGBTQ people by conservative media figures has taken its toll.
“No one is holding them accountable for all the misinformation they are spreading, but then we have to show that we are not what they say we are,” Ellis said.
At least one Republican politician also took aim at LGBTQ people on social media in the wake of the shooting. On Monday, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican, posted a video on her newly restored personal Twitter account criticizing trans people.
“The left wants you to believe that you can make your gender whatever you want,” she said. “They want kids in school to learn that they can change their gender to whatever they want!”
A representative for Greene responded to a request for comment from NBC News asking, “Are you suggesting that chromosomes can be changed?”
The LGBTQ community has faced a wave of threats and violence.
in recently published In research from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University San Bernardino, researchers found that reports of hate crimes against LGBTQ people in major cities increased 51% in 2021.
Ellis said that LGBTQ community leaders have “seen a dramatic increase” in anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. She said more than 344 anti-LGBTQ bills have been proposed this legislative season “to solve problems that never existed.”
“They use all this language, ‘grooming,’ ‘pedophiles,’ it’s mostly about kids and kids,” Ellis said. “In the meantime, many in our community are parents and have children and are trying to protect our children.”
Broader anti-LGBTQ sentiment has been growing on social media, according to the researchers.
Jeremy Blackburn, an assistant professor of computer science at Binghamton University in New York who studies extremism online, found that use of the term “grooming” on social media increased by 100% starting in March compared with beginning of 2022.
On Twitter, use of the anti-gay slur “fa—-” has seen a notable increase in the past seven days, according to data reviewed by a team of researchers at Montclair State University’s Center for Strategic Communication, which studies and monitor social media. Use of the word “hairdresser” on Twitter saw even more growth, with data showing nearly as many mentions of the word in the past two days as in the past two weeks combined, the researchers found.
Caraballo noted that the growing anti-LGBTQ discourse on social media has been met with reduced suspensions on Twitter, where he said the main anti-LGBTQ accounts that were suspended in the last five years have been reinstated and “off the leash.” “.
“This is a moment of emergency for social networks,” said Caraballo. “This is inciting some very violent people to commit shocking acts of violence, and all of this is being promoted on social media and on Fox News, on Tucker Carlson.”