Right-wing pundits, with Musk's encouragement, respond to mass shooting with anti-trans propaganda
On Monday, Audrey Hale drove to Covenant School, a private elementary school in Nashville, Tennessee, retrieved three guns from the vehicle — two AR-style semi-automatic weapons and one pistol — and shot out a window to gain entry to the school. Once inside, Hale murdered six people, including three children. The attack ended after the 28-year-old shooter, a former student at the school, was killed in a confrontation with the police.
In the aftermath of the mass shooting, a disturbingly common occurrence in the United States, the focus online turned to Hale's gender identity. According to authorities, Hale identified as trans and used he/him pronouns on social media.
Investigators say Hale was being treated for an "emotional disorder" but are still working to establish a motive for the attack. But numerous right-wing pundits, including some with millions of followers, already claimed to have it figured out.
Benny Johnson, a right-wing provocateur and admitted plagiarist with 1.4 million followers on Twitter, said the Nashville shooting was proof that "the modern trans movement is radicalizing activists into terrorists." His commentary received a boost from Elon Musk, who owns Twitter and has 132 million followers.
Johnson's tweet, as of Wednesday evening, was viewed more than 10 million times. And it's total bunk.
Johnson identifies four mass shooters since 2018 who identified as non-binary or trans. The alleged shooter in the 2022 Colorado Springs attack is Anderson Lee Aldrich. During the legal proceedings, Aldrich claimed to be non-binary. But experts in online extremism suspect this was a troll. Aldrich allegedly targeted and murdered five people at an LGBTQ club. According to the lead investigator in the case, Aldrich used anti-gay and racist slurs while playing video games online and ran a neo-Nazi website. Aldrich's next-door neighbor for more than a year also said Aldrich used anti-gay slurs and "never used they/them pronouns with him or mentioned being nonbinary."
That leaves two incidents: a 2018 mass shooting in Aberdeen, Maryland that killed four by an individual in the process of transitioning to become male, and a 2019 mass shooting in Denver that left one dead. The Denver shooting had two perpetrators, one of whom is trans.
According to the Gun Violence Archive, since 2018, there have been 2,827 mass shootings in the United States. Even if you include Aldrich, Johnson has listed four shooters that identified as non-binary or trans — 0.14% of the total incidents over that time period. A 2022 study estimates that 0.5% of all U.S. adults identify as trans.
So Johnson's tweet does not prove "the modern trans movement is radicalizing activists into terrorists." The truth is that nearly all mass shootings are perpetrated by cis men, and very few mass shootings are perpetrated by trans people or cis women.
Although Johnson's tweet was baseless, its sentiments were echoed by many influential voices on the right. Donald Trump Jr. tweeted about the "incredible rise of trans/non-binary mass shooters in the last few years," claiming they are by "far the largest group committing as a percentage of population." Senator J.D. Vance (R-OH) responded to the shooting by claiming that accepting the existence of trans people is dangerous. "[I]f early reports are accurate that a trans shooter targeted a Christian school, there needs to be a lot of soul searching on the extreme left. Giving in to these ideas isn't compassion, it's dangerous," Vance tweeted. On Fox News, Tucker Carlson stated flatly that "the trans movement is targeting Christians, including with violence."
Anti-trans propaganda is a much more comfortable topic for these commentators than looking at the root causes of America's gun violence epidemic — lots of guns and very few safety laws.
The Daily Wire makes an exception
In 2018, following the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, The Daily Wire announced that it was no longer publishing the names and photographs of mass shooters. Publicizing these details could possibly encourage “more mass shootings,” editor Ben Shapiro, the right-wing outlet's co-founder, argued.
“[W]e will not contribute to the unintentional glorification of shooters themselves by giving their names and faces airtime,” Shapiro said. “Instead, we will continue to focus on the victims of such awful attacks, and the heroes who all too often must give of themselves to stop them.”
But, earlier this week, The Daily Wire abandoned this policy when it published footage of the shooter. In the two-minute video, the shooter is seen entering the school and carrying an assault rifle as they walk through the hallways.
Why was this shooter exempted from the company’s policy? The answer likely lies in the Daily Wire’s history of spreading anti-trans hate.
The Daily Wire's Michael Knowles is notorious for describing trans people as “demonic” and claiming demons are “always trans.” During the 2023 Conservative Political Action Conference, Knowles said that “transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely.” Similarly, Host Candace Owens says “the trans agenda is demonic.” Matt Walsh, another host, insists “trans people don’t exist.” Shapiro openly believes being trans is a mental illness, and recently accused parents of trans children of “crap parenting.” Many of these Daily Wire personalities have also posted countless videos misgendering and attacking trans people.
The outlet has also spent over $5.7 million on Meta ads “amplifying anti-trans content from its media personalities and other anti-trans rhetoric,” according to Media Matters. Another Media Matters analysis finds that since January 2021 The Daily Wire has racked up over 17 million interactions amplifying this type of content.
On Tuesday, a day after the shooting, Walsh seized the opportunity. “I came to the conclusion years ago that the trans movement is the greatest evil our country faces,” Walsh tweeted to his 1.5 million followers. “I only become more and more sure of this fact with each passing day, and more and more determined to oppose it until my last breath.”
Tennessee — and America — has a gun problem
Legislators in Tennessee, which has “the tenth-highest rate of gun deaths in the country,” have spent the last few years relaxing the state’s already lenient gun laws. The state does not require background checks and lacks any “red flag” laws, which restrict gun access for individuals at “elevated risk to harm themselves or others.” Hale was reportedly able to purchase seven guns before the shooting.
In 2021, Tennessee legislators passed a law allowing “those 21 and older to carry loaded handguns in public, openly or concealed, without requiring a permit.” This year, legislators are pushing to further weaken the state's gun laws. Legislation is currently moving through the General Assembly that would lower the minimum age to “obtain an enhanced, lifetime enhanced, and concealed handgun carry permit” from 21 to 18. Legislators have also introduced bills that would “allow permit carriers to bring their weapons to college campuses” and “allow school staff members to carry a handgun.”
Guns are much more accessible in the United States than in other parts of the world. The United States is “the only nation in the world where civilian guns outnumber people,” with over 120 guns for every 100 residents, according to a 2018 Small Arms Survey. Americans also own around “46% of the world’s civilian gun cache,” an estimated “393 million out of the 857 million civilian guns available.” In 2020, a record 39 million guns were sold to civilians.
There are “[n]o other developed nation[s]” that have “mass shootings at the same scale or frequency as the U.S.” In 2022, 646 mass shootings were recorded by the Gun Violence Archive, which defines a mass shooting as an event where four or more people are injured or killed. There have already been 130 mass shootings in the United States in 2023.