What began in spring as a succession of far-right attacks on all-ages drag events celebrating Pride has by the end of summer spiraled into a multicity harassment campaign targeting children’s hospitals for offering gender-affirming care, including death threats against providers and at least one bomb threat. Anti-LGBTQ politics has without question accelerated and shifted character this year to embrace outright political violence.
There is a pattern that is clearly established now: Individuals are mobilizing across the United States, often unaffiliated with any well-known group, influenced by propaganda shared by popular social media accounts that demonize LGBTQ people as dangers to children. These individuals terrorize libraries, schools, hospitals, churches, and other community spaces that are welcoming to queer and trans people. They document the ensuing pushback as evidence of their rightness, their status as “victims” of a powerful political lobby.
While these coordinated efforts have been covered piecemeal in local and some national outlets, they are not widely understood as political violence. Those who have been targeted can understand it—the bakery in Chicago, the school district in North Texas, the community center in the Boston metro area. So too can some working inside social media companies. Employees at Twitter, as The Washington Post reported, have said internally that because of posts from one extremely popular anti-LGBTQ propaganda account, it’s “only a matter of time” before someone is killed.
That account, Libs of TikTok, run by Chaya Raichik, has functioned for the last several weeks as the hub of propaganda about gender-affirming surgeries, spreading sensationalized lies about purported child hysterectomies. It was a reprise of Raichik’s campaign against drag events, which led far-right groups to target venues earlier this year. The account’s recent lies about gender-affirming care have in turn been repeated by outlets like The Daily Wire, One America News, and Fox News, as Media Matters has shown. On his August 18 program, Fox News’s Tucker Carlson praised Raichik and then did a segment on Boston Children’s Hospital and its so-called abuse of children; during the segment, he used the phrase “the trans question.” The historic echo of violence was there.
Despite beginning her campaign specifically against Boston Children’s Hospital, Raichik has rejected the idea that she was responsible for the bomb threat made to the hospital on August 30. On the early Pizzagate promoter Jack Posobiec’s show, Raichik said the threat came from “probably a left-wing troll,” who was allegedly “trying to get me suspended for good,” an echo of an earlier claim from Infowars that the hospital “false-flagged themselves.” By then, the campaign had already spread to direct threats to other pediatric hospitals in Washington, D.C., in Phoenix, and to individual physicians, tactics reminiscent of those used by anti-abortion activists who have turned clinics into zones of conflict meant to intimidate patients and providers.
These may be actors on the political fringe, and the tech-driven aspects of this terror campaign have sometimes been interpreted to minimize its “real-world” impact. But the narrative of LGBTQ rights being cover for child abuse is not just fodder for the far-right clout-chasers of social media like Raichik and Posobiec; it has been weaponized by the right against their opponents in elections from school boards to state legislatures. It has been amplified and legitimized by lawmakers like Georgia Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, who in August introduced a sweeping bill that would ban gender-affirming care, and by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, whose threats to ban gender-affirming care have prompted some hospitals in the state to end treatment for minors. And it has resulted in threats and acts of violence, scapegoating LGBTQ communities as corrupt and demonic foes.
It’s possible, though, that months of these tactics have sharpened the response from LGBTQ communities and allies. After the board of the Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District in Texas voted in August to prohibit discussion of what it defined as “gender fluidity,” essentially a “Don’t Say Trans” ban, over 100 students walked out in one district school in protest. When an anti-LGBTQ rally was organized to protest a Planned Parenthood in Modesto, California, the handful of people who showed up were outnumbered by counterprotesters, including anti-fascists and abortion and LGBTQ rights defenders. And in the Dallas suburbs, at an end-of-summer, family-friendly drag brunch, when members of the Proud Boys and militia groups tried to intimidate people from attending, they were met by members of the Elm Fork John Brown Club, who “showed up to provide armed security for the business and those attending the event,” as Steven Monacelli reported, with performer Trisha Delisha thanking them for “keeping us safe.”
As much as this looks like a backlash, that’s not all it is. The anti-LGBTQ right doesn’t want to “go back” to some other time of idealized hetero-utopia. They are more simply satisfying their own desire to punish people, a desire that never changed even as the times did. They seek retribution against defenders of LGBTQ communities too. The need to interrupt this escalation by the right is urgent, more than it was in the Trump years when people may have been more attuned to such threats. It is clearer than ever that such threats cannot be met by appealing to courts to protect us. So while it’s true they are out there looking for a fight, fighting is what is still left.