They care for trans children and teenagers—and they’re getting death threats. On August 30th, Boston Children’s Hospital was shut down due to a bomb threat, and shut down a second time on September 9th, the latest in a series of threats against the facility and those who work there. What the staff at Boston Children’s Hospital have had to endure simply to do their jobs isn’t an anomaly in the US; many healthcare facilities that provide best-practice medical care for trans people have seen a rise in violent threats.
This hate campaign has largely been driven by the far-right “Libs of TikTok,” whose Facebook and Twitter accounts were temporarily suspended recently due to their online conduct. The account, according to the Washington Post, has even had an influence on legislation. According to Media Matters for America, Ron DeSantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw has interacted with “Libs of TikTok” at least 138 times since June of 2021, often sharing information, language and praise regarding Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, with Pushaw commenting that “Libs of Tiktok has opened my eyes on this.”
The claims that have been spread about Boston Children’s Hospital and other clinics that care for trans children and teenagers by “Libs of TikTok,” run by right-wing activist Chaya Raichik, have been proven false time and time again—though, much like conspiracies about Covid or the 2020 election, the truth doesn’t affect the far-right’s hate. (Nor does the fact that an anonymous Twitter account that exists solely to troll “libs” is often the sole source for these accusations.) The anti-trans panic doesn’t need (or want) facts and reporting based on reality; and the popularity of trolls spreading vitriol is neither the only nor most accessible location for this hate.
Quite the opposite, in fact: Fox News has used the account to create anti-trans “news stories,” while conservative and far-right politicians, pundits and commentators have been fanning the flames of anti-trans hatred for years, and they’re picking up the pace. With acceptance of homosexuality and same-sex marriage steadily rising, the Right has pivoted away from LGB (lesbian, gay, and bisexual) people as a scapegoat for society’s ills and onto T, or trans people.
In a cynical way, trans people provide an easier target for right-wing ideologues—because they’re a far smaller group and less well known, they’re easier to demonize. It’s a coordinated attack that some have called genocidal in nature: It endangers the lives of trans people and those who care for them—and it’s only a question of time before health care providers or clinics are physically attacked as well.
The Christian Right is copying a series of playbooks in their attacks against the trans community, one of which, at the risk of falling prey to Godwin’s Law, is Nazi-era attacks against trans people. Germany had been the center of transgender publications and advocacy in the Weimar Republic, and Berlin was considered the “undisputed gay capital of the world” until the rise of the Nazis. Active person-to-person violence, like the assaults by neo-Nazi groups on Pride events, is part of it, but it has many more components with Nazi-era echoes.
In May of 1933, the German Student Union, a pro-Nazi student group, invaded the Institute of Sexology, burning the entire library. This moved swiftly into the revision of Paragraph 175 of the German Penal Code in 1935, which “would amount to a death sentence for gay men,” according to historian Andrea Carlo. The banning of books on the LGBTQIA+ experience and the closing of libraries; the legislation and platforms against transgender healthcare and LGBTQIA+ rights; these all draw from that playbook. All of these components–physical assaults, book banning, and legislation–are reminiscent of the Nazi assaults on the German trans community.
The new playbooks also use the same narratives the Christian Right used on gay people in the past, the same made-up logic about transness or gayness as a “social contagion.” Because gay or trans people can’t reproduce, their lie goes, they have to “indoctrinate” children with their “perversion.” Framing a marginalized group as predators accomplishes two things: it demonizes them while also portraying the accuser’s intentions as pure: “it’s all about protecting the children.”
Of course, it also endangers the group—because generally, most people would like horrible things to happen to those who harm children. This is the same rhetoric used against Democrats by QAnon, whose followers believe that a global cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles runs the world, and it can often lead to “save the children” being understood as “murder our opponents.”
It’s also the same playbook used by anti-abortion advocates for decades. The threats against Boston Children’s Hospital, against any clinics and doctors that provide affirmative care, and against LGBTQIA+ events during Pride Month, are echoes of a longer campaign in this country of what’s called “stochastic terrorism,” or seemingly random violence triggered by political demagoguery: the anti-abortion shootings, firebombings, and attacks from the 1980s onwards. And while it comes from a different place than the previous two playbooks which rely on the demonization of entire groups of people, it relies on the same eliminatory principles.
Between 1993 and 2016 eleven people were murdered by anti-abortion extremists, and there were 26 attempted murders; and between 1977 and 2015 there were 7,200 reported instances of anti-abortion violence. This includes some 200 instances of arson and bombings of abortion clinics. And, even with legislation passed in their favor, the anti-abortion rhetoric hasn’t stopped, including the vilification of doctors, clinic workers, and supporters. The threat of new violence continues.
But just like in the abortion debate, it’s clear that the well being of kids has never been what it’s about for the Christian and political Right. First, because if they really care about trans kids, they would be in favor of puberty blockers, like the overwhelming majority of doctors are, because they lower the suicide risk of trans kids and teens; and second, because they’re clearly not content with merely depriving trans kids of healthcare, as multiple Republican legislatures have demonstrated in the past few months.
Despite all this, the Right’s war against trans people consists of more than just anti-trans legislation—as harmful as that already is. Right-wing pundits and influencers like Matt Walsh and Rod Dreher, as well as conservative media outlets and media figures like Tucker Carlson, all engage in stochastic terrorism.
Tucker Carlson just straight up called for more bomb threats in Childrens hospitals because they provide puberty blockers to trans youth.
Republicans have not been able to end trans healthcare through legislation.
Now they’re turning directly to violence.
Stochastic terrorism. pic.twitter.com/bxOmA0Ka83
— Erin Reed (@ErinInTheMorn) September 22, 2022
A society that will not defend itself deserves what it gets. https://t.co/n1VXztl2yu
— Rod Dreher (@roddreher) September 21, 2022
Within the past few hours after Matt Walsh's attack on Vanderbilt and Tucker Carlson's coverage, users of 4chan and the Donald are calling for the outright murder of doctors. This is exactly what they want. pic.twitter.com/YNjI17EzbI
— Alejandra Caraballo (@Esqueer_) September 22, 2022
Take a recent piece from “The Federalist,” a blatant call for violence against trans people, whose headline reads “The Transgender Movement Is Not Just Intolerant. It’s Barbaric And Violent, And It’s Coming For Your Children.” The piece pushes misinformation about trans medical care and false and inflammatory narratives about the “mutilation” of children, all the while trying to convince its readers that all of this is the result of a secretive trans conspiracy:
“(…) the people and institutions behind this movement are not fringe, they are not the pink-haired youths and black-clad Antifa thugs screaming at old ladies in the streets. They occupy the elite heights of American society. They have real power and influence.”
Fascists have long used the image of a marginalized group in the shadows, manipulating governments, which is what we’re seeing here. Because for the fascist, the enemy needs to not only be morally corrupt, repulsive, and perverted enough for people to balk at their sight, but also powerful enough to not be a laughingstock and to provide an existential threat to the “volk.” Scholar of fascism and Yale professor Jason Stanley explains:
“The logic of fascism is Great Replacement Theory, the fear that a dominant group will be culturally or physically replaced by a scapegoated minority group. The attack on trans women employs this logic—raising fear that women as a class will be ‘replaced’.”
John Daniel Davidson, writer of the Federalist piece, takes it one step further, painting healthcare professionals as bloodthirsty, mutilating monsters, eager for tender child-flesh:
“(…) they are not just angling to get between parents and their children, they are angling to get healthy girls and boys onto the operating table.”
This, unfortunately, is no longer an exceptional claim—not only is it a standard part of the anti-abortion discourse, it’s also part of the broader work tying in the fervor and core mythology of QAnon to the anti-trans and anti-LGBTQIA+ discourse on the right—the “elite” as monsters butchering children.
Some, like far-right pundit Matt Walsh, are surprisingly direct about it. He recently called out Dr. Scott Mosser, saying that he “cuts the breasts off of adolescent girls,” using rhetoric reminiscent of Libs of TikTok’s Chaya Raichik. In fact, the violence against abortion providers and clinics was bolstered by the same sort of rhetoric, which led to numerous attacks.
“They are angling to get grown men into women’s locker rooms, bathrooms, shelters, and dormitories. They are angling to get Child Protective Services to remove children from parents who refuse to go along with transgenderism.”
The latter claim is especially heinous, because in Texas, the opposite is the case: The governor had in fact asked Child Protective Services to investigate any families that provide their trans kids and teenagers access to the necessary gender-affirming medical care.
Right-wing commentator Rod Dreher has increasingly focused on trans people over the past few months, spreading lies and hatred about trans people themselves and the medical professionals who care for them. He calls trans youths receiving best practice medical care a “moral horror”; speaks of “the colonization of children’s minds” and “trans totalitarianism”; and thanks his fellow instigators of anti-trans hatred, like self-described “theocratic fascist” Matt Walsh, “for courage in standing up to this moral horror. They are not intimidated by these totalitarians.”
The totalitarians, in Dreher’s mind, aren’t the ones threatening violence against trans people and the medical staff that care for them, but those who want trans people to be treated like human beings—those who want to protect their rights. For example, Dreher recently tweeted the following:
“We are being lied to by the medical profession and lied to by our media. They really do want to colonize the minds of our children and mutilate them sexually. What is it going to take for people to rise up en masse and force these ghouls to stop?!”
And while this certainly counts as stochastic terrorism—because violence is implied—other right-wing media figures like Tucker Carlson actually spell it out. Carlson recently hosted Christopher Rufo, the right-wing instigator of the blatantly racist anti-CRT moral panic who’s now pivoting to attacking LGBTQ, but especially trans, people. On the program, Carlson calls for LGBTQ teachers who dare to be open about having a same-sex spouse, to be harmed:
“Up until recently, the rule was: you troll my minor children about their sex life and you’re going to get hurt. And I think that should be the rule still. I think this is that—it’s that threatening.”
It’s the same playbook over and over again: pretend that the acknowledgement of the existence of LGB and especially trans people, is perverse and sexual, instead of a question of basic human decency. It is, at its core, eliminationist rhetoric, because if you dehumanize a group of people long enough—while also portraying them as an existential threat—violence against them will not only seem tolerable, but a moral imperative.
Marjorie Taylor Greene was the first politician to bring forth a sweeping, extreme anti-trans bill on the federal level on August 20th. While her colleagues on the state-level are already legislating successfully against trans people, trying to purge them from public existence by any means possible, this bill has no chance of passing in a Democrat-controlled congress. But, along with a national abortion ban, this will be on the GOP-wish list should they win back Congress and the presidency.
The Federalist piece mentioned above ends with a dark warning for its readers:
“if you object or protest in any way, they are angling to get you labeled a bigot, a threat to child safety, a terrorist. And you know what that means.”
In fact, parts of the American Right are already owning the term “terrorist.” At CPAC in Dallas, “We’re all domestic terrorists” was flashed across a screen behind the stage, to the cheers of the audience. It’s a new, horrifying version of the anti-abortion murder redux—brought to us by the same people whose incendiary rhetoric inspired the bombings of abortion clinics. By claiming that medical personnel who perform abortions were committing murder, the right-wing had created a permission structure for violence.
The latest bomb threat against the Boston Children’s Hospital echoes these horrific attacks on health care providers by forced-birth activists. It was the second bomb threat against the hospital within just a couple of weeks. The idea that providing necessary medical care for patients, be that abortions or gender affirming health care, is in fact committing unspeakably heinous acts, is being fueled by a powerful right-wing media machine.
In the past, this has led to the murders of doctors who performed abortions and the bombings of clinics that made them possible. And it’s eerily similar to the rhetoric that fuels QAnon—which calls for mass murders—and the rhetoric the Nazis used when they attacked clubs and institutes in the 1930s. When similar violence happens as a result—and it’s only a matter of time—those who fanned the flames of hate and violence must be held accountable.