Transphobic rhetoric, some of it violent, appears to be increasing among white nationalists and neo-Nazis as the fight for transgender rights gains visibility and public support.
A Hatewatch review of internet chatter, social media posts and recent news events shows hate groups ramping up their efforts to demonize the transgender community, going as far as calling for the deaths of trans people.
The harassment of transgender people and their allies has been especially pronounced during Pride month, celebrated in June. For example, at Detroit’s Motor City Pride event June 8, about a dozen members of the National Socialist Movement raised a swastika flag, tore apart a rainbow flag and yelled, “f--- you f------” and “Jews will not replace us.” And in Orlando, the New Independent Fundamental Baptist Movement held a “Make America Straight Again” conference with some speakers calling for the government to kill members of the LGBTQ community, which includes transgender people.
In June, Dallas police announced it was launching a probe into four unsolved murders of transgender women. The announcement came weeks after the fatal shooting of a transgender woman in that Texas city. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) calls overall violence against transgender people a crisis of epidemic proportions.
“The epidemic of violence targeting transgender people, particularly Black transgender women, is an urgent crisis,” Sarah McBride, national press secretary of HRC, told Hatewatch. “The toxic mix of transphobia, misogyny and racism often has fatal consequences. The combination of those prejudices – both individually and systemically – don’t just add upon one another, they multiply one another.”
Online channels make it easy for the purveyors of hate to spread their message.
White nationalist and former U.S. Congressional candidate Paul Nehlen announced on June 19 a plan he called “PROJECT DOX T----- STORYTIME.” He urged his nearly 400 followers: “Get photos of all the degenerate parents who take their kids to this filth. Get their license plates, anything else you can.”
Nehlen uses the messaging app Telegram, a platform favored by white nationalists and terrorists.
Nehlen’s target is a nationwide program called Drag Queen Story Hour, where drag queens read to kids at local libraries and bookstores. The programs, in addition to children’s classics, feature books that cover such topics as gender expression and family diversity.
Events like the story hour have become a big draw for far-right extremists who are increasingly intent upon invoking violent, or harassing, solutions for what they deem “degeneracy.” At the “Make America Straight” conference, speakers made their definition of "degeneracy" clear when they demonized LGBTQ people as "sodomites" and smeared them as pedophiles who will stop at nothing to attack children.
Transphobia has long been an animating force within the white nationalist movement, but the tenor of that hatred has changed due to two converging factors. White power activists are increasingly embracing violent language and actions as political tools at the same time the transgender rights movement is more active than ever.
For example, a recent survey shows that more than six in 10 Americans have become more supportive of transgender rights. Furthermore, seven out of 10 Americans believe transgender people should be able to serve in the U.S. military.
Nehlen regularly praises people like Robert Bowers. Bowers faces 63 criminal counts in connection with a shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As a frequent guest on white nationalist podcasts, Nehlen encourages like-minded men to commit violent acts. “They stepped up to do something and we ought to celebrate them,” he said of Bowers and mass killers Dylann Roof and Anders Breivik on an April episode of “The Gas Station” podcast.
At a June 15 Drag Queen Story Hour in Spokane, Washington, some 400 people stood in support of the event while another 200 came to protest. There was a large law enforcement presence, including officers with sniper rifles stationed on a rooftop.
Nehlen responded: “You motherf------ remember it was YOU who escalated this T----- shit with SNIPERS. My guess is, when all is said and DONE, there will be a minimum of 100 FEWER state-payrolled uniformed employees for every T----- protesting mom shot by your snipers.”
“Shoot wisely, ZOG pigs,” he wrote on Telegram, calling for violence with an antisemitic slur.
For far-right extremists, the increased visibility of transgender people is a sign of the growing “degeneracy” of the nation, wrought by “cultural Marxists,” leftists and Jews as part of an assault on white, Christian families and strict gender roles. They believe that trans people, like immigrants and non-whites, are hastening the destruction of an idealized white, Western culture.
Nehlen is not alone in advocating doxing of Drag Queen Story attendees. An anonymous administrator created a Telegram channel for that purpose with posts that drew more than 1,000 views in less than a week.
“Here’s a list of locations these degenerates will be if you’re interested,” the administrator wrote. They encouraged people to contact the employers of parents who brought their kids to the drag queen events, post their names in local Facebook groups and publicly post their information “anywhere you can think of shaming these folks.”
“Those who promote Drag Kids deserve absolute f------ death,” another user wrote in a post viewed more than 700 times in the three days since it posted. “Anyone online who has ever said a word of support of this deserves to be hung drawn and quartered.”
Drag Queen Story Hours have drawn the attention of such groups as the white nationalist American Identity Movement (AIM, formerly known as Identity Evropa). In April, two of its members disrupted a story hour event in New Orleans dressed as clowns (in part, a reference to the “Honkler” clown character adopted by white nationalists). They held a banner reading “Adult entertainment for kids! | Welcome to clown world | Honk Honk” as they stood in the library in front of confused patrons.
It’s not just white nationalists who have become more vocally transphobic.
Many on the far right argue that the transgender rights movement is a sign of out-of-control political correctness, not as a fight for equality. It’s an opinion shared with members of the so-called Intellectual Dark Web, a collective of academics and commentators joined in their opposition to progressive politics.
That includes Canadian professor Jordan Peterson. Popular among the racist “alt-right,” Peterson first gained media attention in 2016 when he refused to refer to some University of Toronto students and faculty by their preferred gender pronouns.
“I’ve studied authoritarianism for a very long time – for 40 years – and they’re started by people’s attempts to control the ideological and linguistic territory,” Peterson told the BBC in 2016. “There's no way I'm going to use words made up by people who are doing that – not a chance."
Members of the far right and overt white nationalists have both cheered on the Trump administration’s rollback of transgender rights. The administration has effectively banned transgender people from serving in the military, introduced a policy that would allow homeless shelters to turn people away based on their gender identity and reversed an Obama-era rule protecting transgender people from discrimination when seeking health care.
“We are protecting the social order. We are protecting the nation,” Daily Stormer editor Andrew Anglin wrote on the site late last year in a supportive response to President Trump’s policies related to transgender people. “Somebody has to stop these sick f------.”
Violence against transgender people is also on the rise. The problem is so acute the American Medical Association recently called the violence against transgender people an “epidemic.”
According to the HRC, at least 10 trans women have been killed in the United States this year and, in 2018, 26 transgender people were murdered. The majority of the victims were black transgender women.
Extremists are openly calling for violence against transgender people.
“Assisted suicide is the only help you can give t-------,” neo-Nazi and “Unite the Right” veteran Christopher Cantwell wrote on Telegram earlier this month.
On the neo-Nazi site the Daily Stormer on June 20, the pseudonymous contributor Roy Batty said that transgender people should be forced “to wear some kind of symbol on their clothing so that people can tell them apart.”
“So many potential murder cases could be avoided if these t------- could just be reasonable and wear the black triangle,” he wrote, in effect blaming transgender women for their own murders if they had garnered the sexual interest of transphobic men.
In another post on his site from late last year, Anglin actively encouraged transgender people to commit suicide:
Listen up t------- – there is only one good thing you can do with your lives, and that’s end them as quickly as possible…. So as long as you exist, you’ll not only be miserable yourselves, but you’ll make everybody around you miserable and generally degrade society even further than it already is, all at the behest of (((people))) who I can assure you hate you as much as I do. Suicide is the only logical thing to do, and the only way you’ll ever get peace. DO IT!!!
The post ended with a gif of an anime character hanging themself.
Photo illustration by SPLC