Bomb threats forced elementary schools to go on lockdown and a library to cancel a LGBTQ+ event this summer in Davis, California, after anti-trans activists including “Libs of TikTok” and a Moms for Liberty collaborator highlighted local residents’ views on social media.
The wave of bomb threats followed an Aug. 20 incident in which a Yolo County Library worker cut short anti-trans activist Sophia Lorey’s pre-planned speech at the library, where she intended to focus on transgender women participating in women’s sports. Lorey, who is affiliated with a right-wing Christian group called California Family Council, referred in her speech to transgender women as “men” before amending that descriptor to the phrase “biological men.” Moms for Liberty, a right-wing activist group that focuses acutely on LGBTQ+ issues, hosted the event, at least the fifth such one at the Davis-area library this year.
Anti-trans activists with national profiles circulated Lorey’s disrupted speech on social media, and then someone, or multiple people, emailed several bomb threats to the library and local schools across six days in August and September, targeting educators and other supporters of LGBTQ+ causes in and around Davis. Police say they have not determined who sent the threats because the perpetrator or perpetrators might have used a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to disguise their location. The Davis Police Department, Yolo County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI are all investigating.
Detective Matt Wirick of the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office told Hatewatch that the investigation requires collaboration from multiple jurisdictions due to the overlap of locations targeted. Wirick said they don’t yet have a suspect and have not been able to determine whether one person or a group of people instigated the intimidation campaign. He said his office had issued electronic warrants to try to get closer to narrowing down that information.
“You know, it’s hard to tell,” Wirick told Hatewatch. “With the state of technology and electronic investigations like this and the availability of VPNs. It’s increasingly difficult to narrow down actual locations of where the emails could be originating from.”
'Correlation' with Moms for Liberty event
The unknown perpetrator or perpetrators first threatened the library on Aug. 21, Aug. 25 and Aug. 28 via email. The Aug. 28 threat forced local administrators at an elementary school and a high school to order students to shelter in place. Wirick said the FBI first started to liaise with his office around Aug. 21, soon after the threats began. Hatewatch reached out to the FBI for a comment on the investigation and will update the story with a statement if they provide it.
More threats followed weeks later. On Sept. 20, the emailer targeted an elementary school, a junior high and a high school in addition to the library. On Sept. 25, someone or a group also targeted a library, three schools serving students as young as kindergarten age, and a Davis-area high school. The perpetrator or perpetrators targeted another elementary school on Sept. 26. Police say the threats repeatedly highlighted tolerance of LGBTQ+ people, or the existence of transgender people, as the motivation for the threats.
“As pointed out by many community members, the continuing threats originated shortly after a contentious event, hosted by Moms for Liberty, was held at the Yolo County Library,” The Davis Police Department said in a statement on their Facebook page. “The event quickly made national news espousing a particular ideology that is related to the language in the threatening emails. Although there is currently no evidence pointing to any involvement between local members and the threats, the correlation between the two cannot be ignored as part of the overall criminal investigations.”
Libs of TikTok posts precede bomb threats again
Discussion of Lorey’s removal from the library spread rapidly across right-wing media, both traditional and social. Pundits repeatedly portrayed the library, which is a public resource, as violating Lorey’s First Amendment rights. But critics of the library strayed beyond discussions of free speech and hijacked the news story to malign and mock transgender people. Sean Hannity of Fox News ran a segment on the incident on Aug. 21, pairing Lorey with Riley Gaines of the reactionary, anti-LGBTQ+ Leadership Institute. Gaines described protesters of Lorey’s Yolo County Library speech as “men, women, men dressed as women, women dressed as men.”
One reason that the extremist, or extremists, who made the bomb threat targeted Davis residents could be the attention of “Libs of TikTok,” run by an anti-LGBTQ+ activist named Chaya Raichik. Posting as Libs of TikTok, Raichik seized on the conflict with Lorey, helping spur it into virality on social media. On Sept. 19, she also highlighted to her followers on X (the platform formerly known as Twitter) a trans pride flag hanging from the window of a high school classroom in the city. The second post preceded the second wave of bomb threats targeting Davis residents by just a day.
As Libs of TikTok, Raichik’s posts about LGBTQ+ people have preceded threats of violence in places like Tulsa, Boston, and Highland Park, among other locales, so the situation in Davis follows a bit of an established pattern. In June 2022, Raichik used her Libs of TikTok persona to draw attention to a small Pride event in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, which preceded members of the white supremacist group Patriot Front showing up to intimidate LGBTQ+ people in person. The attempted disruption of the Pride event led to police arresting 31 members of the embattled racist group.
Hatewatch reached out to Sophia Lorey through her account on X, and through the Christian group with which she works. Hatewatch also emailed Raichik through her Libs of TikTok address. Neither Lorey nor Raichik replied.
Path from local activism to national outrage
Davis residents, including members of the local LGBTQ+ community, told Hatewatch that despite the amount of online vitriol around Lorey’s disrupted Moms for Liberty speech, Davis residents broadly reject the anti-LGBTQ+ movement and have been disgusted with the attention they have received from such activists. They describe the local situation as being created by a handful of disgruntled, anti-LGBTQ+ activists with small but active social media platforms. Those activists, residents told Hatewatch, have used social media to draw attention from a network of bigots who churn out content designed to create trouble for trans people.
Anoosh Jorjorian, who directs Yolo Rainbow Families and a local group supporting LGBTQ+ teens, told Hatewatch that the harassment of Davis residents over trans rights issues dates to fall 2022. Jorjorian says that the current chair of Moms for Liberty of Yolo County is Beth Young Bourne, who works at University of California, Davis. Jorjorian says that Bourne’s child came out as non-binary in recent years, which she knows through her own work with LGBTQ+ youth. She said Bourne struggled to accept her child’s identity and became increasingly active on Facebook, spreading anti-trans propaganda. A member of the Davis transgender community corroborated this account by text but asked to remain nameless.
Hatewatch confirmed Jorjorian’s statements about Bourne by reviewing her public Facebook page. Hatewatch attempted to reach Bourne for comment by phone and left a voicemail. She has not replied. Hatewatch also reached out to Moms for Liberty for a comment about Bourne by phone and email but did not receive a response. On Sept. 30, she wrote a public statement saying that her family was “impacted” by “extreme body shaming,” a phrase she seems to use to describe the acceptance of trans identities.
“My name is Beth Bourne. I am a lifelong Democrat and consider myself a liberal. After my family was impacted, I became aware that the Davis schools were promoting a set of beliefs that cause students to experience extreme body shaming – namely that every thing [sic] is wrong with their natural bodies,” Bourne wrote in the post. “This is extremely harmful to these maturing minds, resulting in an over-representation of students identifying out of their natural sex. These students are pressured into believing that the only way to be authentic is to become a medical patient, or at the very least wear uncomfortable and harmful body modifications materials, including binders/tucking kits.”
The University of California Davis, Bourne’s employer, told Hatewatch that Bourne’s activity wasn’t currently under investigation.
“As a public institution, the university is committed to ensuring all persons may exercise their constitutionally protected rights of free expression, even in instances in which the positions expressed may be viewed as offensive, controversial or unpopular,” Bill Kisliuk, a strategic communications officer with the university, told Hatewatch. “Unless an exception to the First Amendment applies, the university would not initiate an investigation into opinions expressed by an employee on social media.”
'Just one person can create so much havoc'
Jorjorian forwarded to Hatewatch public Facebook correspondences she had with Bourne in which Bourne claims to be in direct contact with Raichik and that she feeds her information about Davis that later surfaces on Libs of TikTok. In the correspondences, Jorjorian asked Bourne if everything published by Libs of TikTok came from her.
“I’m not sure, I could ask Chaya,” Bourne writes in the exchange, referring to Raichik.
Jorjorian told Hatewatch that Bourne and a pro-Trump, self-described “TERF” (Trans exclusionary radical feminist) in the area named Allie Snyder, created the high level of noise demonizing LGBTQ+ culture in Davis and that the pair do not have many allies in town. Hatewatch reached Allie Snyder by phone and through her X account.
“I’ve got no comment on the bomb threats beyond that I hope the authorities catch and stop the perpetrator as soon as possible,” Snyder wrote to Hatewatch on X, before asking to discuss her activist anti-trans beliefs.
Jorjorian said the confluence of Libs of TikTok’s national network and local activism from people like Bourne and Snyder created a furor that doesn’t remotely match the cultural climate of a progressive city like Davis.
“The whole town is essentially being held hostage for her personal prejudice,” Jorjorian said of Bourne. “She has been demanding resources from every public office to the point that our public officials are unable to keep up with their normal work, fulfilling the needs of the community. Her demands are so relentless and time consuming.”
Bourne’s child, Jude Bourne, who has graduated high school and is now in college, wrote a statement to be read at an Oct. 10 press conference put on by a local advocacy group.
“The young people around you are afraid,” Jude Bourne’s statement read. “They are tired and sad and traumatized, and yet, their lives must keep going on. They have dreams and goals and aspirations and we as a community must create space for them to flourish in spite of bigotry and ignorance.”
Kelly Wilkerson, a high-school teacher from the Davis area, told Hatewatch Bourne creates incendiary posts on social media sites, many of which get picked up and amplified by Libs of TikTok. Wilkerson shared social media posts with Hatewatch that showed Bourne deliberately posting teachers’ information, such as the schools they work for, the classes they teach, their work emails, and in one case, a room number, while redacting her own personal details. Among other things, Bourne has highlighted Wilkerson’s support for trans people on her Facebook page. Raichik’s Libs of TikTok account did not republish that content, but did republish similar information found on Bourne’s feed associated with other teachers in the Davis area. Wilkerson said that she believes the posts picked up by Libs of TikTok are correlated with the bomb threats.
“Any of us could be targeted. We live in a place that is welcoming to LGBTQ+ people and it isn’t enough,” Wilkerson told Hatewatch. “Because this national mob can be sicced on us.”
Wilkerson added that Bourne labeled some cisgender hetero-normative teachers with the prefix “Mx.” on Facebook, rather than Mr., Mrs. or Ms. She described this as a tactic to imply falsely that these teachers are in fact transgender, making them potential targets for reactionaries. She said that while the atmosphere of harassment these right-wing operators have created has not been effective politically, it has made life in town difficult for LGBTQ+ people and their allies.
“I think that one thing that is different from our town is that Moms for Liberty doesn’t seem to be gaining any traction,” Wilkerson said. “That doesn’t matter because just one person can cause so much havoc.”
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect clarifications to Kelly Wilkerson’s comments that were sent to Hatewatch following publication.
Photo illustration by SPLC