Hate speech leads to violence against the trans community. That's how stochastic terrorism works. Is that what far-right provocateurs & Republican politicians want?
This is how stochastic terrorism works: Violent rhetoric is pumped into the discourse by cynical politicians, conservative influencers, retrograde church leaders, and far-right provocateurs. The ugly, mendacious narratives saturate the airwaves, the social networks, the fringe channels. Over and over and over, the hate speech is repeated. And someone, somewhere, snaps. Enough is enough, he decides. (It’s almost always a “he.”) He picks up his gun—there are always plenty of guns lying around—and takes action.
“The idea behind stochastic terrorism is that repeated demonization of individuals or groups of people can inspire unstable ‘lone wolves’ [and] others to violence,” explains Bryn Nelson, a science writer who wrote a piece on the phenomenon for Scientific American. “The individual attacks aren’t predictable, but the words increase the odds of an attack.”
That’s what happened at Comet Ping Pong in 2016. Edgar Maddison Welch burst into the pizzeria in the tony Washington neighborhood of Chevy Chase, armed with an assault rifle and a handgun. As I recounted on these pages two years ago:
Welch, the father of two small girls, had heard tell of a massive child sex trafficking ring involving the Clintons, whom he was convinced were terrible people. Maybe he watched a YouTube video posted by Alex Jones that November 4, in which the InfoWars provocateur said, “When I think about all the children Hillary Clinton has personally murdered and chopped up and raped, I have zero fear standing up against her. Yeah, you heard me right. Hillary Clinton has personally murdered children. I just can’t hold back the truth anymore.”
The hub of this heinous child sex ring, Welch read, probably on Reddit, was the basement of Comet Ping Pong. The pizzeria was frequented by the brother of Clinton crony John Podesta, and owned by the ex of the head of Media Matters—the same Media Matters head who had once paid his ex-lover almost $1 million in a fishy blackmail scheme. It was all incestuous and weird. Not only that, but when an influential rightwing provocateur, Jack Posobiec, had dined at the restaurant to scope it out, he’d been asked to leave (he’d been asked to leave because he was live-streaming a children’s birthday party going on in one of the back rooms, which the managers rightly found inappropriate, but whatever). Naturally, the police wouldn’t touch the case—the crooked Clintons had seen to that. So Welch, picking up where Posobiec left off, took it upon himself to conduct an investigation of his own.
“I came to D.C. with the intent of helping people I believed were in dire need of assistance, and to bring an end to a corruption that I truly felt was harming innocent lives,” he wrote in a defense sentencing memo after his arrest. “I felt very passionate about the possibility of human suffering, especially the suffering of a child, and was prompted to act without taking the time to consider the repercussions of my actions, or the possible harm that might come from them. I’m truly sorry….”
“Stochastic” means “random.” The provocateurs don’t know when, where, or by whom the violent act of terror will be committed. But they do know that, if the hate speech is repeated enough, violence invariably will follow. Hate speech is a spell, an incantation, a summoning of dark forces. When the summoning is done by a trained warlock, and amplified by the magical Marshall stack that is social media, the dark forces show up and show out.
Violence is the ultimate goal of hate speech—which is why Elon Musk allowing banned provocateurs back on Twitter is so dangerous and ill-advised. Steve Bannon figured this out long ago, during the “Gamergate” controversy: yes, people sitting home at their PCs could be compelled to take action IRL. Pizzagate was further proof of concept. And the violent rhetoric of Donald Trump and his surrogates—“trial by combat,” Rudy Giuliani said on the night of January 5; “Hang Mike Pence!” the insurrectionists chanted—spawned the besieging of the Capitol and the attempt to overthrow the government. Whatever the old saw says, words can cause exponentially more harm than sticks and stones.
The hateful messages are compelling because they play on genuine human emotions. The men who commit the violent acts generally do so because they think they are making a positive impact. Who doesn’t want to save the children? Welch raided Comet Ping Pong because he legitimately believed there was a pedophile sex trafficking ring operating there. Anderson Lee Aldrich seems to have shot up Club Q in Colorado because he believed that the drag performers were “groomers.” In both cases, the men were flat-out wrong—tragically, horrifically wrong. There was no underground sex trafficking operation at Comet Ping Pong. Drag show participants are not “family members or close family friends seeking to gain the trust of a child in order to sexually abuse them later”—the definition of groomers in this context.1
Drag queens are not groomers. That’s a false equivalence, a sick narrative propagated by rightwing provocateurs. Child grooming “has nothing to do with LGBTQ people or drag and saying it does is harmful to real child victims,” explains Kat Tenbarge, a tech and culture reporter for NBC News. “All these people, Libs of TikTok, Tucker Carlson, etc. are causing real harm to child victims and their advocates by muddying the waters of what grooming actually is and creating false targets. They are distracting from the crisis of actual child grooming that occurs.”
In other words, provocateurs like Carlson, Posobiec, Jordan Peterson, Tim Pool, and Libs of TikTok creator Chaya Raichik are not only endangering the LGBTQ+ community with their hateful rhetoric, they are, by deft misdirection, protecting actual child groomers.
And they are themselves engaged in grooming of a different kind. By encouraging, tacitly or otherwise, violence against LGBTQ+ individuals, these far-right provocateurs are groomers of death.
The trans community is an easy target for the death groomers. It’s arguably the most vulnerable group of people in the country right now. Republican politicians routinely get away with tweeting hateful garbage like this:
In contemporary GOP parlance, the word “drag” is a dog whistle for “trans”—even though the two are not at all the same thing. Lauren Boebert is a moron, true, but even she must recognize that her tweet is a subtle swipe at the trans community. (From what we know of Boebert and her husband, it’s better to avoid bowling alleys than drag bars, but that’s another story.) Is it just a coincidence that she is from Colorado, the same state where the Club Q murders took place? I’m sure she’d like to think so.
Gender nonconformity has been around for as long as humans have, and there have been trans colonial Americans since the seventeenth century. As Susan Stryker notes in Transgender History: The Roots of Today’s Revolution:
People who contradicted social expectations of what was considered typical for men or for women have existed since the earliest days of colonial settlement in what is now the United States. Thomas or Thomasine Hall was an indentured servant in Virginia in the 1620s who seems to have had intersex anatomy, and who lived sometimes as a man and sometimes as a woman. The colony of Massachusetts first passed laws against cross-dressing in the 1690s. In the eighteenth century, numerous women and transmasculine people—most famously, Deborah Simpson—enlisted in the Revolutionary Army as men. . . . And throughout the antebellum period, the institution of slavery often functioned to strip away gender signifiers from enslaved people not just by divorcing them from the traditional social roles for men and women in their African cultures of origin but by attempting to render many of them into interchangeable laboring bodies, whether male or female.
So none of this is new. But the popular acceptance of the trans community, such as it is, is a relatively recent phenomenon. Certainly this is the first generation in which trans children can receive gender-affirming care. As Stryker writes, “a variety of novel historical factors—the new political concept of queerness, the AIDS epidemic, the rapid development of the Internet, the end of the Cold War, the maturation of the first post-Baby Boomer generation, and the calendrical millennial turn—all played their parts in revitalizing gender politics in the last decade of the twentieth century. The wave of change that began at that time”—that is, 1990—“continued for a quarter century,” which is where we are now.
The greatest obstacle to trans acceptance, it seems to me, is that many if not most Americans, not knowing any trans individuals personally, don’t understand what it means to be trans. Cynical Republican politicians exploit this collective ignorance to paint the trans community as sneaky, nefarious perverts. Dudes in wigs are lurking in women’s bathrooms, where your young daughter might fall prey to their grooming! Which, like, is not an actual problem. If ugly incidents happen in bathrooms, 999 times out of a thousand, it’s the trans men and women who are the victims, not the other occupants of the lavatory.
The other widely-known trans “issue” relates to athletics: the specter of jacked up dudes with long hair claiming to be women so they can win gold medals at sporting events. If you listen to, say, Florida governor Ron DeSantis talk about it, you’d think this was akin to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Here he is at a press event from last year, extolling a cruel bill banning trans athletes from participating in sports:
Being able to compete in a variety of sports in Florida, fortunately, has opportunities across a wide range of sports and we’re very competitive in a number of different sports, provides our young girls with opportunities that really teach them lessons that last a lifetime. And I think the same is true for all of our sports. It certainly was true for me growing up here in the state of Florida, being able to compete and it took me to college. It’s taken many of our girls to college to be able to get an education and to compete. So we believe that it’s very that the integrity of those competitions are preserved, that these opportunities are protected. And I can tell you this, in Florida, girls are going to play girls sports and boys are going to play boys sports. That’s what we’re doing and we’re going to make sure that that’s the reality.
This sort of thing happens so infrequently that DeSantis had to import aggrieved parties from out of state to grouse about it. At that press conference, he trotted out Selina Soule, a girls track athlete from Connecticut, to share her story of losing to “two male athletes who self-identify as girls” whom the state allowed “to compete in girls’ sports.” I’m sure that it sucked for Soule to lose in such a manner; she probably felt like she’d been cheated. But this unlikely scenario is unworthy of the attention lavished upon it by the governor of the nation’s third largest state. For one thing, that situation is exceedingly rare; it is orders of magnitude more likely for a trans kid to not play high school sports at all because of the attendant gender-related obstacles than what DeSantis is so panties-twisted about. For another, the end result of this is…someone gets a bronze medal instead of a gold. In the grand scheme of things, so fucking what? More than half of all trans kids attempt suicide. Trans kids are already the most vulnerable population going, already face enormous social obstacles; we’re going to deny them all the right to play high school sports because Selina Soule’s pissed she came in third?2
Spencer Cox, the Republican governor of Utah, vetoed a similar bill a few months before DeSantis signed his into law. He wrote a thoughtful letter to the Statehouse explaining his decision. It is worth quoting at length, as it applies kindness and compassion to the issue, and also demonstrates that “GOP politician” and “hateful asshole” are not always one and the same:
I also believe there is broad misunderstanding around the current rules regarding transgender participation in sports. In particular, from the testimony of many, there seems to be a belief that any biologically-born male could simply say he was transgender and begin participating in women’s sports. This is incorrect. For many years now, the UHSAA has had in place a rule that only allows male-to-female transgender participation in women’s sports after a full year of difficult transition hormone therapy and in consultation with a health care professional. This has likely prevented some participation and helped to even the playing field. As a representative of the UHSAA stated: “As we read the science right now, we like our policy. This year we have four students who have gone through our paperwork and we have not had any complaints from any other students or families or school administrators.” I should note that while I have some reservations about a policy that requires or incentivizes these transitions, it is the policy in place.
Finally, there is one more important reason for this veto. I must admit, I am not an expert on transgenderism. I struggle to understand so much of it and the science is conflicting. When in doubt however, I always try to err on the side of kindness, mercy and compassion. I also try to get proximate and I am learning so much from our transgender community. They are great kids who face enormous struggles. Here are the numbers that have most impacted my decision: 75,000, 4, 1, 86 and 56.
● 75,000 high school kids participating in high school sports in Utah.
● 4 transgender kids playing high school sports in Utah.
● 1 transgender student playing girls sports.
● 86% of trans youth reporting suicidality.
● 56% of trans youth having attempted suicide1
Four kids and only one of them playing girls sports. That’s what all of this is about. Four kids who aren’t dominating or winning trophies or taking scholarships. Four kids who are just trying to find some friends and feel like they are a part of something. Four kids trying to get through each day. Rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so few. I don’t understand what they are going through or why they feel the way they do. But I want them to live. And all the research shows that even a little acceptance and connection can reduce suicidality significantly. For that reason, as much as any other, I have taken this action in the hope that we can continue to work together and find a better way. If a veto override occurs, I hope we can work to find ways to show these four kids that we love them and they have a place in our state.
The compassion displayed by the Republican governor of Utah, of all people, should be the model for how politicians of both parties handle issues related to the trans community. Instead, the GOP is following the lead of DeSantis—whom Rupert Murdoch has already anointed the 2024 Republican presidential candidate, and behind whom American fascists seem to be rallying—and tends to regard trans people with suspicion, if not outright contempt.
The provocateurs, meanwhile, remain hard at work, rolling out the hateful messaging. Not everyone is as wink-wink as Boebert. Here is Jenna Ellis, the former Trump attorney best known for catching covid from Rudy Giuliani’s fart, opining—in 2022!—that the individuals violently murdered at Club Q are now burning in hell:
Tim Pool, a 36-year-old man in a beanie who bears a striking resemblance to the couch-crashing Todd from Bojack Horseman, can’t stop himself from equating the trans community with pedophiles and groomers—even after the Club Q atrocity:
In this tweet is an implicit call for more bloodshed:
“What happens next” is that there will be more violence. Which is what politicians like Ron DeSantis and provocateurs like Pool seem to want. The question is: why?
To ascend to power, fascists need a group of people to demonize—to blame for all of society’s ills. Historically, that group of people has been the Jewish community. And there is, sadly, plenty of brazen anti-Semitism going on in rightwing circles here and now. This week, Trump broke bread with Nick Fuentes, one of the most egregious Christian nationalists in the country. Fuentes was the guest of Kanye West, the popular rapper, who a few weeks ago said he planned to “go death con 3 ON JEWISH PEOPLE.” These are raging anti-Semites who dined with FPOTUS.
The gay community, too, is a favorite fascist boogeyman. In Russia, for example, Vladimir Putin has played upon the cultural homophobia of the Russian people to gin up hatred toward Ukraine. And in Colorado, the father of the Club Q mass murderer expressed relief that his son—who had just killed five people—was not gay: “And then I go on to find out it’s a gay bar. I said, ‘God, is he gay?’ I got scared, ‘Shit, is he gay?’ And he’s not gay, so I said, ‘Phew …’” Perhaps Ames was heeding the words of Dillon Awes, a preacher with the Stedfast [sic] Baptist Church, who in July said that “[e]very single homosexual in our country should be charged with a crime, the abomination of homosexuality that they have, they should be convicted in a lawful trial, they should be sentenced to death, they should be lined up against a wall and shot in the back of the head.”
So: there is a lot of anti-Semitism and a lot of homophobia in the United States right now. It’s ugly, it’s dangerous, and it must be called out. And often, it is. Watching decent Americans unite against West’s vile, violent remarks against Jews, my faith in humanity was restored somewhat—just as it’s been encouraging to see so many advertisers flee Twitter after Musk reinstated the nasty banned accounts. People seem to recognize that this horrible behavior crossed a line.
But I’m not confident the reaction would have been the same if Ye’d gone “death con 3” on the trans community. I fear that too many Americans hold with Tim Pool, and Chaya Raichik, and Jaimee Michell of Gays Against Groomers, who went on Tucker Carlson’s hate show last week and declared, “Sadly I don’t think it’s going to stop until we end this evil agenda that is attacking children”—that is, until gender-affirming health care ends, there will be more acts of violence against the trans community.
That sort of hateful rhetoric gets innocent people killed. And while I’m sure Michell didn’t go on that show thinking, “Tonight, I’m going to make life more dangerous for trans people,” that will be the result of her appearance.
That’s how stochastic terrorism works.
It takes enormous courage to come out as trans—courage a guy like Tim Pool, who is afraid to doff his beanie, will never know. Do the provocateurs resent trans people for living openly and freely, for being true to themselves? Is that why the trans community provokes such disdain from the incel set? Are they ashamed that they find trans women and men attractive? Or do they just spew the party line, without giving it much thought?
One thing’s for sure: the trans hate has nothing to do with protecting children. Big picture, it’s about an autocratic state controlling the medical decisions, and therefore the bodies, of its citizens. Ultimately, that’s what these American fascists want. Kat Tenbarge said it best in a recent thread:
The PROBLEM is that drag and gender non-conformity and queerness oppose patriarchy. When gender norms are cast aside, when women are free to make their own choices, when people love each other outside the confines of heterosexuality—THAT is the problem. It’s not about the kids.
Part of the big lie is making it seem like queer people aren’t fit to be around children. In reality, children raised by same-sex parents are happier and more successful. It’s patriarchy that upholds child abuse and teaches girls they are only baby-makers and obedient wives.
Patriarchy says a man can’t wear a dress. It says that will harm children. Both of those ideas are false and rooted in fear and shame. People are beginning to recognize they have been indoctrinated by patriarchy, and those who uphold it are frantically lying about queer people.
Trans people are not groomers, are not pedophiles. They are pawns in a cynical political game played by the odious likes of Ron DeSantis and Lauren Boebert and hateful far-right provocateurs. And like the pawns, they are in peril.
Photo credit: UK Foreign Office. The Transgender Pride Flag flies on the Foreign Office building in London on Transgender Day of Remembrance, 20 November 2018.
Are there pedophiles in positions of power? No doubt. Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell proved that definitively. But at least in my lifetime, pedophilia tends to be the providence of Republicans. Dennis Hastert, the longest-serving GOP House Speaker, was a serial pedophile. While an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State, Rep. Jim Jordan said nothing as some 170 young men were molested by the team doctor, despite being repeatedly told of his predation. Rep. Matt Gaetz is under investigation for sex trafficking a minor. Trump, an Epstein chum, would walk through the dressing rooms at Miss Teen USA as the girls were getting changed—among many other things. On and on it goes. Perhaps this is one reason that it’s the conservatives who tend to bleat so loudly about pedophilia. The Republican doth protest too much, methinks.