Republicans have recently become fixated on the conspiracy theory that kids are being “indoctrinated” into believing they’re animals and using litter boxes in school classrooms. Conservatives—who have embraced an anti-trans platform as it is—seem to hope voters will believe that there isn’t a difference between someone being trans and someone thinking they’re a cat… which sounds a whole lot like the anti-same-sex marriage argument that if we let people marry folks of the same sex, they’ll want to marry their cat or horse next. It’s just as outrageous, and yet it’s picking up speed in extremist circles.
For example, as Daily Kos has covered, Republican hopefuls have started spewing this hysteria about litter being found in schools. Republican Don Bolduc, as we covered recently, doubled down on claims that parents and students told him kids were licking one another and pretending to be cats, for instance, while Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin claimed the classroom litter boxes were a result of leftist indoctrination. In case it needs clarifying: It isn’t true. This isn’t happening. It’s simply not.
In one of the more surprising turns of events, however, conservative podcast host Joe Rogan recently admitted that he’d lied when making such claims himself, as first reported by The Daily Beast. During a podcast episode with former Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, Rogan claimed that a friend of his wife’s worked at a school where they had to place a litter box in the girls’ bathroom because a student identified as a furry. Now that these claims are getting national attention, he’s quietly changed his tune.
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“I don’t think they actually did it,” Rogan has since admitted, per an Oct. 26 podcast episode. He said the school actually brushed off concerns originally, which, according to him, stemmed from a “wacky” parent.
“I think there was discussions about doing it,” he continued in the episode, in which he interviewed Libertarian author Michael Shermer. “But it doesn't seem that there’s any proof they put a litter box in there.”
“I fed into that,” Rogan said on the podcast in reference to the litter box hysteria sweeping the (conservative) nation, admitting he had no facts to back up his claim. He added that he believed the claim in part because of his own experience at a furry festival many years ago.
Now, here’s the thing. Rogan admitting he was wrong to participate in spreading misinformation is good. But is it too little, too late? Given the rate this conspiracy theory has already spread, it is probably too late. And that’s both frustrating and dangerous.
Thanks to far-right extremists, we’ve already seen armed protesters try and ruin drag queen story hour events at public libraries and community spaces. We’ve seen protesters clamor around businesses hosting family-friendly drag shows. We’ve covered the red-capped person who was caught on security footage throwing a Molotov cocktail into a doughnut shop after it hosted a drag art show. Anything remotely connected to transness is coming under violence. (To be clear, being trans and performing/attending drag shows are not the same, but in terms of public queerness, I think conservatives are attacking it as one and the same.)
There are also attacks coming at queer (and especially trans) folks on the state and even federal levels. We’ve seen Republicans introduce anti-trans legislation targeting trans youth and adults when it comes to sports, bathroom access, IDs, and even access to safe, age-appropriate, gender-affirming health care. QAnon Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene has even introduced one such bill on the federal level. We’re also facing book bans and Don’t Say Gay bills.
The purpose is to isolate and ostracize, because that makes it all the easier to turn the public against marginalized and vulnerable folks who are systemically exempt from power and representation. And this is just one of the many, many reasons it’s so important to get each other mobilized to get to the polls during midterm elections, whether we live in a progressive bubble or not.
If you want to read some great writing into why conservatives are so likely to fall for conspiracy theories, like misinformation about COVID-19 and propaganda out of Russia, I suggest checking out this deep-dive from Community Contributor SemDem.