The conspiracist far right has a knack for taking horrifying tragedies and somehow making everything worse, from Alex Jones claiming that the Sandy Hook and Las Vegas massacres were “false flags” to Tucker Carlson promoting white-nationalist theories that fueled the recent mass killing in Buffalo. Tuesday’s school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that left 21 people—19 of them schoolchildren—dead is proving yet another opportunity for them to be, yet again, some of the worst human beings on the planet.
Predictably, the worst of the lot were the white-nationalist-friendly trolls at the message board 4chan, who trotted out photos of a Hispanic transgender woman who they claimed was the shooter—a claim that was promptly debunked on Reddit, where the person whose photos were being used chimed in and denounced the claims as utterly and obviously bogus, since she didn’t even live in Texas and couldn’t possibly be the shooter.
However, that didn’t stop the bogus claim that the shooter was a transgender woman from spreading far and wide on social media, bolstered both by Jones’ Infowars program and by prominent far-right figures like race troll Candace Owens, white nationalist Dave Reilly, and Congressman Paul Gosar. Other Republicans wondered aloud whether the shooter—identified by law enforcement as 18-year-old Uvalde resident Salvador Ramos—was an “illegal immigrant.”
The bogus claim, as Vice’s David Gilbert reports, originated on 4chan, the message board where the QAnon conspiracy theories originated and where countless young white nationalists have been radicalized. Trolls at the site claimed that images they had obtained—showing a trans woman in a black miniskirt and a long-sleeved shirt—from the Reddit account of a transgender artist, apparently selected at random, were selfies taken by the Uvalde shooter.
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The claim spread quickly, jumping from 4chan and Reddit to platforms like Gab and Telegram, where far-right extremists freely circulate. From there, they began appearing on more mainstream platforms like Facebook and Twitter, thanks to far-right troll accounts like StandBackAndStandBy and Cassandra MacDonald, and from there on to Reilly, Owens, and Gosar.
The woman in the photos posted a message on Reddit titled: “It’s not me, I don’t even live in Texas.”
“They are my pics,” she wrote. “People are using [them] to make trans people look like murderers and blaming me for the shooting.”
At 4chan, trolls admitted that Ramos was not trans, but still discussed ways to bolster these falsehoods, saying “this was good optics”: “Let’s just call every one of these school shooters trannies. No glory for degenerate losers.”
Jones’ Infowars operation picked up a tweet from a troll account, @animebuche, with the bogus photos and the comment, “We finally getting Hispanic-Femboy representation in the school shooter community,” and broadcast it to their audience Tuesday. The person running the @animebuche account later deleted the tweet after basking in the glory, explaining that “one of the dudes wasn’t the shooter lmao, he even commented,” adding that “I don’t want alphabet people here,” a reference to members of the LGBTQ community.
Gosar, who has become Republicans’ designated white nationalist with a fondness for the hyper-online young-extremist community, retweeted a post repeating the bogus claims, with his own text claiming that the shooter was a "transsexual leftist illegal alien." The account that posted the original tweet promptly deleted it, but Gosar’s tweet remained active for several hours after it had been debunked.
Then there was Owens, who has built a career bolstering right-wing claims that white-nationalist terrorism is no threat and minimizing anti-black racism. She picked up the claims that the shooter was transgender and ran with them to her favorite attack on the nonbinary community—namely, claiming that they are mentally ill.
“What drives an 18-year-old to murder innocent children?” she tweeted Wednesday, well after the claims had been demolished. “I don’t know, but judging by the photos of him cross-dressing, we can assume there were plenty of signs he was mentally disturbed and abused by adults in his life.”
She later added: “An adult man that wants to dress up like a female is a glaring symbol of mental disease. A society driven by cowardice prevents this topic from being discussed honestly and openly. All of our children are at risk [because] we refuse to acknowledge—and instead encourage—mental illness.”
The tweets by Reilly, a “Unite the Right” veteran who moved to Idaho and promptly ran for a school board seat (and only lost narrowly), also gained wide distribution. He reran the photos of the transgender artist and claims that they were the shooter, wondering: “I wonder what radicalized they/them …”
Other right-wing demagogues wondered whether the actual shooter’s identity as a Latino meant that he was an undocumented immigrant. Josh Barrett, a QAnon-friendly GOP candidate for Congress in Missouri, responded to a tweet about the shooting on Tuesday by asking: “Was he here legally?”
The far-right Code of Vets account, which boasts over 365,000 followers, asked: “Did he cross the border illegally? Our nation has a serious national security crisis evolving. God help us.”
“I’m not even surprised that Republicans are spreading a false claim that the shooter in Texas is trans,” observed journalist Cassandra Roxborough on Twitter Wednesday morning. “It tracks with their policies which vilify and harm trans people in the USA. The problem is never gun safety—it’s always something else.” Her account was deleted by Wednesday afternoon, though it’s unclear why.