Shortly after five people were murdered and dozens injured over the weekend when a gunman opened fire in a Colorado Springs LGBTQ nightclub, Fox News host Tucker Carlson defended his and his allies’ escalating use of incendiary anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.
During his show on Monday night, Carlson inveighed against individuals and groups that responded to the tragedy by pointing out the link between acts of violence motivated by hate and the spread of inflammatory lies about LGBTQ people, often by public figures on the right.
“These horrifying murders in Colorado over the weekend quickly became a pretext for yet more censorship of your speech,” Carlson said. “You are responsible for this, they told you, because you said the wrong thing.”
Carlson then accused the groups and individuals that he said were calling for “censorship” — in this case, the LGBTQ community and its allies — of engaging in, perpetuating, or suborning the “genital mutilation” and sexual abuse and exploitation of children.
“This is exactly the kind of false and inflammatory rhetoric that willfully misinforms the public and encourages violence,” responded GLAAD, a nonprofit that fights the spread of defamatory anti-LGBTQ rhetoric in media and entertainment.
Carlson’s statements during the segment were irresponsible, absurd, and cruel, containing lies that are pathetic, dangerous, and a threat to public safety, GLAAD said, in a statement shared with the Washington Blade. “This program, hosts and pandering guests are part of the problem and they just don’t care,” the group added. “Viewers and Fox News should.”
The expectation should be that in the aftermath of a tragedy like the shooting at Colorado Springs’ Club Q, media figures would focus on the actual victims and the local communities that were impacted rather than doubling down on dangerous misinformation and hate as Carlson did, Media Matters LGBTQ Program Director Ari Drennen told the Blade by phone on Tuesday.
Media Matters, which tracks and monitors extremism and hate spread by right-wing news outlets and on social media, has documented Carlson’s extensive history of propagating malicious lies about LGBTQ people while simultaneously casting himself, his viewers, and his supporters as the truly aggrieved or the “real” victims.
After his show aired on Monday night, other critics were quick to point out Carlson’s history of attacking the LGBTQ community and its allies on his program, which is also chronicled in GLAAD’s Accountability Project.
Just stop it, @TuckerCarlson. You know exactly why, and you’ve more than contributed to the problem. Stop spewing the nightly hateful and dishonest rhetoric (that you yourself argued legally can’t be taken as truth), and then pretending you have no idea why these things happen. https://t.co/0MFeZqEzNr
— Spencer Davidson (@SDavidsonWKTV) November 22, 2022
Drennen said another manipulative tactic on display during Monday’s segment was Carlson’s seamless transitioning between and among different unrelated topics. The host began by denouncing the violence encountered by patrons on Saturday at the LGBTQ nightclub before switching to the medical interventions administered to trans youth and then addressing matters concerning child sexual exploitation and abuse.
The intended effect of this sleight of hand was to make these topics seem related, when of course they are not, Drennen said. Thus, Carlson has laid the groundwork to defend his and his ideological allies’ attacks on LGBTQ people, having framed them as active participants in or complicit observers of crimes against children.
While Carlson did take the opportunity to go after President Joe Biden during the 15-minute segment about Saturday’s shooting, he spent significantly less time on his argument that the president had opportunistically exploited the tragedy to call for a renewal of the federal assault weapons ban.
Instead, Carlson sought to deny the link between anti-LGBTQ language and anti-LGBTQ violence before doubling down on some of his most virulent attacks against the community.
On Sunday, GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis responded to the Colorado Springs shooting with a statement on the well established relationship between acts of violence and inflammatory rhetoric. On his program the following day, Carlson said that Ellis had “declared that because of Saturday’s shooting, you need to shut up while activist doctors mutilate children.”
Also in Carlson’s crosshairs was Boston Children’s Hospital, which the host accused of “performing double mastectomies on children for no medical reason at all,” adding, “There is no scientific justification for sexually mutilating kids. They are not doing it for a scientifically defensible reason.”
As GLAAD noted in its statement Tuesday to the Blade, in reality, health interventions for trans minors as performed in U.S. hospitals follow the guidance of every mainstream American and overseas biomedical organization with relevant clinical knowledge and experience, including the Endocrine Society, the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Recommendations governing care for trans youth that are provided by these groups are backed by rigorous research. For example, the Endocrine Society’s Clinical Practice Guidelines for Gender Dysphoria/Gender Incongruence contain more than 260 scientific studies.
None of the healthcare practitioners engaged in this evidence based care share “the grotesque fixation on children’s body parts this [Carlson’s] program continues to obsess over,” GLAAD told the Blade.
“But it’s not just the sexual mutilation of children in hospitals,” Carlson said during the segment. “This is part of a larger trend and the trend is this: adults crossing the line, and it has always been a bright line into deep involvement with the sexuality of children.”
The lone example Carlson cited as evidence was a controversial ad from Balenciaga that ran on Instagram and was subsequently removed. Drennen told the Blade that the media personality’s aim was to perpetuate the idea that “the sexualization of children” is “part of a broader cultural force” despite the absence of any connection between LGBTQ people and the sexual abuse and exploitation of children.
“It can be true that the ad is in poor taste,” Drennen said, but the onus isn’t on queer people to police the luxury French fashion house’s “weird ad buy.” Nevertheless, he added, Carlson “wanted the take-away from viewers to be that something sinister is going on,” ergo his inclusion of the topic in a segment about a facially unrelated matter: the massacre of LGBTQ people in a nightclub.
GLAAD’s email to the Blade also noted that “experts in child abuse say smearing people with ‘groomer’ rhetoric undermines the understanding of how predators abuse children.” When the lie that LGBTQ people are likelier to abuse minors is circulated online, apart from the impact of that rhetoric on the LGBTQ community, it makes helping survivors more difficult, advocates say.
“It feels like child sex abuse prevention is being hijacked by people to fit an agenda that has absolutely nothing to do with preventing child sexual abuse,” Jenny Coleman, director of Stop It Now!, a nonprofit working to stop the sexual abuse of children, told USA Today.
Evidence of link between hateful rhetoric and acts of violence
Following the tragedy over the weekend, the Human Rights Campaign pointed out that “Nearly 1 in 5 of any type of hate crime is now motivated by anti-LGBTQ+ bias and reports of violence and intimidation against LGBTQ+ people have been making news across the country.”
HRC cited, as examples, incidents in which, “White nationalists targeted a Pride event in Idaho; Proud Boys crashed Drag Queen story hour at a local library in California to shout homophobic and transphobic slurs; and Boston Children’s Hospital’s patients and providers have found themselves the targets of multiple violent threats following a campaign of disinformation on Twitter.”
According to the FBI, there have been dozens of bomb threats against Boston Children’s, which has been targeted with “a sustained harassment campaign based on dissemination of information online” about health treatments for trans minors, Rachael Rollins, the U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, said.
All-ages LGBTQ events like family-friendly drag shows and drag queen story hours have also increasingly suffered campaigns of violent intimidation and harassment by far-right extremists, who are driven by online misinformation and disinformation accusing those involved in such events of sexualizing and “grooming” children.
Far-right YouTuber and former video journalist for Vice and Fusion TV, Tim Pool, implied the massacre at Club Q was justified or at least that it can be explained because the nightclub had an all-ages drag show planned for the following day.
“We shouldn’t tolerate pedophiles grooming kids,” he wrote on Twitter, where he is followed by more than a million users. “Club Q had a grooming event. How do [sic] prevent the violence and stop the grooming?”
The evidence is not just anecdotal. According to the Brookings Institution, a social science research think tank, “A range of research suggests the incendiary rhetoric of political leaders can make political violence more likely, gives violence direction, complicates the law enforcement response, and increases fear in vulnerable communities.”
In the same statement addressing the Club Q attack, HRC explained the rise of hate and hate-motivated violence against LGBTQ people. “The highest known single-year total of fatal deaths of transgender and gender non-conforming people was in 2021, when at least 57 trans & gender non-conforming people were violently killed,” the group wrote.