In the hours after the shooting that left 19 children and two adults dead in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday, observers scrambled to find details about the person and motives behind the tragic event. Unsurprisingly, some people jumped to support a false rumor that originated on the toxic forums of 4chan: That the 18-year-old shooter was a trans woman.
The original poster stole and reposted profile pictures from a completely unrelated trans Redditor, who has since gone public to debunk the claims that they are the shooter, Salvador Ramos, who was ultimately killed by law enforcement after a half-hour rampage.
We know now that the shooter, like many other young, aggrieved male killers, had an unstable home life and personal relationships. He was kicked out of his mother’s house and lived with his grandparents, who admitted Ramos didn’t attend school in 2021. Instead, he spent time alone between juggling shifts at a local Wendy’s, where coworkers found him to be quiet but also strangely aggressive. Then, on his birthday on May 16th, he bought two rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.
He didn’t leave behind a thick “manifesto” like the Buffalo shooter, so the potential motive remains less clear. But none of this information was enough to satiate observers on the far-right, who seized the opportunity to instead roll with a lazy rumor and gin up hysteria around trans people.
Nobody should be surprised. This is less of an error and more cruelty by design — and it should be obvious now that, despite complaining about the left’s supposed obsession with identity politics, it’s always right-wing agitators who weaponize identity to fit their poisonous worldview, no matter the consequences.
How else to explain Rep. Paul Gosar angrily snapping back at a random person on Twitter who wondered whether there was a far-right connection for the Uvalde tragedy? Turns out, Gosar didn’t know anything at all — he quietly deleted the tweet hours later, sans apology. Nonetheless, the damage was done, with the anti-trans, anti-immigrant talking point spreading like wildfire among his fanbase.
Elsewhere, there were leaders like Nelson Albino, a regional director with the Republican National Hispanic Assembly who boldly decided to spread the disinformation from 4chan, even commentating on how firearms aren’t the problem, mental health is — conflating trans identity as a mental disorder, which has become a common talking point in the conservative war against trans people. This is dangerous rhetoric that attempts to justify the oppression of trans people as a matter of “public safety”; nonetheless, Albino offered no correction or apology on Twitter, even as his message was censored for breaking the platform’s rules.
Gosar’s invocation of a “trans leftist illegal alien” may sound like a mashup of bigoted buzzwords intended to fearmonger, but the most infuriating part is how it neatly sets up the right-wing dig that “the mainstream media” won’t cover the “truth.” That was the early take from Christian-right media member Carmine Sabia, who eagerly posted about how the news media wouldn’t dare reveal the Uvalde shooter’s (nonexistent) trans background, as if that would be some kind of gotcha moment to out a leftist agenda.
In the aftermath, the symbiotic relationship between mainstream discourse from figures like Gosar and gossip from the gutters of the internet has only grown more. Sites like 4chan are still rife with misinformation about how the Buffalo and Uvalde shooters were queer, inspiring declarations that killing LGBTQ people would reduce violence and disorder in America. This is the kind of extremist rhetoric that stems directly from the “trans = mental illness” logic peddled by someone like Albino; it has no basis in reality or medical research, yet has become a bad-faith tool used to overpower debates about bodily autonomy.
And for those who have given up on this particular conspiracy, there’s plenty more obfuscated falsehoods to spread. For small-time agitators like YouTube personality RAMZPAUL, it’s the perfect time to move swiftly from claiming the shooter was trans to just blaming people of color for the majority of mass violence (a statement that is factually incorrect).
Over and over, conservative America, and especially its far-right fringe, has insisted that it doesn’t peddle identity politics — indeed, many of its leaders have said that identity politics are ruining America. The dark irony of that framing is that right-wing agitators are obsessed with identity as a predictor of wrongdoing, and have perpetuated rhetoric that compels people to use hate and anger in the name of political and cultural supremacy.
A shooting isn’t just a shooting, and it hasn’t been so for a while. Each tragedy represents a perfect nexus for propaganda amid a Culture War® that has no limits. A week after white nationalists and their mainstream allies tried to deny the influence of racist ideology on mass violence, they’re scrambling to gain ground, blaming Latinos and queer people with any claim that will stick.
Now that the trans theory is debunked, however, the far-right is leveraging the tragedy in other ways. People like Charlie Kirk want his fans to forget about the root causes of mass shootings — disillusionment, inequality, a lack of holistic health resources, gun access — and instead fixate on a plot by the “mainstream media” to, apparently, launder the reputation of any minority that does something illegal. Others want us to buy into theories that the shooting is a “psy-op” by the federal government to dismantle the Second Amendment — an insane bit of rhetoric that has been thrown around ever since Alex Jones started claiming the Sandy Hook massacre was faked.
Here’s what we do know: The right’s war on LGBTQ people correlates to a major rise in violent attacks against trans and gender non-conforming people in the U.S., with a record 50 people fatally attacked in 2021. There continues to be an all-out assault on rights for trans people and others who want bodily autonomy, and it’s fueled by extremist rhetoric that originates in online subcultures and ultimately spreads into mainstream consciousness.
None of that context mattered to the people who spread disinformation about the Uvalde shooter. It wasn’t a mistake, and it will happen again, by design.