Even before police officials in Tennessee identified the person responsible for murdering three children and three adults in the latest mass school shooting in the U.S., far-right extremists and transphobic people began spreading misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation focused on transgender people and not guns.
After Nashville police officials announced that the shooter, 28-year-old Audrey E. Hale — a former student at the Covenant School — identified as transgender, right-wing circles wasted no time and immediately began exploiting the tragedy for political opportunities to attack transgender people.
Officials initially identified the shooter as a female and experts remarked on the rarity with which mass shooters are female; however, Hale's LinkedIn profile reportedly indicated that Hale used he and him pronouns. Hale died in the shootout with police.
During a Tuesday press conference, officials continued to refer to Hale as “she” when speaking of the shooter.
A former classmate told CNN’s Don Lemon Tuesday morning that she was unaware of Hale being transgender.
Trolls on Twitter basked in the possibility that the shooter may have been trans and began circulating a meme that goes around social media whenever there is a mass shooting.
“BREAKING: Nashville Police have positively identified the corpse of the suspected Nashville Covenant School shooter as 31 year old Samantha Hyde. Social media posts indicate Samantha was a trans woman who previously went by the name Samuel,” a user tweeted.
The message, which has been deemed a hoax many times, included an edited photo of a comedian named Sam Hyde (Photoshopped to look female) holding an assault rifle. The image has appeared online regularly since 2015, according to fact-checking site Lead Stories.
Beyond right-wing troll accounts, elected officials and other prominent media figures on the right spread misinformation and blamed the shooter’s gender identity for the horrific killing spree.
Georgia Republican firebrand Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who is proudly and vocally transphobic, implied that because the shooter was trans, they were mentally ill and suffering from side effects of their gender-affirming care.
“How much hormones like testosterone and medications for mental illness was the transgender Nashville school shooter taking? Everyone can stop blaming guns now,” she tweeted.
Greene has painted trans people as deviant and sick and sought to invalidate their existence during her time in Congress.
Less than 24 hours after the shooting in Nashville on Monday, Greene stoked the flames of anti-trans sentiment online.
“Antifa is organizing a Trans Day of Vengeance. Right after a Trans killed people including children at a Christian elementary school in a mass shooting Does everyone understand that Antifa is an organized and funded terrorist group that brings violence and terror for every cause they take up?” she wrote, linking the antifascist movement with transgender people.
New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez excoriated Greene for her remarks.
“It’s absolutely disgusting and she should be looking into a mirror as to why she’s defending and posing with the same weapons that are being used to kill children, teachers & educators,” she told reporters, according to a tweet by the New Republic’s Pablo Manríquez.
Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, an organization calling for better gun laws, also called out Greene's posts.
"The shooter had access to two AR-style rifles, an AR-style handgun, and a handgun, but a Congresswoman is blaming the trans community for gun violence. People who are trans are much more likely to be the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators. It’s the guns," Watts wrote.
Conservative pundit and disgraced journalist Benny Johnson, fired from Buzzfeed after it was revealed that he plagiarized much of his work, tweeted conservative red meat to his 1.4 million followers.
“Trans ideology frames their movement as ‘saving’ kids from ‘genocide.’ In reality, it’s they who are committing genocide against children,” he wrote. “Listen to their rhetoric: If you don’t ‘affirm’ their existence you deserve to die. It’s pure evil from the pit of Hell.”
Those on the right continue to use dehumanizing language around trans people.
A prominent speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual gathering of similarly minded right-wingers, recently said that “transgenderism must be eradicated.”
Gays Against Groomers, the political outfit run by queer right-wingers Jamiee Michell and David Leatherwood, continued its crusade against transgender people by spouting disinformation and conjecture.
“Instead of being given the help she desperately, clearly needed, #AudreyHale was instead 'affirmed' in her belief she was a boy. We don’t know the details of her transition or at what age it started, but it was clear from photos that she was on testosterone. It is necessary to have the conversation about what these cross-sex hormones and puberty blockers are doing to young people that are suffering from mental health issues. Our hearts break for the 3 children who were senselessly murdered in Nashville today, as well as the adult victims too,” Gays Against Groomers tweeted.
The Human Rights Campaign noted in a statement that the terrible event broke the hearts of organizational representatives as it did many Americans.
“We still don’t know all of the facts about what happened in Nashville,” HRC tweeted. “We do know that every study available shows that transgender and non-binary people are much more likely to be the victims of violence rather than the perpetrator of it. Regardless of the reason for this shooting, the use of violence is reprehensible, and we renew our call for common-sense gun safety legislation.”