Murdoch Uses Nashville to Stoke Anti-Trans Hate

Aiden Hale used three of the seven guns he bought in an assault on a Christian school in Nashville, killing six people, including three children. Hale, a former student at the school, was killed by police (NPR, 3/28/23).

The tragedy is numbingly added to an endless list of school shootings like Stoneman Douglas, Uvalde, Columbine and Sandy Hook. Every time one of these heartbreaking incidents hits the news, some of us have a small hope that this might make America realize that it needs to love its children more than it loves its guns.

But we are living in an age where Republicans have swapped the American flag for an AR-15 as the ultimate nationalistic symbol (Time, 2/7/23). A dream of a disarmed America seems out of reach. The Onion has reused its infamous “‘No Way to Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens,” 31 times since 2014 (most recently 3/27/23).

And this time around, Rupert Murdoch’s media empire is using Hale’s transgender identity to ratchet up its campaign against transgender people.

Cashing in on bias

 Transgender Killer Targets Christian School

The New York Post (3/28/23) does not seem to have ever used the phrase “cisgender killer.”

The cover of the New York Post (3/28/23) couldn’t have been clearer. It featured a photograph of the Nashville killer juxtaposed against the image of a terrified child in a school bus, with the blaring headline “Transgender Killer Targets Christian School.” The Post (3/27/23) reported some speculation that Hale “may have been driven to kill by ‘resentment’” for having to attend a Christian school. While reporting in a separate story on Hale’s access to guns—which, in the case of any mass shooting, should be a primary focus of news coverage—the Post (3/28/23) again reminded readers that the shooter was trans in the headline.

Reducing a crime suspect to their gender identity in a headline is irresponsible journalism—just as identifying a suspect by their race, religion or sexual orientation, which is why you don’t see headlines talking about an “Asian killer,” a “Mormon killer” or a “bisexual killer.” Such shorthand inevitably holds an entire group responsible for the action of an individual, and, in the case of a group that faces widespread prejudice, puts many people in danger.

Given that nearly all school shooters are cisgender, there is simply no rational reason for the Post to highlight the shooter’s gender identity other than to cash in on readers’ biases.

Hale did, in fact, belong to a demographic group that is responsible for a wildly disproportionate number of mass shootings: He was male. As FAIR’s Julie Hollar and Olivia Riggio (6/30/22) have noted, media outlets often fail to report on how misogyny and masculinity play a role in many mass shootings.

Hallucinating a ‘pattern’

 A Trans Killer

Laura Ingraham (Fox, 3/28/23) claimed that Hale’s identity “didn’t quite match the preferred criteria of the media.”

Murdoch’s Fox News (3/28/23) reported that “a radical transgender group said the transgender Nashville shooter felt ‘no other effective way to be seen’” adding that “the Trans Resistance Network (TRN), a far-left transgender ‘collective,’ released an inflammatory statement” that Hale resorted to violence because Hale had “no other effective way to be seen,” while still saying the action was tragic. (The obscure group appears to have gotten no media coverage at all prior to March 27, according to a search of the Nexis database.)

Republican Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley told the network (3/29/23) that the incident should be investigated as an anti-Christian hate crime. “We’ve seen a lot of language directed at the Christian community with regard to particularly trans issues, calling them hateful,” the senator said. “That kind of rhetoric is dangerous, and we’re seeing its effects right now.”

(That hateful speech can have consequences seems like a new position for the senator, who responded to Attorney General Merrick Garland warning about “a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence” against educators from people people opposed to masks and Critical Race Theory, Hawley charged that this was “a deliberate attempt to chill parents” who wanted to “express concerns”—American Independent, 10/5/21.)

Fox (3/28/23) also said the incident “is part of a pattern of mass shooters having ‘sexual identity dysfunctions’ and psychological confusion that must be addressed,” according to Jonathan Gilliam, a former Navy SEAL and FBI special agent. Gilliam said that “the majority of school shooters and mass shooters that we’ve had in the recent history of this nation are all people who have sexual identity dysfunctions.” (Mother Jones‘ Abby Vesoulis—3/29/23—based on the magazine’s long-running database mass shooters, assesses that three out of 141 mass shooters over the last four decades may have been trans or nonbinary, what Fox means when say “dysfunctions.”)

Fox host Laura Ingraham (3/28/23), with a frame of Hale in the background carrying the words “A TRANS KILLER,” said the “killer’s identity didn’t quite match the preferred criteria of the media, which is usually white male.” In fact, Hale was a white male—and Fox is part of “the media.” Ingraham noted that Hale “referred to herself [sic] as he/him and was reportedly in the midst of a so-called transition process,” going on to insinuate that Hale’s medical treatments may have been a factor in the shooting.

Christianity’s ‘natural enemy’

 We Are Witnessing the Rise of Trans Violence

Fox‘s Tucker Carlson (3/28/23): “We seem to be watching the rise of trans terrorism.”

But Tucker Carlson (3/28/23), Fox News’ top-rated host, stole the show in a segment that warned about “the rise of trans terrorism.” First, he downplayed the general problems trans people face every day, saying that they have an easy time getting into Harvard. From there, Carlson launched into a declaration of war:

The people in charge despise working-class whites, but they venerate the trans community. People are just responding to incentives. It’s rational in a way…. Why are some transpeople so angry, and why do they seem to be mad specifically at traditional Christians? We can’t think of any trans person who’s ever been murdered by a pastor. As far as we know, that has never happened. So, it’s not an actual threat of violence from Christians that’s inspiring some trans people to buy an AR-15. No, it’s got to be more fundamental than that, and it is. The trans movement is the mirror image of Christianity, and therefore its natural enemy…. Christianity and transgender orthodoxy are wholly incompatible theologies. They can never be reconciled.

Carlson wasn’t done. The next day (3/29/23), he hosted Federalist CEO Sean Davis, who told (Federalist, 3/29/23) Carlson “this murder, this massacre of children was done by someone because of this evil transgender ideology.” Both Davis and Carlson agreed that the killer’s transgender identity, and the imagined idea that the government and media are a part of some kind of transgender agenda, represents a “spiritual war” against Christians.

FAIR (1/6/23, 3/9/23) has shown repeatedly how conservative media, especially Murdoch’s media, have elevated incitement against transgender people, while Republicans push measures in several states to criminalize gender-affirming care. And of course the Murdoch framing here turns the so-called war involving trans people upside-down. While the religious right has escalated its attacks on the trans community (American Civil Liberties Union, 9/16/16; Southern Poverty Law Center, 10/23/17; Miami Herald, 6/9/21; MSNBC, 1/16/23), UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute (3/23/21) found that “transgender people are over four times more likely than cisgender people to experience violent victimization, including rape, sexual assault, and aggravated or simple assault.”

And a Human Rights Campaign statement (ABC, 3/28/23) issued after the incident noted, “Every study available shows that transgender and non-binary people are much more likely to be victims of violence, rather than the perpetrator of it.”

Spreading transphobia

 Fear pervades Tennessee's trans community amid focus on Nashville shooter's gender identity

Fox (3/29/23) went after NBC (3/28/23) for suggesting that trans people might be in danger in the wake of transphobic media coverage like that coming from Fox.

But just as 9/11 was an opportunity to spread Islamophobia (, 3/1/11), Fox and the Post are exploiting this moment to raise the temperature against the trans community. According to the Murdoch press and some figures within the Republican Party, trans people are an active existential threat to God-fearing Americans. Indeed, NBC (3/28/23) reported:

Within 10 minutes of police saying that the suspect was transgender, the hashtag #TransTerrorism trended on Twitter. Around the same time, Republican lawmakers — including Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, and conservative firebrand Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga.—insinuated in social media posts that the shooter’s gender identity played a role in the shooting. And by Tuesday morning, the cover of the Rupert Murdoch-owned New York Post read: “Transgender Killer Targets Christian School.”

“We are terrified for the LGBTQ community here,” Kim Spoon, a trans activist based in Knoxville, Tennessee, said. “More blood’s going to be shed, and it’s not going to be shed in a school.”

However, Fox (3/29/23) pounced on this report, saying “NBC News raised eyebrows on Tuesday for a report suggesting the Tennessee transgender community was under threat following the mass shooting.” Fox added that NBC “appeared to frame the perpetrator as among the victims.” NBC did not frame Hale as the victim, as Fox’s evidence for this was NBC’s “headline ‘Fear Pervades Tennessee’s Trans Community Amid Focus on Nashville Shooter’s Gender Identity.’”

This response is sadly to be expected for media who have latched on to the anti-trans moral panic, as a way to both attract a right-wing audience and to bolster the cultural platform of the contemporary Republican Party. But just because it’s not surprising doesn’t make it any less dangerous.


March 30, 2023

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