"OK groomer" back on Twitter: Anti-LGBTQ hate gets even uglier after Colorado Springs

Anti-trans conservatives on Elon Musk's platform respond to Colorado Springs shooting — by ramping up the vitriol

By Kathryn Joyce

Investigative Reporter

Published November 23, 2022 5:45AM (EST)

Colorado Springs police investigate the scene of a mass shooting at Club Q on November 20, 2022 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Helen H. Richardson/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Colorado Springs police investigate the scene of a mass shooting at Club Q on November 20, 2022 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Helen H. Richardson/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Barely 24 hours after a gunman killed five people and injured 19 others at a gay bar in Colorado Springs, Elon Musk's new Twitter responded to the massacre by reinstating the account of James Lindsay, the right-wing activist responsible for popularizing the anti-LGBTQ slur "OK groomer," which over the last 10 months has been used to imply that demands for LGBTQ rights or representation are tantamount to child molestation. In August, Lindsay was banned from Twitter for using a variation on the term, which under Twitter's old regime was prohibited as a form of hateful conduct. But by Monday night, not only was Lindsay back, but "OK groomer" was trending on the platform under its new ownership. 

Lindsay's reinstatement — alongside a number of other accounts previously suspended for anti-LGBTQ content — was just one response to the massacre at Colorado's Club Q that quickly disappointed any hopes that the massacre might conceivably prompt conservative self-reflection after a year of demonizing LGBTQ people and their allies as pedophiles. Instead, across right-wing news and social media, a few common themes developed: First, that progressives were exploiting the slaughter to score political points; second, that allegations of "grooming" or "pedophilia" in fact have nothing to do with gay people; and third, that if the "grooming" doesn't stop, the violence will continue. 

Since last spring, the prominent right-wing Twitter account Libs of TikTok has been a major player in driving anti-LGBTQ animosity, with an ongoing series of posts highlighting LGBTQ events around the country, often including dates, locations and names and pictures of people involved. Last June, it became clear that such posts were being used as a roadmap for harassment or violent confrontations, including a particularly hateful protest outside a Dallas gay bar that was holding an all-ages drag brunch to celebrate Pride Month, which resulted in patrons and their children being chased back to their cars and far-right protesters calling for all attendees to be shot. 

Last Sunday morning, as news of the Club Q shooting spread, Libs of TikTok published another such notice, alerting its 1.5 million followers to a drag performance happening elsewhere in Colorado. Meanwhile, the account's creator, Chaya Raichik, who includes the term "stochastic terrorist" in her bio,  joked on her personal account about safe spaces and told an LGBTQ news outlet to "Cry more." 

Townhall columnist Kurt Schlichter reassured his nearly half-a-million followers, "I don't think we have to tolerate pedophiles because some asshole shot up a gay bar."

Other prominent right-wing figures were equally flippant. Herschel Walker, the Republican Georgia Senate nominee currently engaged in a runoff against incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, released a new campaign ad attacking trans athletes. Charlie Kirk, founder of the right-wing group Turning Point USA tweeted, "There is no such thing as 'family friendly' drag queen shows." Seth Dillon, CEO of the right-wing website Babylon Bee (also recently reinstated by Musk), tweeted, "Incitement: the act of speaking while being disliked by Democrats." 

Townhall columnist Kurt Schlichter reassured his nearly half-a-million followers, "I don't think we have to tolerate pedophiles because some asshole shot up a gay bar. Frankly, a lot of people trying to convince us we need to tolerate pedophiles seem to be happy to use any excuse to silence our opposition." 

Daily Wire host Matt Walsh, who has spent months leading attacks on doctors and hospitals that offer gender-affirming medical care to trans youth, posted a video calling anyone who connects the dots between the past year's anti-LGBTQ campaigns and the massacre "scumbags" and "demons." 

"They want the kids at the drag shows, they want them in the sex-change clinics," said Walsh. "But they dare not defend either stance out loud. So instead, they must resort to the worst kind of emotional manipulation… in this case gleefully exploiting the deaths of the very people they pretend to care about." 

On Twitter, Walsh wrote, "Leftists are using a mass shooting to try and blackmail us into accepting the castration and sexualization of children. These people are just beyond evil. I have never felt more motivated to oppose everything they stand for, with every fiber of my being." 

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Walsh's Daily Wire colleague, Candace Owens, likewise responded, "I just want to make sure I'm correct in understanding that the Left is using the tragedy in Colorado to make the argument that unless conservatives get on board with experimenting on children's genitals with puberty blockers, then nightclub shootings will continue to happen." In her own video appearance, Owens suggested that the shooter and trans people were both mentally ill. 

In his opening monologue on Monday night, Fox News host Tucker Carlson offered a perfunctory condemnation of violence before pivoting first to an attack on hospitals that provide care for trans youth and then to a new narrative that arose Monday on right-wing Twitter: that high-end fashion label Balenciaga is promoting child pornography. This claim was evidently sparked by a photo shoot for the brand featuring a child holding a teddy bear dressed in what Carlson called "a bondage outfit," as well as a different ad for a handbag displayed on a desk of scattered papers, one of which references a Supreme Court decision involving child pornography.

Tucker Carlson offered a perfunctory condemnation of violence before pivoting to a brand new right-wing narrative: The high-end fashion label Balenciaga is promoting child porn.

"Here is a high-end retailer promoting kiddie porn in an ad on Instagram and nobody notices!" Carlson said, going on to charge that the mainstream media was refusing to report on this outrage for sinister reasons: "They're reserving all their energy to attack you for noticing! You're a stochastic terrorist if you point it out!" 

Tying the segment back to the massacre in Colorado, Carlson went on to claim, "This has nothing to do with gay people! This is an attack on the sexual fixation on and mutilation of the genitals of children, of kiddie porn. It has nothing to do with gay people!" Adopting a cartoonish voice, Carlson continued, "You're not allowed to notice it, or else you're 'committing violence'! You're 'complicit in mass murder'!" 

By Tuesday, all these responses had become common conservative narratives. Schlichter repeated Carlson's argument, tweeting, "We will not stop calling out the groomers, who you despicably link to regular gay people." Chaya Raichik accused her critics of inciting violence against her. But another, even more disturbing narrative arose as well: LGBTQ people had brought the violence upon themselves, and more was waiting if they persisted. 

A right-wing group called Gays Against Groomers — which was featured on Carlson's show the day before the shooting — posted a series of tweets arguing that radical LGBTQ activists had provoked a backlash of violence against them. "If you want to see gay rights and LGBT people continue to be attacked, just keep sexualizing, indoctrinating and mutilating kids," the account wrote in one tweet Sunday night. "Leave the kids alone and we'll all be left alone." In another, the group wrote to one LGBTQ activist, "We are saying the backlash and growing intolerance of our community is due to people LIKE YOU who will not stop going after kids." 

The group's website also published an essay on Monday entitled "Radicals are Putting Our Community in Danger," which argued that blame for the shooting "lies largely with the radicalized members of the LGBTQ+ community, who have pushed beyond common sense boundaries and into an invasive space that often courts the idea of normalizing the sexualization of children." 

The essay went on, "The more radicals push and invade spaces they have no business invading (and wouldn't, if they were comfortable with themselves), the angrier it will make extremists on the opposite side of the spectrum. …A line has been crossed, and a target is now on the backs of everyone under the LGBTQ umbrella, not just the radicals." 

In a series of tweets, right-wing influencer Tim Pool suggested that Club Q had invited the violence by scheduling an all-ages drag brunch for the day after the shooting.

Other right-wing social media accounts took up that argument with even nastier implications. In response to a post by the Anti-Defamation League condemning the violence, one user wrote that the shooting wouldn't have happened "if LGBTQ 'folks' weren't on a full blown campaign of provocation toward families," going on to describe Pride marches as the martial display of a "conquering army" and warning that trying to "twist [parents'] children into degenerates has consequences."

More well-known accounts, like that of right-wing personality Tim Pool, took that even further. On Tuesday, Pool posted a number of tweets suggesting that Club Q had invited the violence because it had planned an all-ages drag brunch the morning after the shooting.

"We shouldnt [sic] tolerate pedophiles grooming kids. Club Q had a grooming event. How do [sic] prevent the violence and stop the grooming?" Pool asked in one. In another, he wrote, "the grooming of children is not stopping. people are calling for more violence. I do not think legislators will stop the grooming. People will not stop calling for violence. so you tell me what happens next." In two others, Pool referenced others' calls to put "pedophiles in woodchippers," warning that things would get worse. 

In yet another, he argued that anyone who objected to the term "groomer" as a slur against LGBTQ people was the one actually "calling all LGBT people pedophiles" and thus was responsible for "inciting violence against them. STOP. PROTECTING. GROOMERS. STOP. INCITING. VIOLENCE." 

On Tuesday afternoon, James Lindsay tweeted a similar ultimatum, writing, "The people calling out the groomers are the ones desperately trying to prevent violence." When asked to explain what he meant by that, Lindsay retweeted a meme a fan had posted: a person depicted as "The Left" about to take a sledgehammer to a cracked concrete dam, just barely holding back a body of water labeled "Right-Wing Death Squads." 

By Kathryn Joyce

Kathryn Joyce was an investigative reporter at Salon, and the author of two books: "The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking and the New Gospel of Adoption" and "Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement."

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Anti-trans Colorado Springs Far-right Homophobia Lgbtq Mass Shooting Reporting Social Media Twitter