Right-wing story hour, part 2: Chaya Raichik and the Libs of TikTok saga

Libs of TikTok cruelty superspreader Chaya Raichik lost her anonymity a year ago. Her second act remains unclear

Published April 16, 2023 12:00PM (EDT)

Shelf with LGBTQ awareness books at the public library (Getty Images/Christina Vartanova)
Shelf with LGBTQ awareness books at the public library (Getty Images/Christina Vartanova)

Chaya Raichik was standing alone off to the side of the Cleveland Park Library's main reading room. Across from her, gathered together on the carpet, a dozen or so children were growing restless. At their occasional outbursts — their shouts and rapid movements — she glanced in their direction.  

For much of the morning, she'd been talking with Jack Posobiec. Now she had her back to the wall. She was wearing a denim dress over black leggings, her dark hair parted down the middle. Tall and standing apart from the crowd — unable to keep herself from repeatedly glancing up at the fidgeting kids across the room — she was doing her best to conceal her impatience. 

At 28 years old, Chaya Raichik was the youngest author at the event. As the proprietor of the Twitter account Libs of TikTok, she had become infamous for mocking the left, largely by reposting content from left-leaning social media accounts. She did this anonymously for almost a year, growing in popularity until Washington Post reporter Taylor Lorenz revealed Raichik's identity in an investigative article.

She was scheduled to read third, after Posobiec and before Sean Spicer, Donald Trump's former White House press secretary, but already the Freedom Island Story Hour was running behind. The event's headliner, child actor turned evangelist Kirk Cameron, hadn't yet arrived. 

All these people were  here to promote their books. Raichik was holding at her chest a copy of her own, "No More Secrets: Candy Cavern."

Raichik is a relative newcomer to the field of right-wing influencers — a loose array of minor celebrities who, as the 2024 presidential primary heats up, hold astonishing sway in determining the Republican party's eventual nominee — and her unlikely rise is best understood as a tale of two radicalizations. 

*  *  * 

Raichik grew up in Los Angeles in an Orthodox Jewish family. She went to a private Hasidic high school. As a teenager she had her own smartphone and was often online, but she didn't use Facebook. "I never really felt the need to have a social media account," she explained recently. "As a person I've always been super private." After college, she lived in Brooklyn, earning her real estate license, but in the initial bewildering days of the pandemic, she returned to Southern California and moved back in with her parents and siblings. 

For the next few months she rarely left her childhood home. Instead, she spent her time online. She discovered TikTok. She watched video after video of the platform's predominantly young users responding to issues like lockdown, masking and vaccination. "All the fear-mongering," she'd later say, "people getting kicked off planes for not wearing masks, for two-year-olds not wearing masks… Fauci's lies…" 

Raichik's family was always conservative. She identified that way too, growing up. But she didn't consider herself political. The pandemic, with its isolation, changed that. "I've never been told that I can't go to work, I can't leave my house," she said. "It was like a wake-up call, COVID. You can't just let people tell you what to do, let people control you." 

Later that summer she moved back to New York. She started working again as a real estate agent. In November she created her first Twitter account, posting anonymously. She supported the false claim that Donald Trump had won the 2020 election. On Jan. 6, 2021, she traveled to Washington for the Stop the Steal rally and was in the audience for Trump's speech at the Ellipse. She witnessed the Capitol riot firsthand.

Chaya Raichik was in the audience for Donald Trump's speech at the Ellipse on Jan. 6. She saw the Capitol riot firsthand. A few months later, she changed her Twitter handle to @libsoftiktok.

A few months later, she changed her Twitter handle to @libsoftiktok and began posting videos along with short, emoji-laced summaries. "Your daily dose of cringe," she explained in the bio. The initial content was predominantly pandemic-related. Her first tweet to break 100,000 views was of a young woman singing about being a "vaccine slut." She doggedly tagged prominent right-wing figures in an effort to increase her visibility.

That summer, her number of followers skyrocketed after Joe Rogan mentioned Libs of TikTok multiple times on his podcast. But many of her daily posts were simply echoes of popular conservative talking points on topics like police violence or the state of American cities or the purported hypocrisy of mainstream news sites. In other words: Take away the TikToks, and the account was just another outrage outlet. 

It was the videos that changed everything.

Some weren't just cringeworthy; they felt deeply unsettling. In September, she reposted a skirmish captured at Arizona State University's library, in which two white students were confronted for studying in an area reserved as a multicultural space. For more than two minutes, a group of college kids shout  accusations at one another, speaking in the rigid language of their cultural identities and ideological affiliations. No one comes out of it looking good. 

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At the end of 2021, Raichik quit selling real estate and moved back to Los Angeles. Combing the internet for material became a full-time task. Seth Dillon, the owner of the conservative satirical news site The Babylon Bee, had provided her with funding in exchange for a share of equity — so she more or less had a regular salary. While her account was still anonymous, Raichik had laid the groundwork for monetizing its popularity.

By now Raichik had found her sweet spot: an unrelenting attack on transgender and queer identity, especially within the context of childhood education. The videos she shared increasingly depicted young adults discussing LGBTQ issues.

By late 2021, Raichik had found her sweet spot: an unrelenting attack on transgender and queer identity, by way of reposting videos of young adults discussing LGBTQ issues.

In one example, a young couple explains how they'd like people to address them. "Hi, my name is Jasper, I use they/it pronouns," one of them says. "Hi, my name is Leona, I use they/demon pronouns," the other adds. The two people are standing together, their faces powdered, their eyes outlined with mascara. They look like Gen-Z's answer to the band KISS. Both appear to be, at best, in their 20s. Clearly they've already been through multiple takes. The whole thing has a harmless, earnest feeling, like a VHS tape from some long-lost slumber party — except you can't shake the sense that they'd shot the clip in hopes of becoming influencers themselves. It's clearly meant for a public audience. Smiling, Jasper explains the subject-object grammar that their new identity prescribes: "For the demon pronouns, it would be: 'Leona is my partner. Dem is cute and I belong to dem. I love demon very much.'"

In another, a young high school teacher says she has secretly replaced the American flag in her second-grade classroom with the Pride banner. (She lost her job after that clip went viral.) There's also a video of a middle school teacher, who posted about protecting a 12-year-old student who had come out as agender from the student's parents. In Raichik's summary, she adds, "This is groomer talk."

Groomer, the word and the concept, had begun to appear more and more often on Libs of TikTok. America's children, Raichik repeatedly suggested, were being coerced into adopting queer and trans lifestyles. "The left has taken over all the schools and universities and turned out all these people now who are so confused about their identity," she told the New York Post in an anonymous interview in February 2022. "And they're teachers now. We need to stop this cycle." 

Around this time she also appeared, again anonymously, on the Habibi Bros. podcast. In conversation with her host, Washington Examiner writer and video editor Siraj Hashmi, she openly derided the people in the videos she'd spent the previous year reposting.

"It's disgusting," she said about the Demon-pronouns clip. "Oh my God, I hate her so much," she said of the teacher who'd swapped in the Pride flag. "That one made me the most proud, like, when she was fired." Raichik spoke giddily, seemingly unaware that anyone who disagreed with her might be listening. "Not to brag," she added, "and not that I'm counting, but I did get a few teachers fired. I'm starting to get them mixed up." 

Young people who claim to be autistic, she said, were doing so "just for attention." 

Female-to-male transitions, she said, were aesthetically displeasing: "You were so pretty!" 

Liberals in general, she said, were "so smug, they're so demanding, like, 'You have to call me this.' They're narcissistic."

Her rhetoric in the Hashmi interview is mild compared to things other right-wing influencers regularly say, but it speaks to something essential to her perspective: a vein of cruelty that runs through her entire social media history. 

"Not to brag, and not that I'm counting, but I did get a few teachers fired. I'm starting to get them mixed up."

I'm not saying that being cruel is unique to one side of the political spectrum. I don't even mean to judge the trait itself beyond the context of its utility. The point, instead, is this: Chaya Raichik, as Libs of TikTok, has lighted upon a fresh mode of political influence, one that supercharges the cruelty she seeks to inflict on others by bypassing the limitations of her own personality.

These videos are brutal because she didn't make them. They are public, willingly composed by the individuals depicted in them and posted to an audience they presume to be friendly. Raichik widens the circle of distribution — and, in so doing, mercilessly pops their proverbial bubbles. 

The content strikes at the apparent cultural politics of the left from within the confines of its own assumed logic. Her most virulent posts present to her audience aspects of relatively new and unformed progressive ideology, incompletely expressed by young and vulnerable people who are poorly equipped to recognize (let alone address) the limits of the language with which they've armored themselves. This also speaks to the hollowness that all ideological language contains, to paraphrase Orwell, in its swindles and perversions, its slovenliness and vagueness. 

By the spring of 2022, almost a year into her startling rise through the far-right ecosystem and still anonymous, Chaya Raichik had attained a position in our culture that she'd never be able to replicate. Her videos were regularly picked up by more mainstream outlets. Her account was being credited for inciting Ron DeSantis' controversial "Don't Say Gay" legislation in Florida. Under her pseudonymous handle, she was phoning in to the most-watched conservative shows and podcasts to express her views . 

On April 13, just over a year ago, she appeared for the first time as a guest of Tucker Carlson on Fox News. The voice was her own, unmodulated. "I get a ton of hate mail," she said. "You can't even play a video of what the left themselves are saying."

She had five days of anonymity remaining.

*  *  *

Back at the Cleveland Park Library, it was nearly noon when Raichik finally started reading from "No More Secrets: Candy Cavern." The morning was gone. The turnout was modest. The children in the audience had been sitting on the library's thin carpet for nearly two hours. Kirk Cameron had finally shown up and gone over his allotted time. After he finished reading, he'd talked to the children for 15 minutes about something called "The National Monument to the Forefathers," a miniature statue of which he'd placed on the table behind him. (Your guess is as good as mine.)

Raichik stood at the front of the room, her back just inches from the large wall screen onto which the pages of her book were displayed. The projector beam kept threading its blue light into the top of her head, catching along the evenly combed part that divided her dark hair. Occasionally she held up a hand against the glare.

"No More Secrets" is about a second-grade teacher, Mr. Wooly, who, as a literal wolf in sheep's clothing, gets his student Rose, a lamb, to eat candy, making her promise not to tell her parents about how sick this candy makes her feel. 

She read for just over 12 minutes. From the beginning, the children at her feet kept interrupting the story she was trying to tell.

"The teacher looks like a wolf," an older kid in a tie-dye tank top said.

 "Well, don't give the book away," she shot back.

"Everybody looks different!" a girl called out.

"It's the next day," she said. "So they changed the next day."

"They're going to his wolf's house!" a boy with a lisp exclaimed.

"Don't give the story away," she said again. The adults laughed. Raichik, after a moment, did too. 

From the beginning, the children at Raichik's feet kept interrupting the story. "The teacher looks like a wolf," an older kid said. "Well, don't give the book away," she shot back.

By now she was halfway through the story. She read slowly and clearly. Unlike some of her fellow presenters, she wasn't preoccupied with rendering the moment into branded content she could later blast out to her followers. There was no potential audience for this experience, beyond the one that faced her now. 

The climax of "No More Secrets" is predictable: At last the students' parents show up to defeat the Big Bad Wolf. "Rose's father came and saved the day!" Raichik explained. "See? He's opening the cage."

"That's the mom," one of the children corrected her. 

Raichik glanced down. "Yeah, well, the mom also helped the dad with that. They both did it together."

She looked up again. The light from the projector briefly illuminated her hair. 

I couldn't help but wonder what she'd really say to these kids if she could be sure no one else was listening.

This was, in fact, the exact sort of situation that, a year earlier, her anonymity had protected her from.

*  *  *                                                  

The second radical turn in Chaya Raichik's career as a far-right influencer came during the third week of April 2022, while she was celebrating the Passover holiday with her family.

On April 15, Travis Brown, a software developer, revealed her name on Twitter after discovering it through his research into her online history.

A friend of Raichik's alerted her to the disclosure, but Brown had few followers, and the information didn't immediately reach a larger audience. Raichik also learned that a reporter from the Washington Post had been knocking on her family members' doors and asking about her identity.

Four days later, Taylor Lorenz published her article in the Washington Post. "Libs of TikTok reposts a steady stream of TikTok videos and social media posts," she wrote, "primarily from LGBTQ+ people, often including incendiary framing, designed to generate outrage." Lorenz highlighted the influence these anti-trans and anti-gay tweets have had, noting that Libs of TikTok "has become an agenda-setter in right-wing online discourse, and the content it surfaces shows a direct correlation with the recent push in legislation and rhetoric directly targeting the LGBTQ+ community." Lorenz concluded with the accusation that Raichik was responsible for stoking a moral panic against marginalized groups. 

When Raichik read the piece, the accusations of homophobia and anti-trans bigotry didn't bother her. What hit home, she'd later say, was the realization that her anonymity was lost, and she'd never be able to reclaim it.  

"My heart literally stopped. I still remember exactly where I was standing," she recently told David Freiheit, the host of the podcast Viva & Barnes, as she recounted the moment she learned her name would be made public. "I was like, oh my God, this is happening." She had expected this day to come, as a likely result of her shift toward monetization. "I had known for probably like two, three months that it was inevitable." Still, she panicked. "Do they have photos of me?" she found herself wondering. "Do they have videos of me as a kid, like, acting weird? Did they find out where I went to school and contact my teachers to say bad things?"

She appeared to have no awareness that what was happening to her was exactly what her own Twitter account had done to so many others whose content she'd featured. Over the course of her career, her essential defense for running Libs of TikTok hasn't changed: "If you don't want your stuff to be shared, then don't share it in the first place publicly." She was a careful person, she reasoned, and they were not.

Lorenz, in an appearance on the podcast QAnon Anonymous, offered a counter-argument: Raichik was "taking content from private citizens, often marginalized people, and decontextualizing it, misrepresenting it to a massive audience that's primed for outrage…. You don't get to do an entire right-wing media tour and have all this political power and remain anonymous."

Across the conservative world, the response to the Washington Post article was  unanimous in its support. Overnight, Raichik became a celebrity, someone who'd singlehandedly managed to represent the American right's collective plight.

When Raichik read the Washington Post article about her, she appeared to have no awareness that what was happening to her was exactly what she had done to so many others.

Later that week, she appeared on Carlson's show again, this time as his featured guest — but only on the phone. He told his millions of viewers that the Washington Post had published Raichik's home address. That she had been forced into hiding. That the Biden administration, in coordination with the German government, had tried to take down Libs of TikTok along with the person behind it.

None of that was true, of course. But it didn't matter. From that point forward, Raichik would characterize any scrutiny or criticism as further proof of a conspiracy to silence her or  harm her. Her opponents, she claimed, were groomers and pedophiles. What's more, it was up to her to defeat them. "I think that God put me in this position for a reason," she said recently. "I think that this is my mission." 

 A week after the Carlson interview, she took the next step toward monetizing her popularity, establishing a Substack that might position her to earn as much as $40,000 a month — more than some of the teachers she'd gotten fired make in a year. Throughout the spring and summer of 2022, she refused to rush things along.

Last December she finally decided to appear on camera for the first time, as a studio guest on Carlson's show — her "face reveal," as she later characterized it.

From this point on everything sped up. Brave Books published "No More Secrets." She met with Donald Trump for dinner at Mar-a-Lago. Afterward he blurbed her book on Truth Social: "Such an important message! Support Chaya and the work that she is doing by getting a copy." She spoke at CPAC. She embarked on an extensive far-right podcast tour, disparaging the LGBTQ community at each subsequent stop. With like-minded influencers she participated in a series of nationwide events—including the one in Washington I attended in late March.

That morning at the Cleveland Park Library, Raichik, arriving ahead of the general audience, had been greeted in the entryway by a prominent display of queer-positive reading material and Pride flags, set up by library staff the night before. 

Immediately she posted a photo on Twitter. "They're after our kids and they're not even hiding it," she added.

Recently, Raichik has been broadcasting her plans to endorse future Republican candidates and even hinted she might run for office herself. There's no going back to the anonymity she once enjoyed. She has now become a national brand, for which the Libs of TikTok account is  just another revenue stream. Any news she makes, from here on out, will be under her own name.

Whether that's a good bet — whether being Chaya Raichik, rather than the unidentified force behind a media aggregator with explosive growth — remains to be seen. 

*  *  *

Raichik's reading at the Cleveland Park Library wasn't the only stop on her recent visit to Washington.

Later that afternoon she headed to the Capitol, where, while attempting to file an official ethics complaint, she found herself at the center of an exchange with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the progressive Democrat from New York.

The video released afterward by the Heritage Foundation (which provided Raichik with both a lawyer and a camera crew ) goes like this:

Raichik is standing outside Ocasio-Cortez's office. But AOC's not there. Her communications director, Lauren Hitt, is at the door instead. 

"Dropping off some mail for the congresswoman," Raichik tells her, handing over the complaint. "So basically, a few weeks ago, AOC lied about me in a committee hearing." 

"OK?" Hitt says.

"So I tried to come last week and talk to her but she kind of cowered away."


"If you can give it to AOC, I'd really appreciate it."

"Right," Hitt says, trying to close the door. "Thank you." 

"And tell her to stop lying about American citizens," Raichik adds.

Afterward, as Raichik walks back through the Cannon Office Building, it happens: She and Ocasio-Cortez cross paths in the hallway.

Raichik asks for a picture.

Ocasio-Cortez agrees, clearly with no idea who Raichik is.

Together they lean in, nearly cheek to cheek, and smile for the camera. 

"I just delivered an ethics complaint to your office," Raichik says, "because you lied about me in a committee hearing."

The congresswoman turns to face Raichik. "Oh, hi!" she says. 

"I never inspired a bomb threat," Raichik tries to tell her.

Ocasio-Cortez doesn't let her finish. "No, you're actually super transphobic," she says, "and I never want to share a space with you." Her delivery is assured, perfected over the years through a series of far tougher run-ins than this one. As she walks off, she turns to the Heritage camera crew and points at the lens. "Thank you!"

Raichik is left standing alone. How did she think this was going to go? She tries to smile. She opens her mouth as if to laugh. But nothing comes out. The camera cuts away. 

By Timothy Denevi

Timothy Denevi’s most recent book is "Freak Kingdom: Hunter S. Thompson’s Manic Ten-Year Crusade Against American Fascism." He teaches nonfiction in the MFA program at George Mason University.

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