Musk, Trump Jr., far-right figures seize on Iowa shooter’s possible LGBTQ identity

As authorities and journalists scrambled to uncover information about the shooter who opened fire at an Iowa school on Thursday, far-right figures zeroed in on the likelihood that the assailant was LGBTQ and once again suggested that queer people are more likely to pose a danger to others.

Early Thursday morning, a 17-year-old student at Perry High School, in the Des Moines suburb of Perry, fatally shot a sixth grader and wounded five others before apparently killing himself, officials said. Authorities identified the shooter as Dylan Butler and said he acted alone. They have not commented publicly about his sexuality or gender identity. 

However, screenshots from Butler’s social media accounts, which have since been taken down, appear to display some LGBTQ symbolism, including rainbow and transgender flag emojis and an image of graffiti that says “LOVE YOUR TRANS KIDS.” 

Far-right social media personalities and conservative provocateurs were quick to pounce on these revelations.

“This is the trans genderfluid te*ror*st who shot up a school in Iowa today,” the account Libs of TikTok posted that same day on X, where it has over 2.7 million followers. “Trans extremists are a serious threat. The media will bury this.”

Donald Trump Jr. weighed in on the matter, reposting a different tweet from Libs of TikTok that stated that “the modern LGBTQ+ movement is radicalizing our youth into becoming violent extremists.”

“Per capita is there a more violent group of people anywhere in the world than radicalized trans activists???” Trump baselessly wrote. “Given the tiny fraction of the population that they make up it doesn’t seem like anyone else even comes close.”

And billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, who owns X, which is where a bulk of transphobic-riddled speculation about the shooter’s identity was circulating, appeared to endorse a tweet that suggested the shooter was a product of a national “radicalization of LGBTQ youth.”

“This is happening a lot,” Musk replied on Thursday. “Something is deeply wrong.”

LGBTQ advocates and other critics of the rhetoric slammed the remarks triggered by the Iowa shooting.

“Scapegoating is a very dangerous and old tactic for justifying the extreme marginalization of a specific group,” Gillian Branstter, a communications strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union, said. “They’re very eager for other people to be as obsessed with trans people as they are and this overlaps with their need to blame mass shootings on anything that’s not shaped like a gun.”

Libs of TikTok, which has been accused of and repeatedly denied inciting several bomb threats at libraries and hospitals in recent years, said in response to a request for comment from NBC News on X: “Pronouns in bio = opinion discarded.”

Before this article was published, Chaya Raichik, who runs the Libs of TikTok account, also tweeted out a screenshot of NBC News’s inquiry and wrote: “Here come the hit pieces from NBC because I reported facts about the trans Iowa shooter that the media wanted to ignore.”

Representatives for neither Musk nor Trump immediately returned requests for comment. 

Research widely shows that the majority of mass shootings are carried out by straight and cisgender men. However, a fixation on whether shooters identify as LGBTQ has become increasingly common among far-right figures.

After a 28-year-old shot and killed three people last year at a grade school in Nashville, Tennessee, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., suggested the shooter was medically transitioning and speculated that the treatment drove them to commit violence. Authorities initially identified the shooter, a former student who was fatally shot, as transgender. However, confusion and disagreement over the shooter’s gender identity still linger.

“How much hormones like testosterone and medications for mental illness was the transgender Nashville school shooter taking?” Greene wrote on X last March. “Everyone can stop blaming guns now.”

Provocateurs often also spread disinformation about the shooters’ gender identities in the aftermath of the massacres. 

On Thursday, Raichik and her Libs of TikTok account tweeted out lists of mass shooters, which included the Nashville shooter, and identified them all as trans or nonbinary, despite these claims either being disproven or unconfirmed by officials. 

The post included an image of a transgender woman in front of a trans flag labeled falsely as the “Uvalde shooter.” The person in the image is not who authorities identified as 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, who fatally shot 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, in May 2022. The image has been widely spread online since the tragedy, fueling myths that Ramos — who was shot and killed by authorities on the day of the shooting — was transgender.

Musk replied to Libs of TikTok’s post on X with two exclamation marks. The billionaire is no stranger to spreading misinformation about LGBTQ people online. Most famously, he tweeted and deleted what many critics described as an anti-LGBTQ conspiracy theory in October 2022 about the home invasion of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco home and the violent attack on her husband. The unfounded theory suggested that Pelosi’s assailant was actually a “male nudist hippie prostitute” and originated from a website that had a reputation of publishing unaccredited information. 

“They want to portray trans people as a danger,” Branstetter said. “We should always be wary of portraying an entire kind of person as a threat.”

Simultaneously, and particularly within the last few years, there have been several high-profile threats and acts of violence against LGBTQ Americans. 

Most notably, a gunman opened fire on an LGBTQ club in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in November 2022, killing five people and injuring 17 others. In July, a 28-year-old gay professional dancer, O’Shae Sibley, was stabbed to death at a gas station in Brooklyn, New York, in what police later said was a hate crime. The next month, Laura Ann Carleto, a California business owner and mother of nine, was fatally shot allegedly over a rainbow Pride flag hanging in her clothing store.

For more from NBC Out, sign up for our weekly newsletter.