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PolitiFact FL: No evidence of rising LGBTQ+ violent extremism or 'trans terrorism'

A police officer stands at the top of steps.
David J. Phillip
A police officer stands at the top of the steps inside Lakewood Church, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2024, in Houston.

Genesse Ivonne Moreno entered a Houston megachurch on Super Bowl Sunday and began firing an AR-style rifle at worshippers, police said. Investigators were still piecing together details from the violent scene — celebrity pastor Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church — when social media claims focused on the shooter’s gender.

"The Lakewood Church shooter was transgender," the popular Libs of TikTok X account posted Feb. 12. "He went by the name ‘Genesse’ and previously ‘Jeffrey.’" The post included what appeared to be part of a criminal record listing numerous aliases, some of which were male names. The post has 1.2 million views as of Feb 22.

Some users on X claimed Moreno, 36, was a trans woman; others claimed she was a trans man. Fox News included the detail in a headline, writing in a story that the shooter was "born as a man." (Fox News has since changed the headline and story).

A day after the Feb. 11 attack, the Houston Police Department acknowledged reports that Moreno had used the alias Jeffery Escalante, but Cmdr. Christopher Hassig, who leads the police department’s homicide division, said in a press conference that "through all of our investigation to this point … she has been identified this entire time as female … so we are identifying her as Genesse Moreno, Hispanic female."

Hassig also said there was a sticker on the weapon that said "Palestine" and police uncovered "anti-semitic writings" during their investigation.

Moreno died at the scene after exchanging gunfire with two off-duty police officers. Two other people were injured, including Moreno’s 7-year-old son, The Associated Press reported.

The claim that Moreno was transgender prompted a flurry of posts from conservative influencers stating that this incident signaled that the LGBTQ+ movement was transforming youth into violent terrorists.

"One thing is VERY clear: the modern LGBTQIA+ movement is radicalizing activists into terrorists, and it’s only getting worse," conservative influencer Benny Johnson wrote on X on Feb. 12.

Libs of TikTok described a "trans terrorist epidemic" and wrote on X that "the LGBTQ movement is turning activists into violent extremists."

A year ago, we examined similar claims following a deadly shooting at a Nashville, Tennessee, school. Extremism and domestic terrorism experts told PolitiFact they knew of no widespread threats of growing radicalization or violence from the trans population.

A year later, the experts’ views remain the same.

No evidence the LGBTQ+ movement is turning youth into terrorists

Experts said data shows far-right extremism — not LGBTQ+ violence — is increasing and outpaces terrorism from other perpetrators.

In 2020, the Center for Strategic & International Studies, a nonprofit policy research organization, analyzed 893 terrorist incidents (attempted and foiled) from 1994 to 2020 and found that "right-wing attacks and plots accounted for the majority of all terrorist incidents in the United States," in that period. In 2019, they accounted for almost two-thirds of all incidents, researchers said.

The report defined "right-wing terrorism" as "the use or threat of violence by sub-national or non-state entities whose goals may include racial or ethnic supremacy; opposition to government authority; anger at women … and outrage against certain policies, such as abortion."

In 2021, the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence reported that "racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists" and "militia violent extremists" present the most lethal threat. People who are racially or ethnically motivated, it found, are "most likely to conduct mass-casualty attacks against civilians" and militia violent extremists typically target law enforcement and government personnel.

A database maintained by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, a University of Maryland research center, tracked 3,203 violent and nonviolent extremists from 1948 to 2021 and found they are most often male, young, single and motivated by "far-right" ideologies.

Experts don’t have the same concerns about LGBTQ+ "radicalization."

"Is there a serious threat by (transgender people) in terms of violence?" said Victor Asal, a University at Albany political science professor. "If you compare it to extremist right wingers and all sorts of other extremists, I think the answer is very easy. And the answer is no."

Adam Lankford, a University of Alabama criminology professor, said although many kinds of violent extremism were discussed during a working group he attended at the FBI’s law enforcement training academy, "there was no concern raised about crimes committed by people based on their gender identity."

Asal said there have been a few examples of violent trans activism. "But compared to other organizations, and more importantly, compared to other groups, this is infinitesimal," he said.

Jon Lewis, a research fellow at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, said violence against LGBTQ+ people is a greater worry.

"The closest thing that there is to a threat involving the LGBT community is the deeply concerning spike in threats targeting that community," Lewis said.

In May 2023, ABC News reported the Department of Homeland Security warned law enforcement agencies that threats of violence against the LGBTQ+ community were increasing. DHS’ website says that "these threats are increasingly tied to hate groups and domestic violent extremists."

Ideological groups that tend to engage in violence frequently promote anti-LGBTQ+ views, said Mia Bloom, a communications professor and extremism expert at Georgia State University: "That's the one thing that all the groups have in common."

The Williams Institute, a public policy research group on sexual orientation and gender identity topics at the University of California, Los Angeles, found in 2021 that transgender people are four times likelier to be victims of violent crime than people whose gender aligns with the gender assigned to them at birth. In 2022, the institute found that LGBTQ+ people are nine times likelier than non-LGBTQ+ people to be victims of violent hate crimes, which include those "motivated by bias," that involve hate language or symbols, or "some confirmation by police as evidence that the incident was a hate crime."

Do trans shooters perpetrate a disproportionate number of mass shootings?

"Per capita violent trans extremists have to have become the most violent group of people anywhere in the world," Donald Trump Jr. wrote in a post sharing the Libs of TikTok post about Moreno. "The amount of shootings they have completed or attempted likely pales in comparison to any other radical group based on how small a group they are. Can’t be close!"

As evidence of a pattern, Several social media users posted a list of shootings since 2018 that they claim were committed by people who identified as transgender or nonbinary.

"Colorado Springs shooter: nonbinary (Colorado, 2022)

Nashville school shooter: trans (Tennessee, 2023)

Aberdeen shooter: trans (Maryland, 2018)

Denver school shooter: trans (Colorado, 2019)

Iowa school shooter: trans/genderfluid (Iowa, 2024)

Lakewood Church shooter: trans (Texas, 2024)

The modern LGBTQ+ movement is radicalizing our youth into becoming violent extremists." posted Libs of TikTok onFeb. 12. State names and years were added by PolitiFact for context.

In four of the six cases cited, the perpetrators died in the attack. Determining shooters’ gender identity after they die often involves piecing together clues from social media accounts or conversations the shooters had with friends and family.

PolitiFact could not independently confirm that all six shooters identified as transgender or nonbinary. The two who are still alive have confirmed their transgender and nonbinary identities. Two of the four who died following the shootings were transgender, police or friends have said.

A third suspect who is now dead has been linked to social media posts and accounts with LGBTQ+ flag emojis, he/they pronouns, and the hashtag "genderfluid." And police are identifying Moreno as female.

But experts cautioned that the larger context of gun violence and shootings show this list is misleading.

There is no standard for defining and tracking gun violence. Some analyses base it on how many people die during an incident; others include the number of people injured; some track gun violence incidents that unfolded in public. Most databases do not track whether shooters were transgender.

The Gun Violence Archive, which collects data on mass shootings in which four or more people were shot and/or killed in a single event, counted 3,399 mass shootings from 2018 to Feb. 15, 2024. The earliest incident in the six shootings social media users cited happened in September 2018 in Aberdeen, Maryland — three people were killed by a 26-year-old whose family members and friends said struggled with mental illness and identified as transgender.

Even if all six shooters identified as transgender, that is six out of 3,399 incidents, or 0.17%. Survey data from 2022 estimates transgender adults compose about 0.5% to 1.6% of the nation’s adult population.

This is an imperfect calculation. Not all six shootings listed by X users would qualify as a mass shooting under the Gun Violence Archive’s definition because, in the Lakewood Church shooting, fewer than four people were shot. And there may be more mass shooters who would identify as transgender that social media users haven’t cited.

A narrower way to analyze this would be to look at the number of active shooter incidents, in which one or more people are engaged in killing or trying to kill people in a populated area. This way of tracking focuses on location and intent rather than injuries or fatalities. The FBI, which tracks these incidents annually, said there were 206 active shooter incidents from 2018 to 2022, 2023 data has not yet been released.

If you take the three of the six shootings that happened from 2018 to 2022 and compare them with active shooting incidents tracked by the FBI, they would make up 1.46% of all incidents.

An epidemiological analysis of active and public mass shooters Lankford and others conducted in 2021 found that public mass shooters are most often young and male. Not all mass shooters are motivated by extremist ideology, but they are likelier to be single, unemployed and have previous military experience than the general population, the study said.

"To start worrying that somebody who's trans is going to do mass shootings," said Laura Dugan, a human security and sociology professor at Ohio State University, "that's just not a concern, given the vast number of people who are not trans who do mass shootings."

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