Less than 24 hours after Monday’s mass shooting in Philadelphia, in which a gunman dressed in a ski mask and body armor killed five people and injured two children, right-wing pockets of social media were exploding with speculation about the suspect’s gender identity.
Among those fueling the speculation was Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who has been repeatedly criticized for amplifying conspiracy theories and anti-LGBTQ sentiments. On Tuesday, Greene tweeted a link to an article by the right-wing media outlet The Post Millennial that includes an image from the suspect’s Facebook page that appears to show him wearing women’s clothing and jewelry.
“Another trans shooter,” Greene declared in the tweet, which had been viewed more than 853,000 times as of Wednesday night.
A representative for Greene did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
About an hour after Greene weighed in, conservative commentator Rogan O’Handley, who has over 945,000 followers on Twitter, shared the same article, which does not identify the suspect as transgender or speculate about his gender identity.
“Time to start having a national dialogue on Trans mass shooters that target children,” O’Handley wrote, in part.
O’Handley did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On Wednesday, Secure America Now, a conservative nonprofit group with 3 million Facebook followers, wrote on the platform that the suspect had been “revealed to be a trans” Black Lives Matter activist. A representative for the group did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Robby Starbuck, a former Republican congressional candidate in Tennessee and ex-Hollywood music video producer who has more than 340,000 Twitter followers, also joined in, declaring that the shooter is transgender.
“Keep in mind that Democrats want you to let the trans Philidelphia mass shooter into the bathroom with your wife and daughters,” Starbuck tweeted, referring to Philadelphia.
In a message to NBC News, Starbuck said it was "common sense" to assume that Carriker identifies as trans.
"I haven't seen many men wearing bras posing like this in multiple photos," Starbuck wrote. "Have you?"
Police announced Tuesday that they arrested Kimbrady Carriker, 40, on Monday night in connection with the shooting. At a news conference at a church Wednesday, prosecutors said the suspect had been arraigned and charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault, possession of a weapon without a license and carrying firearms in public.
While he acknowledged the social media images that appear to show Carriker wearing women’s clothing and jewelry, Asa Khalif, a member of the LGBTQ advisory committee for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, condemned the “violent” language coming from the “conservative press” about Carriker’s gender identity and shared what the district attorney’s office knows firsthand about Carriker’s gender identity.
“The suspect has not identified themselves as trans. They have only identified themselves as male,” Khalif said at Wednesday’s news conference. “But the language spewed out by the conservative press is violent and is dangerous, and it’s targeting trans women of color. It’s rallying the community to be violent, and we’re better than that.”
Khalif condemned those who label trans people as “killers.”
“They are the most vulnerable to violence,” he said. “They want to live their lives, and they have every right to do so, and we will not allow conservative bigots to use that type of language to attack trans people.”
District Attorney Larry Krasner expressed similar sentiments.
“There are some people for whom hate is a full-time job,” Krasner said. “And if they can stay away from the facts and talk about nonsense, that’s what they’re going to do.”
Conservative lawmakers and right-wing pundits have increasingly tried to blame mass shootings on trans people or spread conspiracy theories started on far-right websites that shootings suspects are trans.
After a 2015 shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado, that killed three people, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, spread the unsubstantiated theory that the shooter was transgender after a far-right outlet reported that the suspect had registered to vote as a woman.
Then, in 2018, some far-right websites and conservative critics claimed without evidence that a shooter who wounded three people at YouTube’s headquarters in San Bruno, California, was trans.
Last year, after the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in which 19 children and two adults died, users of 4chan, a forum website with little moderation, shared a photo of a trans woman and falsely claimed she was the deceased shooter, when, in reality, the woman was alive and lived in Georgia. Still, the conspiracy theory was widely shared online, including by Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz.; conservative commentator Candace Owens; and Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist who was successfully sued for defamation for falsely claiming the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut in 2012 was a hoax.
False claims that shooters are trans or that trans people are more likely to be violent have picked up steam since the November shooting at Club Q, a nightclub in Colorado Springs, which killed five people. In the days following the tragedy, lawyers for the shooter, Anderson Lee Aldrich, said Aldrich identifies as nonbinary and uses gender-neutral pronouns, sparking a tense debate online about the suspect’s identity.
Then, in March, misinformation spread rampantly after six people died in a school shooting in Nashville, Tennessee. At the time, authorities said they believed that the suspect — who was killed by police at the scene — was transgender, but they have yet to officially confirm the suspect’s gender identity.
In recent days, some online users justified their speculation about the Philadelphia shooter’s gender identity by pointing to authorities’ use of gender-neutral pronouns in referring to the suspect. NBC News could find only one instance, at a news conference Tuesday, when a law enforcement officer used “they/them” pronouns to refer to Carriker. At the same news conference, other city officials later referred to Carriker as a “man” repeatedly.
The spread of misinformation about mass shooters’ gender identities coincides with an unprecedented wave of state bills targeting LGBTQ people and an uptick in incidents of anti-LGBTQ hate and extremism.
More than 490 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the country this year, and an estimated 77 have become law, according to a tally by the American Civil Liberties Union, with many of the bills directed at legislating the lives of trans people. Simultaneously, reports have shown a surge in anti-LGBTQ hate and extremism incidents in the U.S since June 2022.