State lawmaker perpetuated falsity Uvalde shooter was transgender, says he was unaware
In a since-removed Instagram story, Rep. Braxton Mitchell amplified false claims the Uvalde shooter was transgender
State lawmaker Braxton Mitchell said it was not his intention to spread misinformation when he shared a post to his Instagram story late Thursday night calling the Uvalde school shooter “a deranged trans 18 yr old.”
The 22-year-old Columbia Falls Republican shared a since-deleted post by conservative author David J. Harris Jr. that falsely claimed the Uvalde shooter was transgender. Authorities have identified the shooter as Salvador Ramos, an 18-year-old male. There is no evidence that the Uvalde shooter was transgender.
On Tuesday, Ramos entered Robb Elementary in the small rural town of Uvalde, Texas, with an AR-15 and opened fire, killing 19 children and two teachers. A Border Patrol officer fatally shot Ramos when law enforcement responded.
Harris Jr. had quoted a tweet from former President Barack Obama: “As we grieve the children of Uvalde today, we should take time to recognize that two years have passed since the murder of George Floyd under the knee of a police officer. His killing stays with us all to this day, especially those who loved him.”
Obama made the post on Thursday, two days after the Uvalde massacre and one day after the anniversary of the killing of Floyd, whose death sparked sustained protests across the country.
In his post, Harris Jr. criticized Obama’s tweet: “A deranged trans 18 yr old that murdered innocent children has ZERO to do with George Floyd! But thanks for exposing your ugly race-baiting, divisive heart once again @BarackObama. (wonder how many fake followers you have.)” The post from Harris Jr. garnered 83,122 likes on Instagram before being taken down.
Mitchell told the Daily Montanan that his intention in sharing the post to his Instagram story was to call out Obama for entangling the Uvalde school shooting with George Floyd’s murder and not to spread misinformation about the shooter.
“I posted the thing because the former president was trying to link George Floyd to a school shooting, and I think that’s messed up. And that was the whole reason that I posted that,” he said.
Mitchell said he did not realize the post contained misinformation about the school shooter when he added it to his Instagram story.
“I didn’t know at the time; that was not my intention,” he said. “Multiple congressmen, people in the former administration, senators, state representatives shared the same thing … if they’re posting something, then obviously there must be some credence to it.”
Mitchell was elected to the Montana House of Representatives in 2020 and is up for reelection this year. He stopped short of apologizing to the transgender community for spreading the misinformation.
“I never spread any information,” he said. “I never specifically said anything. It was just a post directed at the former president, so that’s what it is.”
Shawn Reagor, director of equality at the Montana Human Rights Network, said Mitchell’s post is a dangerous example of misinformation.
“This is a clear example of how attacking trans people to score political points then puts targets on us for unfounded conspiracies and misinformation. It keeps us from being safe,” Reagor said in a text message to the Daily Montanan. “As an elected official, Representative Mitchell has a responsibility to promote public safety for all Montanans rather than spreading misinformation about an already targeted and misunderstood community.”
Misinformation after mass shootings is not uncommon and can often be traced to fringe far-right message boards. In this case, hours after the attack, a post circulated on the online message board 4chan claiming the gunman was transgender. According to the New York Times, the false claims eventually made their way to Telegram chats of far-right militia groups such as the Proud Boys.
After the shooting, the false claims about the shooter were shared by high-profile conservatives like Paul Gosar of Arizona, author and personality Candance Owens and far-right conspiracist and talk show host Alex Jones. NBC News reported that in a since-deleted tweet, Gosar wrote, “It’s a transsexual leftist illegal alien named Salvatore Ramos.”
In a statement, the Trans Safety Network, a U.K.-based group that monitors online threats against the transgender community, said viral tweets falsely linked at least three different trans people to the incident.
Sam, a transgender woman who lives in Georgia, was one of the women whose photo was used to accuse her of being the shooter, according to NBC. Sam, 20, told NBC News that she has been harassed as people spread her image online.
“This isn’t the first time I was harassed, but it is the first time I’ve been accused of murder,” she told NBC News.
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