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Libs of TikTok is fueling a pogrom against trans youth

A self-described Orthodox Jew is contributing to a dangerous campaign of hate against LGBTQ people

A school was forced to shut down after days of bomb threats, hateful messages, and a death threat against one staff member.

A group of Proud Boys stormed a library during a drag queen story hour. One man wore a shirt that said, “Kill your local pedophile,” with an image of an assault rifle below it.

An Idaho Pride event narrowly avoided becoming the target of a riot led by the white nationalist group Patriot Front. Thirty-one men were arrested before they could enact whatever they were planning.

Camp Ramah was targeted this summer in a “social media offensive” for its policy of sometimes bunking campers and staff based on their gender identity rather than birth sex.

What do these three events, and many others, have in common? They all followed social media posts from the now-infamous Libs of TikTok Twitter account that focused on them.

Libs of TikTok, which has amassed more than 1.3 million followers on Twitter (plus more on Facebook, Instagram, and Substack) since its launch less than two years ago, is fueling an early-stage pogrom against trans youth and their allies. And what makes it a particular shanda is that the account is run by a self-described Orthodox Jew, Chaya Raichik, a former real estate broker who lives in Los Angeles.

Libs of TikTok was briefly disabled from posting on Facebook earlier this month for violating the site’s Community Standards, but was back up and posting within days. A similar thing happened on Twitter over the weekend: The account was briefly locked due to violating Twitter’s policy against hateful conduct; the tweets are still up, and the account will be able to tweet again in just 7 days.

After a number of failed attempts at other anonymous novelty accounts, Raichik found traction when she started Libs of TikTok in April 2021 with posts largely focused on stoking racial tensions and downplaying police brutality against Black people. But it was when she started reposting content of and by queer people on TikTok that the account truly took off.

Joe Rogan mentioned the account on his podcast several times, and from there, it was a short jump to being featured regularly on Fox News, boosted by Donald Trump Jr., and interviewed by Tucker Carlson. Raichik was unmasked in an April Washington Post column by Taylor Lorenz, which in a twist of irony only boosted her account: The day after the Lorenz column was published, the Twitter account gained 200,000 followers.

We generally think of pogroms as riots that led to mass killings of Jews — and as something from the history books. But when you examine the historical underpinnings of pogroms like the series that swept through Russia in 1881 and 1882, the one that killed more than 400 Jews in Odesa in 1905, and the 1929 Hebron massacre, you can see a pre-social media version of Libs of TikTok’s playbook.

Pogroms are not singular events. Mass violence requires years of priming an audience to believe that a vulnerable minority is in fact an enormous danger to the majority. Early stage pogroms tend to target property. As time passes, those attacks become normalized, and then escalate into genocidal killings.

In Odesa, underlying and unceasing anti-Jewish sentiment pervaded the community, partly stemming from perceived economic competition between them and other groups. In Hebron, the Balfour Declaration of 1917 that supported the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine instigated a rise in antisemitism in the area.

As economic and political tensions increased in those places, people began to spread antisemitic conspiracy theories. As the Jewish writer S. Ansky wrote in 1914 in his wartime diary of the rise of pogroms in Russia, “It all began with whispered accusations, secret allegations, and libels, with the purpose of depicting the Jews as betrayers of Russia.”

In 1917, there were several dozen pogroms in Ukraine that historians describe as consisting of “low-grade violence,” largely targeting Jewish homes and businesses, with some instances of beating and humiliation. By 1919, thanks to an invasion by Russian and Bolshevik armies and the conspiracy theory that the Bolsheviks were actually mostly Jewish and thus actually acting on behalf of Jews — a canard that lives on to this day — hundreds of pogroms spread through the region, leaving between 40,000 and 100,000 dead.

These are grassroots events that start with bigotry, evolve into conspiracy and calls for genocide, and eventually erupt in greater and greater levels of violence. Now, add the power of social media to spread information — including falsehoods — and it can metastasize rapidly.

An account like Libs of TikTok can spread lies and bigotry to millions with one post. Over time, its hateful and false narrative that children are being “groomed” for sexual deviance, their bodies deformed, and their lives destroyed, could lead to an actual pogrom against trans people and their allies.

 For months, Libs of TikTok has spread moral panic around gender-affirming care, arguing that it is child abuse being perpetrated on a mass scale. Like age-old conspiracy theories targeting Jews, the ones targeting trans people make some of the most heinous accusations imaginable: “Grooming” children for abuse is a sickening idea, and most of us would do anything to stop it.

Similar to the blood libels of the Middle Ages and beyond, the groomer trope preys on people’s fear for their children, which then justifies the most extreme actions in response. So perhaps it is no surprise that when Libs of TikTok told its followers earlier this month that the Boston Children’s Hospital was performing gender-affirming hysterectomies on people under 18, death threats of violence against staff and clinicians  ensued.

The hospital was the first to establish a pediatric and adolescent transgender health program, according to The Washington Post, and on Aug. 11, Libs of TikTok posted, “Boston Children’s Hospital (@BostonChildrens) is now offering ‘gender affirming hysterectomies’ for young girls.” The posts were not true.

The tweet included a 33-second video of a physician at Boston Children’s Hospital discussing gender-affirming hysterectomies — or the removal of the uterus, cervix and fallopian tubes. But the doctor never suggested the procedure is offered to children. The notion seemed to rely on the hospital having “children” in its name.

The hospital made clear in an Aug. 16 statement that it does not provide gender-affirming hysterectomies to minors. But the damage had already been done: The Daily Beast reported that the hospital received a deluge of “hostile internet activity, phone calls and harassing emails,” including “threats of violence” toward its clinicians and staff.

“Long past time to start executing these ‘doctors,’” one member of a pro-Trump message board formerly known as TheDonald cited by The Daily Beast wrote under a reposted copy of the video.

“Demons like this do not deserve to breathe!” a Telegram user wrote. “Crimes against humanity=DEATH.”

This is not just hate speech, and not confined to the fringe right wing. It is the foundation of a pogrom laid by a social-media influencer and her network of allies, and is increasingly taking hold in mainstream Republican political circles.

An April survey by Data for Progress found that 45% of likely Republican voters think that “teachers and parents that support discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in school are groomers.”

There are Christian preachers, a political candidate, and a former politician that seem to be calling for public executions of queer people and those who support them. It’s only a matter of time before someone listens.

Eighteen states have already banned trans youth from participating in sports, and Florida passed a law in March restricting discussion of gender in schools. At the same time, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a likely Republican presidential contender, has signaled support for legislation that would “terminate the parental rights” of anyone who brings their children to drag shows.

All of this sets the stage for far worse. A new report by the Human Rights Campaign, an LGTBQ advocacy and lobbying organization, directly connects the passage of Florida’s bill with a 400% rise in social media hate speech against queer people. The violence that inevitably results will likely be cheered by radicals and amplified by Libs of TikTok’s Chaya Raichik.

People will be hurt, maybe killed. Anyone who does not demand accountability from Raichik, and the social platforms that allow her to incite hatred and violence, is complicit.

To contact the author, email editorial@forward.com.

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