It’s long been clear that the subtext of Republican attacks on trans healthcare, drag story hours, books that even mention LGBTQ+ people, and “pronouns”—which really reached a fever pitch in state legislatures this week—is that trans people do not have a right to exist. But few have come out and said it in as chilling of terms as Daily Wire host Michael Knowles at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Saturday morning.
“If [transgenderism] is false, then for the good of society, transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely,” the rightwing commentator told a cheering crowd amid what HuffPost reporter Chris Mathias described on Twitter as a “straight-up eliminationist anti-trans tirade.”
Knowles has said before that this overtly genocidal rhetoric is not, in fact, calling for the murder of millions of people, because he doesn’t believe trans people actually exist in the first place. “There can’t be a genocide,” he said on his show last week, because “it’s not a legitimate category of being. They’re laboring under a delusion. And so we need to correct that delusion.”
Of course, Knowles is not some lone, unhinged extremist at CPAC or in the Republican Party writ large, which is collectively whipped up into an anti-trans frenzy lately that seems to preclude discussing any other issue. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) joked at CPAC this week that Biden spent “four or five days asking the Chinese spy balloon what pronouns it uses before we shot it down.” Former Donald Trump advisor Sebastian Gorka railed at the conference this week about “mutilating boys and girls” and “sacrificing them on the altar of their transgender insanity.” Former Vice President (and likely 2024 presidential candidate) Mike Pence made the nonsensical claim without any evidence this week that school nurses in Iowa require parental permission to give out aspirin, but just dole out “gender transition plans” to kids willy-nilly without telling anyone.
It’s pretty clear to me, after Republicans underperformed in the midterm elections due in large part to the fall of Roe v. Wade and their extremely unpopular views on abortion, that they needed to invent another culture war issue to whip up their base in lieu of abortion. And telling parents in red states that doctors are “mutilating” their kids, that Democrats and teachers are “grooming” them to be trans and just secretly doling out hormones at recess, is a pretty easy way to drive paranoid Fox News viewers out to the polls.
Unfortunately, like the war on abortion, this one also comes at the expense of people’s lives. The rhetoric is fascist and genocidal, and it’s being accompanied by actual laws that will kill people and/or destroy their lives. We can ignore the extremist talking heads at CPAC, but I would argue that we shouldn’t.