There is no evidence that Nasim Aghdam's religion, immigrant status, or gender identity are relevant to the YouTube shooting, but that hasn't stopped bigots from using the tragedy to espouse Islamophobic and transphobic ideas.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons
Less than 24 hours after police identified a woman named Nasim Aghdam as the person who shot three people at YouTube headquarters in San Bruno, California, before killing herself, TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) and right-wingers are peddling a conspiracy theory that the shooter is trans.
Right-wing conspiracies about the shooter’s identity began even before Aghdam was identified as a suspect. In the hours following the shooting, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) speculated that the shooter was an undocumented immigrant, a claim based on zero evidence. Fake news is constantly cropping up when it comes to news about shootings—from the doctored photo of Parkland survivor Emma Gonzalez to the claim that her classmate David Hogg was a hired crisis actor—and often carries further than real news.
In a bizarre blend of transphobia, misogyny, and overall stupidity, some Twitter users are scrutinizing pictures of Aghdam for "evidence" that she’s trans. And this isn't the first time that conservatives have speculated about a shooter's gender identity to demonize trans people—in 2015, right-wingers including Ted Cruz floated the idea that Planned Parenthood shooter Robert Lewis Dear was transgender because his voter registration identified him as female.
Laura Loomer, a popular alt-right personality best known for being banned from Uber and Lyft after posting an Islamophobic tweetstorm, tweeted that Aghdam "has very muscular thighs and buff arms" and added that "Nasim is not traditionally a woman’s name." Meanwhile, some right-wingers—including Donald Trump Jr.—are acting downright gleeful about the identity of the YouTube shooter, pointing to her veganism as proof that "liberal extremists" can be just as bad as right-wing ones. On Twitter, some users have speculated that the far-right's apparent readiness to link shootings to marginalized groups serves their agenda by discrediting the notion that America has a problem with guns, and rather that America has a problem with whichever oppressed group they've decided to target, be they people of color, immigrants, Muslims, or trans people.
More important than Aghdam’s identity or affiliations is the troubling fact that her family reportedly warned authorities about her frustrations with YouTube after she was found asleep in her car near the headquarters, which seemingly fell on deaf ears.
High-profile shootings in the past have led to heavy criticism of the Republican Party, which is heavily reliant on NRA funding. A recent tipping point came in February of this year, when Nikolas Cruz walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and killed 17 people (most of them children) with an AR-15 rifle. In response, student survivors demanded gun control and launched a movement that has swept the country. While these students face extreme obstacles to gun control on a federal level, their advocacy for stricter gun laws has already led to visible change from state lawmakers and high profile companies: On March 5, for instance, Oregon closed a loophole that allowed domestic abusers to purchase guns, and in February both Walmart and Dick's Sporting Goods raised the age on gun purchases to 21.
Despite right-wing conspiracy theorists’ attempts to disparage trans, Muslim, and immigrant communities by readily linking Aghdam’s actions to these groups, her gender and religious identity remain irrelevant until evidence suggests otherwise. What evidence does show is that we still have a catastrophic gun control problem that lawmakers can help fix.
As Parkland survivor Lauren Hogg tweeted to President Trump, "It is your job along with your colleagues to implement policy to prevent gun violence so we no longer have to send thoughts and prayers."