One aspect of the culture war currently being led by ‘Libs of TikTok’ on Twitter, an account with 100,000s of followers whose content is regularly recycled by conservative media outlets, has similarities to attacks over the last year or so on Critical Race Theory (CRT) but with an arguably even more sinister focus. Generally taught in law schools, CRT is something that most people will never encounter or engage with in their day to day life but the concept has been distorted by the right, who have made it into a monolith poisoning the minds of children.
Where the CRT ‘debate’’ on the right is framed as protecting white children from being distressed about their countries’ history and the continuing role of systemic racism in most Western countries, especially the United States, what is being said about LGBTQI+ teachers, students and their allies by rightwing politicians and media in reaction to Libs of Tik Tok, which usually posts videos of educators from these communities or allies to its feed, puts some in more conservative areas at risk of losing their jobs, a clever end run around the protections supposedly provided by teacher’s unions.
As Ari Drennen, the LGBTQ program director of Media Matters for America told Canada’s national broadcaster, the CBC, in a recent interview, “There was one teacher in Oklahoma who said that he would support LGBTQ kids whose parents were rejecting them, which is an unfortunately common and difficult occurrence for LGBTQ youth. He was later fired after his video was featured on Libs of TikTok.”
It’s fairly obvious to most that if they know a particular community is at higher risk of suicide, teachers, family doctors and other authority figures have a professional duty to show compassion like that teacher in Oklahoma and do what they can to help at risk kids regardless of the noise being made about ‘parental rights’ that has become so much louder over the past year of manufactured culture wars.
Nonetheless, some teachers have already been made to pay a price in terms of economic hardship for the bigotry of an until recently anonymous person who seems to have the backing of at least one far right media outlet, an unfunny imitator to the Onion called the Babylon Bee or at least its owner, Seth Dillon.
Libs of TikTok’s creator is also soliciting money through subscriptions on Substack, a platform that has become popular with a variety of high profile culture warriors, including some who used to be widely respected by the left like Glenn Greenwald. Greenwald embarrassed himself last week by defending the account and attacking Washington Post reporter Taylor Lorenz for investigating who is behind it, accusing Lorenz of “doxxing” before her article was even published, an absurd charge. Libs of Tik Tok needed to be investigated because it indulges in cruelty for its own sake and is influencing many of the worst voices in the U.S. Republican Party like Marjorie Taylor Greene to use incendiary terms like ‘groomer’ to attack her political opponents.
In another despicable post last November, before the Twitter feed became widely known to most of us, Libs of TikTok tweeted out that the Trevor Project, which works to prevent suicide by LGBTQI+ youth, is a ‘grooming’ organization, prompting a deluge of hate for the organization both on and offline.
It’s odd that the term ‘grooming’ has become such a major talking point on the far right in North America over the past few weeks. I hadn’t heard the term before people like far right provocateur Tommy Robinson started to talk about ‘grooming gangs’ in the UK in 2018, providing another reason for people like friend of Donald Trump Nigel Farage to attack Muslim immigrants in the Brexit era. Despite his claims of wanting to see those who abuse children in this way jailed, Robinson’s public actions in trying to gin up widespread anti-Muslim bigotry actually resulted in freedom for some accused of these heinous crimes due to mistrials caused by his actions.
It’s incredibly dangerous to argue that educators from LGBTQI+ communities and even the majority of teachers in general as some have done, are predators bent on grooming children just as it was for Robinson to accuse Muslim men en masse of the same thing.
Of course, this is exactly the point. Many conservatives want to turn back the clock on gay rights and slurring people from these communities as ‘groomers’ is a Trojan horse to do so. Like other slurs thrown around on the right, expect this term to become a normalized part of far right attacks on the progressive left and even centrists like ‘libtard’ and ‘cuck’ before it. The main difference being what it implies is far worse and could lead to violence in a way that these earlier slurs don’t.
This wholly manufactured panic, just like the one around CRT earlier this year, has quickly led to an alliance between the paranoid QAnon crowd like those who have disrupted school board meetings and sometimes threatened violence over the last year or so, and those like former Secretary of Education Betsy Devos, who want to end public education in in favor of a mixed for profit or religious models the name of ‘choice’.
Ralph Reed, who is an important conservative voice in the United States bridging the gap between ‘free market’ libertarians and the religious right, explained the idea in simple terms to a reporter recently, “The wisest strategy is to use the momentum from this to drive parental rights and school choice. That’s where this is going, and it has the potential to be a game changer.”
A former MTV host and current Fox News talker who goes by the name Kennedy made the goal of thisstrategy even clearer on the show “Outnumbered” in talking about the case of a football coach in Seattle who forced the athletes under his care to pray on the field after games leading to a legal challenge that has gone all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, saying, “This will be a very important case for religious liberty, but also maybe a great time in our country’s history where we rethink whether or not we have public schools. Maybe we should not have the government involved in education at all so parents and teachers and administrators can make those decisions themselves instead of having the government impose it on them because it is the public school aspect of this that is creating the legal challenge.”
This seems like the ultimate end game of all these attacks on public education from some states banning textbooks and creating legislation like Florida’s “Don’t say Gay” bill: to further marganalize and defund it in favor of corporate charters and religious schools. These attacks will not end at America’s borders and its conceivable that these interests will look to poorer countries to spread their faith or maximize their profits through ‘education’.
U.S. conservatives used to understand that one of main engines of American prosperity has always been its public schools. As flawed and underfunded as they often are, especially in areas that were subject to earlier practices to marginalize communities like red-lining, this has mostly remained true.
It seems that the country’s rightwing are willing to risk this to realize a reactionary project that may not exactly be fascism but to paraphrase what Mark Twain once said about history, does seem to rhyme with it.