Seven people died in a mass shooting in a Chicago suburb on Independence Day. Police said they believe the shooter was dressed in women’s clothing to conceal his identity and help him during his escape. But some social media users are claiming, with no evidence, that he is transgender.
A gunman killed seven people during a Fourth of July parade in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, Illinois, and police arrested 21-year-old Robert Crimo III later that day.
Crimo is charged with seven counts of first-degree murder, and prosecutors said they expect to file more charges.
According to officials, Crimo confessed to the shooting, but they said his motive was unclear. In the absence of information about what led him to carry out the killings, partisan posts online have made various claims about his political affiliation — some allege that he was a far-right conservative while others assert that he was a left-wing activist. His actual ideology hasn’t become clear yet.
In some cases, though, the online claims have devolved into transphobic rhetoric.
“There’s alot of talk about the Highland Park shooter,” said one suggestive Facebook post from Peggy Hubbard, who ran unsuccessfully to be the Republican Senate candidate from Illinois. “MSM is desperately trying to call him a Trump supporter and a ‘Proud Boy’ affiliate Here he is! Dressed in women’s clothing, arrested in women’s clothing. See, OUR Conservative men…DON’T WEAR DRESSES! NICE TRY!” Hubbard’s post racked up more than 10,000 engagements.
Other posts explicitly claimed that Crimo is transgender. For example, right-wing provocateur Anthime Joseph Gionet, who goes by the moniker Baked Alaska online and who was arrested for entering the Capitol during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack, claimed on Telegram that Crimo was a “tranny.”
And a Facebook page called The Conservative Hammer posted a message that said, “the Highland Park 4th of July parade shooter carried out his attack while dressed in WOMEN’S CLOTHING. The LGBTQ/Trans movement is spawning MENTAL ILLNESS and encouraging it. FACT.”
That post also gives the false impression that those who are transgender are more likely to carry out violent attacks when, in reality, they are actually more likely to be victims of violence. A 2021 study from the Williams Institute at UCLA’s School of Law found that transgender people are over four times more likely to be victims of violent crime than cisgender people, based on data from the 2017 and 2018 National Crime Victimization Survey.
That’s a trend that appears to be continuing, too. According to the FBI’s hate crimes statistics, bias-motivated incidents targeting trans people increased 41% between 2019 and 2020, the most recent year for which data is available.
Beyond that, there’s been no evidence to suggest that Crimo is transgender.
Officials said that he had worn women’s clothing during the attack, but they’ve said nothing to indicate that the clothes were an expression of Crimo’s gender identity.
Rather, the outfit was part of his planned assault.
“During the attack, Crimo was dressed in women’s clothing, and investigators do believe he did this to conceal his facial tattoos and his identity and help him during the escape with the other people who were fleeing the chaos,” Chris Covelli, spokesman for the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force, said at a July 5 press conference.
So, there’s no evidence to suggest that Crimo is trans. Rather, the claims online misrepresent what police have said about how he allegedly carried out the attack and play into general transphobic bias, not unlike the false claims that circulated shortly after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas.
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Krieg, Gregory. “What we know about the Highland Park shooting.” CNN. 7 Jul 2022.
Darcy, Oliver. “The untold story of Baked Alaska, a rapper turned BuzzFeed personality turned alt-right troll.” Insider. 30 Apr 2017.
U.S. v. Anthime Joseph Gionet. Criminal complaint. 7 Jan 2021.
Williams Institute. UCLA School of Law. Press release. “Transgender people over four times more likely than cisgender people to be victims of violent crime.” 23 Mar 2021.
Federal Bureau of Investigation. 2020 Hate Crimes Statistics. Updated 5 May 2022.
Bloomberg. “LIVE: Highland Park, Illinois Police Hold Press Conference on July 4 Parade Shooting.” YouTube. 5 Jul 2022.
Hale Spencer, Saranac. “Social Media Posts Make Baseless Claims About Gender Identity of Uvalde Shooter.” FactCheck.org. 26 May 2022.