Ted Cruz and Don Jr boost debunked claim Lakewood Church shooter was a transgender woman

Conservative pundits, activists, and politicians have continued to spread the unfounded claim that the Lakewood church shooter was a transgender woman – even after it was kiboshed by police.

Genesse Moreno, 36, opened fire inside Joel Osteen’s megachurch in Houston, Texas on Sunday, sparking a gunfight with two off-duty law enforcement officers that left her seven-year-old son – whom she had brought with her – fighting for his life in hospital.

Houston police said in a press conference on Monday that, although Moreno had sometimes gone by the alias “Jeffrey Escalante”, their investigations so far had found no evidence that she had ever identified as any gender other than female.

The Independent has also found no mention of any trans identity in court documents from Moreno’s past divorce and child custody battle, and police have confirmed that she was the biological mother of her son.

But that did not stop conservative crusader Chris Rufo, anti-LGBT+ activist Chaya Raichik, Donald Trump Jr, and even Texas Senator Ted Cruz from latching onto the idea.

“Per capita, violent trans extremists have to have become the most violent group of people anywhere in the world,” said Don Jr on X, formerly Twitter, on Tuesday morning.

Ms Raichik, who runs the Libs of TikTok account on X, has continued to call Moreno a “trans terrorist”, without offering any evidence, even as she posted clips of other portions of Monday’s press conference.

On Tuesday afternoon, nearly 12 hours after that briefing debunked the claims, Mr Cruz shared one of Ms Raichik’s posts with an emoji of a man covering his face with one hand.

The claim appears to have originated from the left-leaning broadcaster MSNBC, which claimed on Monday morning before the press conference that Moreno was “a Hispanic transgender woman”.

Fox News followed that up with a headline saying that Moreno “identified as [a] transgender woman”. Both outlets have now nixed that claim.

Ari Drennen, head of LGBT+ news for the left-wing think tank Media Matters for America, who first noted the NBC News connection, said Ms Raichik and company were “adding fuel to a moral panic as legislators across the country push a raft of laws restricting the lives of trans people”.

Indeed, conservatives’ embrace of these debunked claims is part of a growing pattern of blaming LGBT+ people for gun violence in America.

Amid increasing paranoia and violent rhetoric targeting trans people, right-wing activists and influencers have seized on a number of recent shootings in which the alleged perpetrators appeared to be trans or non-binary as evidence that the trans community is uniquely violent.

“The modern trans movement is radicalising activists into terrorists,” wrote Benny Johnson, a conservative YouTuber previously fired from BuzzFeed for plagiarism, after the 2023 Nashville shooting.

“Per capita, is there a more violent group of people anywhere in the world than radicalised trans activists?” wrote Donald Trump Jr after the Iowa high school shooting last month (his post on Tuesday was largely recycled).

“This is happening a lot. Something is deeply wrong,” said Elon Musk, the richest person in the world and the owner of X, formerly Twitter, who has become increasingly critical of trans rights since his own child transitioned.

Some right-wingers, including Republican congressman Paul Gosar, also falsely blamed a random trans woman living in Georgia for the 2022 Uvalde shooting. The shooter was actually an 18-year-old male.

Data does not support the idea that trans people commit more mass shootings than others, according to a Reuters analysis last year.

There have been just four recent shootings where there was clear evidence that a perpetrator was transgender or considering transition: in Aberdeen, Maryland, in 2018; in Denver, Colorado, in 2019; in Nashville, Tennessee, in 2023; and in Iowa in January 2024.

The 2022 Colorado Springs shooting at an LGBT+ nightclub has also been listed by conservatives, because the shooter Anderson Lee Aldrich has said since their arrest that they identify as non-binary.

However, prosecutors have said there is “zero evidence” that they identified that way before the shooting, and found that they actually exhibited “extreme hatred” for LGBT+ people”.

In any case, the Gun Violence Archive lists more than 4,400 mass shootings in the US since 2013, some of which had more than one perpetrator. Of those, less than ten were known to be transgender as of last March, representing 0.11 per cent of the whole.

A US Secret Service analysis of 173 mass casualty attacks gave a higher estimate, saying that 2 per cent of perpetrators had been trans men. By contrast, around 96 per cent were cisgender (or non-trans) men.

The number of trans people in the US is uncertain, with estimates commonly clustering around 0.5 to 0.6 per cent.