Rightwing trolls quickly took advantage of Perry tragedy

The scene outside Perry High School in Perry, Iowa, on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2024. (Photo by Pat Rynard/Iowa Starting Line)

By Amie Rivers

January 5, 2024

Even before the identity of the student who shot multiple people at Perry High School was confirmed by law enforcement Thursday afternoon, right-wing misinformation on social media was filling the void.

Posts from verified and other accounts on Twitter (X) in the early hours after the shooting that killed one and injured five others were flooding the search term for “Perry High School” with conspiracy theories and wild accusations about what they claimed was the shooter’s gender or sexual identity.

Blame shootings on anything but guns

It’s a well-worn playbook by the loud rightwing fringe online: Find some tie-in—no matter how tenuous—to something they already scapegoat, and blame that thing rather than easier access to deadly weapons.

In this case, the fringe got a hold of an article by the rightwing British news outlet Daily Mail, which named Dylan Butler as the shooter hours before the information was verified. (Authorities later said the 17-year-old, now deceased, was the lone shooter.)

While friends of Butler’s told Starting Line he had been bullied for years, anonymous social media accounts found a post of his that included an LGBTQ hashtag. They then jumped to conclusions about his sexual and gender identity, and blamed his actions entirely on that.

Another subset didn’t even bother looking Butler up, and claimed the entire shooting did not happen—a “false flag”—arguing it was a plot to distract from the Jeffrey Epstein news.

If those posts didn’t get any traction, it wouldn’t be worth reporting on. But some of these posts were seen by millions.

The posts

Many of the conspiracy-tinged posts were sent out in the hours immediately after the news broke, and some even before the first official press conference at 10 a.m.

One verified user called the school shooting a “false flag to distract the media” from the news surrounding the Jeffrey Epstein flight logs being released. That tweet had been seen by more than a million people and counting, and reposted on various other accounts as well.

@LibsofTikTok, averified account with 2.7 million followers, posted Butler “appears to be part of the LGBTQ community.”

Several pointed to a rainbow flag in his TikTok profile, but the images circulating online didn’t appear to be confirmed by any news outlet and looked like they originated in the far-right ecosystem.

“Obviously a broken, mentally ill person,” the account posted, which was seen by more than 1.4 million users in less than 90 minutes.

“TikTok just scrubbed the account of the LGBTQ+ mass shooter in Perry,” said a verified account, @EndWokeness, which has more than 2 million followers. In just 30 minutes, the post had been retweeted more than 600 times and seen by nearly 130,000 users.

“Always a mentally ill leftist who is angry at the world,” said @RightAngleNews, a verified account with more than 72,000 followers. That post was seen by nearly 100,000 users within 90 minutes of posting.

The pile-on from verified users—those who have paid Twitter $8 for a blue checkmark and whose posts are amplified in return—continued Thursday afternoon.

“A GODDAMN TRANSQUEER Mass Shooter,” said one such user. “These people ARE radical terrorists and they need to be put in straight-jackets & kept AWAY from kids.”

Again, all of these accusations were made in the hours after the shooting based off a few things seen in his social media accounts, most of which were quickly suspended and taken offline.

Another user thought it was a “helluva coincidence” that Sam Brinton, an LGBTQ activist and former deputy assistant secretary in the Office of Nuclear Energy, was also from Perry. That post was seen by over 36,000 people.

Some right-wing accounts pointed to a Reddit account that appeared to belong to Butler. Notably, none of them mentioned that he had once posted “Trump 2020!” from that account, which Starting Line found during a search through it Thursday afternoon. (The Reddit account has since been suspended.)

Rightwing trolls quickly took advantage of Perry tragedy

  • Amie Rivers

    Amie Rivers is Starting Line's community editor, labor reporter and newsletter snarker-in-chief. Previously, she was an award-winning journalist at the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier; now, she very much enjoys making TikToks and memes. Send all story tips and pet photos to [email protected] and sign up for our newsletter here.

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