Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker is apparently making transphobia the defining feature of his campaign, in the wake of a horrific mass shooting at a queer bar in Colorado.
The GOP candidate, who will face Sen. Raphael Warnock in a run-off on Dec. 6, used a rally in Carrollton, Georgia, on Sunday to describe people who “don’t know the definition of a woman” as an “enemy,” according to Jezebel. Then, on Monday, Walker released an ad featuring a former college athlete who’s become popular on the right for her complaints about transgender swimmer Lia Thomas.
The rally and the ad came in the days immediately following the shooting in Colorado Springs, where a gunman massacred five people and injured dozens more. The five people who were killed at Club Q on Saturday night have been identified by Colorado Springs police as bartenders Daniel Alston and Derrick Rump and club patrons Ashley Paugh, Kelly Loving, and Raymond Green Vance. Alston and Loving were transgender, according to the New York Times.
Though a motive is so far unknown, the suspect has been charged with murder and committing a hate crime, and the shooting happened during a drag show and the night before an all-ages drag brunch. These kinds of events have become frequent targets of vitriol from far-right groups and politicians, as anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and violence has increased nationally. And although Republicans’ fixation on transgender people and other culture war issues likely contributed to the worst midterm for an opposition party in decades, Walker appears to be doubling down on it.
“Do y’all know what the definition of an enemy is? A enemy is somebody that don’t like you,” Walker said, according to Jezebel, which obtained audio of the Nov. 20 rally. “But they been telling you they don’t know the definition of a woman either. So think about that either. They don’t know the definition of a woman.”
Walker continued his poor impression of Tucker Carlson by suggesting that treating people with basic respect somehow affects military preparedness.
“They have talked about… bringing pronouns into our military. Pronouns. What the heck is a pronoun?” said Walker, who during his diatribe repeatedly used the pronouns “they,” “our,” and “I.”
“I can tell you right now, grenades don’t know nothing about no pronouns,” Walker added. “Bullets don’t know what color your skin is. But yet they talking about pronouns.”
“I’m still doing pushups and sit ups,” he continued. “That’s what we need to have them doing. Pushups and sit ups, not pronouns.”
The rally, which was held during Transgender Day of Remembrance, also featured North Carolina’s virulently homophobic Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, who said last year that straight people are “superior” to queer people and called gay and transgender identities “filth.”
On Monday, Walker dropped an ad featuring Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines, who competed in the NCAA championships against University of Pennsylvania’s Lia Thomas. Thomas, who is transgender, is a frequent target of the Republican candidates and right-wing media.
“For more than a decade I worked so hard. 4 a.m. practices to be the best,” says Gaines, who tied with Thomas for fifth place in the 200m freestyle competition, says in the ad. “But my senior year, I was forced to compete against a biological male.”
“That’s unfair and wrong,” Walker says in the ad. “Warnock is afraid to stand up for female athletes.”
In the months since the NCAA championships, Gaines has gone on a media tour and appeared with Walker at rallies, and in an ad for Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul decrying trans women competing in women’s sports. She’s also branched out beyond “protecting women’s sports” into standard-issue transphobia: Last month, Gaines appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show to call a transgender woman who interviewed President Joe Biden is “a man with a fetish” and compare being trans to wearing blackface.
Warnock finished nearly 38,000 votes ahead of Walker earlier this month, but below the 50 percent threshold to avoid a runoff. Walker ran far behind the rest of the Republican ticket, including Gov. Brian Kemp, who defeated Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams by nearly 300,000 votes. Kemp appeared with Walker at a rally Saturday in Smyrna, Georgia.
An AARP poll released Tuesday found Warnock with a narrow lead over Walker heading into the Dec. 6 runoff. The Democrats have already clinched the Senate, but Warnock winning re-election would give them control of Senate committees and the ability to pass some legislation without a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris.
But even if the right’s anti-LGBTQ rhetoric proves less successful at the ballot box, activists have drawn a connection between the rhetoric espoused by politicians and media figures to the uptick in violence against queer people.
“[The Club Q shooting] didn't surprise me; it angered me,” transgender researcher Erin Reed told VICE News this week. “It doesn’t feel like this was inevitable; it feels like this is the point.”
Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.