America's Most Influential Conspiracy Theorists Are Going All-In On Transphobia

As the line between the fringe and the mainstream blurs, conspiracy peddlers are influencing—and in turn being influenced by—the national panic targeting trans people.
JP Sears wears a red dress and holds out a bar of chocolate in a transphobic mock ad.
JP Sears in a mock ad for "Transition Chocolate." Screenshot Awaken With JP/YouTube.

In 2014, JP Sears, then a New Age comedian known for poking gentle fun at the pieties of people in the yoga and natural-health worlds, made an unusually serious video. In it, facing the camera and speaking softly, he expressed his unqualified support for gay marriage.

“If there’s anything that I think should be banned, it would probably be heterosexual marriage,” he said, jokingly referring to how often straight marriages fail. All kidding aside, he added, he thought society would look back in the future, ashamed. “We’ll look back,” he said, “and question, ‘Wow, how could we ever take away people’s rights?’” 


Sears has taken a hard-right and conspiratorial turn in recent years, becoming a relatively well-known figure in the anti-vaccine world. (Among other things, he emceed a large anti-vaccine mandates march in D.C. last year, and he’s appeared on a podcast with Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the biggest name in the anti-vaccine world and now a longshot presidential candidate.)

His new views on gender and sexuality reflect that shift. In more recent videos, all made in the last few months, Sears has squeezed into women’s bathing suits and sports bras to mock transgender athletes; squeezed himself into a red mini-dress to make a mock ad for a chocolate “based on gender ideology”; and squeezed himself into a ripped tank top and clownish makeup to make a faux advocacy video calling for “banning women in women’s sports.” (Sears did not respond to a request for comment on, among other topics, why he finds so many pretexts to wear women’s clothes.) 

Sears isn’t alone in his new fixation on mocking or decrying trans people, or in intimating that a society that accepts them is fundamentally deranged. For the past few years, across the broad conspiracy landscape—anti-vaxxers, election deniers, QAnon enthusiasts, Alex Jones—an increasing engagement with transphobic ideas and rhetoric has been evident. Now, with transphobia as the current, dangerous obsession of an alarming portion of the political mainstream, the conspiracy peddlers find themselves both hastening to not be left behind and positioned to grow their audience. That’s especially true among potential new followers who might already hold some socially conservative views about gender and sexuality, or those whose distrust of the pharmaceutical industry predisposes them to dismiss transgender identity as a product being sold by Big Pharma.


As the far right has used the recent mass shooting in Nashville as an excuse to declare outright war on trans people, and as well-known right-wing figures melt down about inconsequential things like a trans influencer hawking beer, conspiracy peddlers are joining in, testing the limits of their new power to influence the conversations being had by more mainstream political and cultural figures—and being influenced by them in turn. 

Donald Trump’s presidency created an ongoing discussion about what the distinction between the mainstream and the fringe actually means in a country where people holding our highest offices promote intensely polarizing and stigmatized ideas, whether it’s a congresswoman going on national television to call her political opponents “a party of pedophiles” or Trump suggesting we all bleach our insides to treat covid. By a year or two into his presidency, the distinction may not have dissolved, but it had softened to a point of frequent and disconcerting meaninglessness.  

That merging of the ideas of “fringe” and mainstream also joined another dynamic; at the start of the pandemic, the broad conspiratorial universe began moving towards what, at the time, I described as a “conspiracy singularity,” in which previously disparate groups began meeting, merging, and sharing one another’s curious preoccupations. At the time, much of that new unity focused on covid skepticism, opposition to then-theoretical covid vaccines, and a suspicion that pandemic-era lockdowns were merely a pretext to a much larger power grab, a massive hoax designed to usher in a sinister Great Reset. (The Great Reset is a term coined by the World Economic Forum to describe its global covid-recovery plan, but a broad swath of conspiracy-minded types hold that is instead a plan to force the populace to live in squalor eating bugs, while the 1% dine on Wagyu steak and go to Davos.) These specific ideas were also taken up by people in the so-called mainstream, up to and including, on occasion, again, the president of the United States. 


While conspiracy groups have, to some extent, begun pursuing their own separate agendas again, there’s still a great deal of cross-pollination between and conversation among them. The fact that these once-fringe subcultures and the so-called mainstream have merged to such an extent means that when they all focus their attention on something, the effect is especially devastating. And right now, that shared focus is an all-pervading panic and hostility about drag queens, “groomers,” transgender identity as being somehow “contagious,” the supposed sexualization of children by LGBT people, and the false claim that gender-affirming care is a form of abuse or mutilation. 

A nexus between anti-trans and anti-vaccine ideas is especially visible; major anti-vaccine figures like Sherri Tenpenny, an osteopathic physician, and Stew Peters, a far-right podcaster, often share news articles and posts on their Telegram channels stoking hatred and panic about trans issues. (“Transgenders want Nuclear Family DESTROYED,” Peters wrote in a recent post. “Parents are FIGHTING Back AGAINST LGBT SATANIC Cult.” This is, to be clear, all part of the same headline.)  

Stew Peters discusses what he calls the "Satanic Trans Agenda" on a recent episode of his show.

Stew Peters discusses what he calls the "Satanic Trans Agenda" on a recent episode of his show.

The relationship between the anti-vaccine and anti-trans movements makes logical sense, in that they both farm a specific suspicion of science and mainstream medicine. More subtly, both the anti-vaccine and anti-trans worlds also try to weaponize regret, sowing fear that a medical choice might go irreparably wrong. (“One shot ruined my life,” read a recent headline on the blog of Children’s Health Defense, Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s anti-vaccine organization.) Trans panic mines a genre of body horror, focusing endlessly on detransitioned people—usually young women—and fixating especially intently on anyone who had top surgery and regrets it. (Social panics often focus on the bodies and fertility of young women, or people who were assigned female at birth, which might be why both conspiracy theorists and more mainstream transphobes alike fixate intensely on those people having their breasts “amputated,” as they often and offensively insist on calling it.) 


As Dr. David Gorski, writing on his blog Respectful Insolence, pointed out last year, this is nothing new: The anti-vaccine world, in particular, has been trending towards transphobia for years. Prominent anti-vaxxers have outlined the ways they view both vaccines and transgender people as part of a larger, sinister, anti-human scheme. Former journalist turned full-time covid troll Alex Berenson, for instance, wrote, in a noxiously transphobic piece on Dylan Mulvaney, that in his view, “the trans activists are demanding a change in the way humans see themselves. And to me, that new vision seems to be the inevitable culmination of the fact that medicine and science have now completely divorced heterosexual sex from reproduction.” (Berenson went on to make some sort of muddled point about how no one has sex anymore, because they’re all too busy hitting vape pens and having hormone replacement therapy, which is a very specific concern indeed.)  

More esoterically, some anti-vaccine figures view transgender people as part of a broad spectrum of actions taken by the Pharmaceutical Illuminati Complex to create a “transhumanist” society, a term derived from science fiction describing a philosophy that human beings should use science and tech to modify and “improve” their bodies, even incorporating technology into their physical forms. 


As a term, “transhumanism” has also come to stand for any perceived technological or medical development that anti-vaccine groups don’t like, or anything to them that feels like it strays from God’s design for our bodies. In this view, being trans is “not simply about societal acceptance and inclusion of people with alternative views or lifestyles,” as one anti-vaccine blogger wrote, “but a giant ideological redefinition of what it means to be human.” (The same blogger, a woman named Maryam Heinen, styles herself as an investigative journalist focused on environmental issues, and has wondered, she writes, whether “toxins might play a role in transgenderism.”) 

This kind of rhetoric—promoting the idea that trans people being allowed to openly exist is sinister dystopian social engineering—has continued apace. “We are already witnessing the trans-ification of the next generation under the banner of LGBT,” the conspiratorial site Natural News recently declared, in an article headlined, unforgettably: “THE PLAN: By this time in 2025, most remaining humans will be bug-eating transgenders connected to a transhumanist super computer.”   

“This is a prelude to the transhuman-ification of all leftover humanity,” the article promised, “once the Great Reset comes into full swing.”


It’s not clear why the sinister Powers That Be would want all the humans they’re not going to slaughter in the Great Reset to be trans, but the addled idea that being transgender is part of a globalist power grab has been adopted more broadly. Jordan Sather—a QAnon guy, bleach-drinking enthusiast, and UFO-world figure of some infamy—has adopted a similar line, writing in a recent Substack post about how, as he put it, “the New World Order conducts their social engineering of society.” 

“They manufacture a problem, or the appearance of a problem, to get society to be influenced and react in a specific way,” Sather wrote. One of his examples was, of course, the oppression of LGBT people. “Why yes,” he wrote, “people with whatever sexual orientation they deem for themselves do deserve equal rights - but what rights don’t they currently have? And why do they have to push their sexual ideologies onto children?” (Panics about deviants “grooming” or ritualistically abusing children are very old indeed, from the Satanic Panic to the Salem witch trials to the blood libel itself.) 

The most mainstream place where trans- and drag panic can be seen is, of course, in state legislatures and the halls of Congress; a record number of proposed anti-trans laws have been introduced across the country this year. The discussions over these bills at times beggar belief: In Minnesota, for instance, a state representative recently declared that members of the public should call 911 if they see a drag show. (In a not-unrelated bit of Satanic panic, when discussing the same bill, another legislator declared that he wanted to prohibit public funds from being used for “pictures, plays, theaters, sculpture or any other type of art to be used to channel the occult.”) In a neat display of all the current dog whistles, former Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard recently produced a video panic-mongering over an increase in the number of openly trans youth and what she called “child mastectomies,” both of which she claimed were “a direct result of the radical ‘woke’ agenda being pushed on our kids by so-called ‘healthcare professionals,’ MSM/social media, and even Biden directly.”


But these trans- and drag panic dynamics are developing outside of politics as well.  One place where the new unity between conspiracy theorists and people pursuing more mainstream social and cultural goals can be seen is the mutually supportive relationship between some sectors of the anti-trafficking movement and QAnon. The U.S. anti-trafficking movement is broad and multi-faceted, but some elements of it have engaged with the rhetoric QAnon spewed forth, as when Tim Ballard, the founder of Operation Underground Railroad, gave credence to a ridiculous conspiracy theory that the furniture company Wayfair was trafficking children. (OUR subsequently denied any connection to QAnon, writing on its FAQ page, “To be clear, O.U.R. does not condone conspiracy theories and is not affiliated with any conspiracy groups in any way, shape or form.”) 

For its part, QAnon functionally hijacked the phrase “Save the Children,” turning its new mission towards spreading claims about a Democratic cabal kidnapping and sexually abusing children. As the years have worn on, “Save the Children” rhetoric has proven to be extraordinarily flexible, allowing conspiracy theorists and right-wing figures alike to declare near-weekly that something new and politically beneficial poses a threat to kids. Ballard, for instance, has waded into the anti-drag hysteria, declaring on Instagram recently that his years “hunting child predators” had convinced him that drag performances in front of minors were “predatory.”


“I can state with authority: there is no innocent or normal reason for a man to dress up as a sexualized woman and then dance in a sexual fashion for children,” Ballard wrote. “This is PREDATORY behavior. Period.” (Ballard hastened to add, “I fully respect the right —and would fight for the right—for anyone who wants to be a drag Queen and dance as a drag Queen for and with adults, etc. This is NOT an anti-drag post. It’s a PRO-protect CHILDREN post.”) 

Supposedly preventing children from being trafficked has fed other, even stranger and clearly conspiratorial political rhetoric. (Ironically, too, it’s happening at a time when children being trafficked for labor—and federal authorities ignoring it—continues to be a major and under-addressed problem.) 

Earlier this year, Republican politicians in Virginia tried to pass what they dubbed “Sage’s Law.” The bill, which ultimately died in committee, would have required that at least one parent be notified if an elementary or secondary school child expressed what the bill called “gender incongruence.” Conservative outlets credulously and voluminously reported on the bill’s namesake, a child whose grandmother claimed they were trafficked after the school “hid” their social transition from her. 


In testimony available online, a woman named Michele Blair said she’d adopted Sage, her grandchild, after the child’s father died and Sage went through multiple foster homes. Blair and Virginia delegate Dave LaRock, the sponsor of the bill, have both claimed that the child was targeted by “online predators” due to their trans identity, that the child ran away from home after disclosing their preferred new name and pronouns, and that the FBI recovered “Sage” after a nine-day search. “My baby had been lured online, sex trafficked [into Washington,] D.C., then Maryland,” Blair  told the Daily Signal. “She was locked in a room, drugged, gang raped, and brutalized by countless men.” These details do not seem to have been corroborated by any independent reporting from any of the outlets that ran lurid coverage of the story. 

The political elements of a story like this are clear—Blair indicated in her testimony she and “Sage” were represented by Josh Hetzler, an attorney at a right-wing Christian law firm and advocacy group called Founding Freedoms Law Center. But further afield, fulminating about gay or trans or otherwise gender non-conforming people “endangering” children has been a reliable source of material for a variety of bigots and cranks. The idea that predatory gay people are trying to convert children has an incredibly long history, and it’s never really gone away: in 2018, for instance, Alex Jones was using his then-enormous Infowars platform to call drag queens “satanic” and, during a rant about a Ru Paul-produced kids’ show, imply they should be burned alive. 


Of course, anything that claims to protect or defend children is especially popular, which is why it’s not uncommon to see both mainstream politicians and fringe figures alike promising to ban drag shows or close libraries rather than stock books that deal in any way with race, sex, or gender.  But the conspiracy peddlers are trying to fuse a more mainstream right-wing view—that increased social tolerance towards LGBT people is part of sexualizing children—with the more extreme, conspiracist position that it’s all also part of a larger New World Order agenda. (It’s also worth noting that the mainstream right has long flirted specifically with “New World Order” conspiratorial rhetoric; take, for instance, when Ted Cruz, then a mere candidate, became convinced that “Agenda 21” represented an attempt by the UN to covertly invade the U.S. “It’s about putting the tentacles of the United Nations into the very foundations of our government throughout this nation,” he told Glenn Beck at the time.) 

In a recent newsletter, the anti-vaccine scientist and blogger Robert Malone wrote about “rapid-onset gender dysphoria,” a disproven “diagnosis” promoted by fear-mongering anti-trans groups, and which the World Professional Association for Transgender Health states is “not a medical entity recognized by any major professional association” or listed in the DSM. Much of what he wrote wouldn’t be out of place in any transphobic newsletter, involving as it does fretting about protecting children and promoting worn-out and oft-repeated ideas about children being socially pressured to transition. (And again: While Malone is often depicted as a “fringe” figure, he has tens of thousands of paid subscribers to his Substack and has been hailed as a hero by Joe Rogan, the most popular podcaster in the country. His beliefs might be extreme, in other words, but his reach suggests he’s far from marginal.)

Malone had a larger aim in taking up some of the more well-worn anti-trans arguments: to argue that the whole thing is a sinister big pharma conspiracy. More specifically, he suspects what he calls “a fifth-gen warfare campaign” to “brainwash” America’s youth. (Ironically, the current round of trans panic is, itself, in part due to a covert campaign by social conservative advocacy groups.) 

“At some point in the last two decades, hospitals, surgeons and big pharma came to the realization that these new surgeries and drugs are big business,” Malone wrote. “They appear to have lobbied medical organizations, specialty boards, insurance agencies, government institutions - including both HHS and DoJ (civil rights), state legislatures, WEF, UN and big tech to organize and coordinate the efforts to normalize these surgeries and procedures, under the banner or ‘transgender rights’. This has led to deployment of a fifth-gen warfare campaign to brainwash the youth of this country that changing one’s sex is a necessary step to adulthood. That it is ‘cool’ to rebel in this fashion. It is nothing short of brain washing.” 

In another blog post, Malone once again linked transgender identity with his other, more arcane preoccupations. In a recent discussion with a friend, he wrote, they began by talking about transgender issues before turning to what he called “the pandemic policies of masking, mandates and lockdowns… to climate change, the elimination of gas fueled cars, Agenda 2030, the move to eliminate private ownership items such as autos and housing, digital IDs, digital currency, 15-minute cities, taking away private land for conservation, globalized censorship, etc. not just one country, but across the world.”

The “coordinated list” of globalist plots, Malone added, “seems endless. I don’t remember a period in my life where most of the world governments agreed on so much. Where did these policies originate? Who is co-ordinating them? How did this happen?” In this way, Malone wrapped together trans issues with every hot conspiracy theory of the moment, implying that they are all of a sinister piece.

There are clear signs of the ways that people across the conspiracy space want to use transphobia to nudge the public closer to their own pet causes. Take Red Ice TV, a white supremacist media company owned by a married couple; on Telegram, they complained recently that a transphobic documentary by far-right pundit Matt Walsh didn’t go far enough, saying he should have mentioned that the first doctors to perform a gender reassignment surgery were Jewish. “Decent film overall but it leaves out key aspects we need to recognize if we want to reverse course,” the Red Ice hosts wrote, “and understand why we are where we are today with ‘sex’ madness.”  

This sort of explicit instrumentalization of conspiratorial ideas is the direction, it would seem, in which things are heading. Demonizing trans people is proving popular because it has political and social utility for so many different people, from Substack to the hall of Congress, from increasingly popular podcasts and the guests they can’t seem to give enough time to to parents confused, as parents always are, by the way the world has changed since they were young. Trans hate is, in other words, both an end in itself and a bridge to somewhere else, an obvious entry point into other kinds of conspiracism. And as extremist rhetoric about trans people continues to flood into the mainstream, there’s no telling how many people will be drawn across that bridge, or what consequences await.