Elon Musk’s Twitter Reinstates Anti-Trans Activists on Same Weekend as Colorado Club Attacked

As the LGBTQ community mourns the loss of five lives after a man went on a shooting spree in a  Colorado gay bar, Elon Musk’s Twitter has reinstated several accounts originally banned for abusing the community. 

On Saturday night a man walked into the Colorado Springs LGBTQ bar Club Q with a rifle and opened fire on the patrons. The man was stopped by people at the club who managed to tackle the attacker, take his weapon, and hit him with it, but not before five people were killed and 25 more injured. Police arrested Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, at the club, but have yet to announce charges.

The attack sent shockwaves throughout the LGBTQ community. Over the weekend, Twitter reinstated several large accounts that had once been suspended for breaking their policies—specifically against LGBTQ people—signalling that the new Musk Twitter will be more welcoming to that kind of far-right rhetoric. 

The account reinstatements are part of the reinvention of Twitter under the tumultuous leadership of Musk, who recently took ownership over the company (after he failed to get out of the purchasing deal). A part of shaping Twitter into his vision involves scaling back content moderation and bringing back large accounts that had been banned for breaking the company’s rules surrounding the abuse of LGBTQ people. Musk had previously indicated he wanted to “review” the company’s anti-trans harassment policy. 

The motive behind the shooting is still unknown but it comes at a time when anti-LGBTQ sentiment is ramping up to feverish levels, particularly due to the rhetoric coming from an increasingly mainstream element of the Republican Party. Hospitals believed to be offering gender-affirming surgeries are being targeted with bomb threats, and drag brunches are routinely protested and interfered with—both activities promoted by online anti-LGBTQ activists. Anti-LGBTQ laws have been passed or tabled across Red States within the country, anti-LGBTQ hate crimes are on the rise, and the SPLC has reported that hate groups targeting the community are also growing. 

One of the accounts that Twitter reinstated was James Lindsay, who rose to prominence by faking a “woke” peer-reviewed paper and parlayed that recognition into repeatedly calling people pedophiles and popularizing the term “ok groomer.”  

Also returning was the ultra-popular pop psychologist Jordan Peterson who was banned from Twitter for dead-naming actor Elliot Page—Peterson said he would rather “die” than delete the tweet. Another account reinstated last Friday was the Babylon Bee, a Musk favorite, which is a right-wing satirical outlet that frequently posts content ridiculing the LGBTQ community.

And finally, former President Donald Trump, who was banned for his role in the Jan. 6 riots, was reinstated by Musk over the weekend after the CEO put a poll on Twitter about allowing him to return, which narrowly passed. Trump has not said if he will return to Twitter, given he has his own social media platform, Truth Social. In his speech last week announcing his plan to run for president in 2024, Trump made several comments dog whistling gender identity, particularly within the school and athletic systems. 

Erin Reed, a trans activist and content creator, told VICE News “it feels different seeing all these accounts come back.”

“I think that the last few days have made it really clear that this is going to be a new reality for us; that the hate campaign and that the violence is going to be turned up,” said Reed. “Something feels different about the last few days—and I felt this way before this attack happened. It feels like hate is being given a bigger megaphone, a stronger platform, and access to more people.”

The influencers active in online spaces targeting LGBTQ communities circled the wagons last night in reaction to the growing anger against the Twitter reinstatements. Several painted themselves as victims in the situation.

In other corners of the internet, where moderation is essentially non-existent, the Colorado Springs attack was celebrated with vigor or riddled with conspiracies. In the conspiracy-oriented groups, the focus was on the club being named Club Q, which has theorists believing this indicated a false flag. In neo-Nazi chat groups and websites, bigots applauded the attack. One influential Nazi website wrote about how these attacks will be “on the increase” and added, “only those who have been victims of these attacks are to blame.”

Musk, for his part, spent the weekend bathing in the praises of right-wing sycophants celebrating the billionaire, his decision to reinstate the previously banned accounts, and his lax content moderation.

With files from Anya Zoledziowski

VICE US