A video recorded at the end of June in a Korean spa in Los Angeles sparked a right wing protest against trans inclusivity, culminating in violent clashes between protestors and counter-protestors. Amidst all of this, right wing and ‘gender critical’ accounts appear to have colluded in sharing misinformation targeting a trans woman for the purposes of finding her and lynching her. In the wake of the protest, several gender critical personalities have continued to share one-sided information, suggesting a concerning shift in patterns of information sharing which could lead to increased right wing radicalisation.
On June 24th, an instagram user ‘cubanaangel’ uploaded a video of her confronting staff at Wi Spa in Los Angeles over the presence of a transgender woman in the women’s changing rooms 1. In the video, she claims to staff that there is a “man” exposing themselves in the locker room. Another customer approaches her and they have a brief exchange during which the woman insists “there’s no such thing as transgender”. Following this, she returns to the locker room, still filming, to confront the “man”. The video then cuts out. No other footage of the event is available and no other sources have come forward to confirm any of the claims made in the original video.
In summary, the woman in the video claims that there is a “man” exposing themselves in the locker room to children. In the week since the incident, nobody has come forward to corroborate this story, despite serious allegations of indecent exposure involving multiple other customers and children.
The wider context of this incident is that Wi Spa is a bath house in which nudity is expected, and is known to be LGBT/queer-friendly and inclusive 2. Wi Spa has previously received a complaint for its inclusive policies, dating back to 2018 3, from an account with only a single contribution. In the wake of the instagram incident, a wave of 1-star and negative reviews have started appearing on Yelp 4. Additionally, Wi Spa’s Tripadvisor page appears to have suffered from a string of 1-star reviews from accounts with only a single contribution (indicating likely troll accounts) dating back to January 5. Trans Safety Network stands in solidarity with the business and staff who have been targeted because of their LGBT and queer inclusive policy, and thank them for maintaining an inclusive space, as well as robustly defending that inclusivity.
3 days after the upload, on June 27th, the story was presented by bloggers as though the customer who confronts the woman is in fact the transgender woman accused of indecent exposure, by featuring them in the article image and not clarifying that the man in the video is another customer 6. Indeed, it is clear from the video that this person is a bystander, since the video uploader does not react or talk to them as though they are the person they are complaining about.
Also on June 27th, Mumsnet users began sharing content from right-wing anti-feminist blogger Ian Miles Cheong discussing the incident 7.
Also on June 29th, an Ovarit thread was created reacting to a DailyDot article covering the incident 10. Many of the claims and outrage from the mumsnet thread were repeated, but again, no evidence or corroboration from other sources was given.
On June 30th, Spinster users began to share the details of a planned counter-protest outside 11. The spinster discussion features users discussing collaboration between ‘radical feminist’ and far right protestors, with some expecting there will be conflict. One user hopes that there will be viral videos. The same user posting this information has also posted in defence of right wing stalking and harassment website Kiwi Farms 12.
On July 1st, an instagram account named ‘weshallpromenade’ (currently private) posted an image of a trans woman alleging that she was the person exposing themselves at Wi Spa. This post features zero evidence supporting this claim. TSN reached out to the woman in the photograph for comment. She denied categorically that she was there and believes that she was targeted because of her twitter post advertising the counter-protest 13, and because of her reputation for live-streaming LA protests against the right. The owner of the instagram account was allegedly present at the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol Building in Washington DC.
Shortly afterwards, on July 1st and 2nd, the woman in the picture started to receive abuse and death threats through instagram and on twitter, including explicit threats that groups were trying to track her down to murder her 14,15,16. A twitter user with a ‘gender critical’ icon suggests the death penalty 17 despite there being no evidence of any wrongdoing.
A few days later on July 3rd, the day of the protest, gender critical accounts posted and started sharing a Twitter thread asserting that the trans woman was present at Wi Spa, seemingly based entirely on the instagram post from ‘weshallpromenade’ 18. The thread examined and commented on the social media of the woman, attempting to build a narrative and direct attention to her, but failing to offer any proof that she was involved at all. The thread was shared by other ‘gender-critical’ accounts, helping to spread the misinformation 19,20. However, later that day, gender-critical twitter accounts had pivoted to claiming that the woman organised the counter protest, rather than being the person at the Spa in the first instance 21.
Ovarit users were convinced of the woman's involvement by a tongue in cheek reply to a twitter user engaging in the pile-on after the accusation had already been made 22. Other posts where the same person explicitly denied being at the Spa were ignored in favour of this narrative 23.
During the protest itself, weapons were drawn by right-wing protestors 24, a conservative streamer mused about when it would be appropriate to use guns and force 25 and a journalist was attacked by a member of the “Proud Boys” (a far-right street gang 26) with a metal pipe 27,28. The protest involved multiple confrontations between right wing agitators and black-bloc counter demonstrators before being dispersed by the LAPD.
A shirtless right-wing protestor attacked a woman with what appears to be a chain or rope of beads, but was counter-attacked with a plastic bottle before stumbling to the ground and being arrested 29. Elsewhere, a right wing protestor was seen holding a sign reading ‘trans activism erases women’s rights’ 30 which was stolen and torn up by a counter protestor 31. The protestor then pulled out pepper-spray (which is illegal to bring to protests in LA 32) and attempted to attack the counter-protestor, but was rapidly outnumbered and forced to the ground.
One right wing protestor was cut 33, possibly by a Proud Boy in a ‘friendly fire’ incident 34. However this was quickly cast as the woman being attacked by counter demonstrators 35, and then further distorted by being referred to as a ‘stabbing’ by an Ovarit user 36 with Ovarit users believing that a trans protestor or ally was responsible, demonstrating the speed at which misinformation can form and spread, especially when attached to already existing misinformation.
Anti-trans tensions are reaching an incredibly worrying threshold, where instagram videos alleging wrongdoing, without any actual evidence of wrongdoing are enough to conjure right wing lynch mobs. In the wake of the protests, prominent UK anti-trans journalists and organisers have shared information from curated far-right sources 37,38. Alongside this, other ‘gender critical’ accounts have shared information from right wing provocateur Andy Ngo, claiming that the protest was a peaceful women’s protest, and erasing the presence of the violent right wing gangs 39. Other ‘gender critical’ accounts have engaged directly, attempting to help agitators like Ngo to construct a biased narrative 40. There is an ongoing and concerted effort to spread one-sided, radicalising narratives by presenting curated versions of events from right-wing sources, and ‘gender-critical’ social media accounts are playing an active role in the proliferation of these narratives, including the denial of any violence from the anti-trans side 41.
In the context of this shifting pattern of radicalisation, it is more important than ever that cisgender allies stand firm against transphobic witch hunts being whipped up by the far-right. It is crucial to always approach alt-right and fascist-adjacent accounts of events with extreme skepticism, as misrepresenting events is a well known tool of radicalisation and recruitment for the far-right. Extremist right wing provocateurs are creating partisan versions and hiding behind gender critical women and talking points to provide cover while they harass and terrorise innocent transgender people. The eagerness to share and promote these right wing narratives amongst gender critical circles is deeply alarming.