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The Covenant School Shooter and Right-Wing Disinformation
What we know so far.
Written by Garrison Davis, James Stout and Robert Evans
The following is a piece that boils out the current known facts about the shooting at the Covenant Christian school in Nashville, TN, on Monday, March 27th. The shooting has become fodder for a right-wing culture war, and disinformation is rampant, so we felt a text-based piece would be useful to accompany the podcast episode on the subject.
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Here is the story in brief: Audrey Hale, 28, entered a private Christian school in Nashville this Monday morning and killed three nine year old students and three adult staff members in their 60s including the “Head of School” Dr. Katherine Koonce. Hale shot through a side door to gain entry into the school and was armed with at least two “assault-style rifles and a handgun,” according to Metro Nashville Police spokesperson Don Aaron. Some reports suggest one of the rifles was actually an AR-15 style pistol (both weapons are close to identical in this situation).
As the shooter made their way through the first and second floors of the school they fired multiple shots, seemingly at random, before being killed by police on the school's second floor.
Police statements following the shooting were varied and inconsistent. Initially police claimed the shooter was a teenager, but minutes later changed course and described them as a 28 year old woman. Nashville Police Chief John Drake eventually identified the shooter as Audrey Hale, 28, of Nashville. The chief added that Hale “identifies as transgender.”
Both police and most media continued to refer to the shooter as a woman, with NBC printing “Nashville police said the accused Covenant School shooter was a transgender woman,” possibly based on a statement by Police Chief Drake that he gave while answering a question regarding if the shooter was a transgender man or woman.
Some time later, USA Today revised their coverage and reported, “Police identified the attacker as Audrey Elizabeth Hale, 28, a transgender man who was assigned female at birth.”
Chief Drake also stated that Hale was a former student at the school, though he was unsure of what year. His initial statements on motive in particular were extremely muddled and unclear, which is not uncommon in the wake of mass shootings. Drake initially seemed to state that the shooter’s identity, as a trans person, may have influenced the attack. This was taken up rather gleefully by right wing pundits.
Some time later, on Lester Holt’s show, he clarified his previous statements about the possible motive of the shooter:
“We feel very strongly that she went to that actual school. There’s some belief that there was some resentment for having to go to that school.”
On the question of if the shooter’s gender identity was a factor in the shooting, Chief Drake said “right now we’re unsure if that actually played a role,” and mentioned there were plans for shootings at multiple locations.
As you can see, the facts here are still rather muddled. The claim that Hale attended the school seems to rest on the recollection of Bill Campbell, who was headmaster at the Covenant School from 2004 to 2008. He told NBC: “I’ve looked back in my annuals, and I do remember her as a former student. She was just one of our young ladies.”
It seems likely that Hale transferred after graduating 4th grade, based on Campbell’s recollections.
The Covenant School is a preschool through 6th grade private Christian school, founded in 2001, it shares the same location as Covenant Presbyterian Church. Its website states the school has 33 teaching faculty and around 200 enrolled students with tuition around 16,000 dollars per year.
According to the school's website, “The Covenant School is a ministry of Covenant Presbyterian Church, created to assist Christian parents and the Church by providing an exceptional academic experience founded upon and informed by the Word of God.”
Aidan and Audrey
A Linkedin page for a “Audrey Hale” in the Nashville area has “He/Him” pronouns alongside the name.
Hale appears to have had a website for their graphic design portfolio called “ahillustrations,” which has posts tagged as being from 2023. The website has an About page that introduces themself as Audrey Hale, but also directs you to a now vanished Instagram page called “@creative.aiden”.
A self portrait titled “Audrey The Artist” can be found in Hale’s online portfolio, dated as 2022. The artwork is tagged with a different social media username “@crea.tivedre”, which appears to be an old instagram handle before they changed it to @creative.aiden. Hale’s website also has another self portrait with the name “Aiden.”
Although the Instagram page seems to have been taken down, it appears Hale had other social media accounts that are still online, besides the aforementioned Linkedin. A TikTok account by the name of “iam_aiden10” shares a profile picture with Hale’s website and also links to Hale’s Instagram page.
The TikTok account was seldom active, with their first visible post being from March 15th, 2022. Two other posts are from that month, all three of these posts are about late 90s and early 2000s video game nostalgia, and thanks to TikTok’s username embedding feature we can see that the account used to be called “audreyvideogamenerd_10” before being changed to “iam_aiden10” sometime between March 16th and April 15th of last year.
Hale’s last visible post is from just over a month ago, February 9th, 2023.
It is worth noting that, as researchers who regularly comb through the social media profiles of mass shooters, none of us saw anything that would have been an indication of violence in Audrey’s public pages. Right wing media has made a big deal about the fact that Hale made pro LGBT ads, presumably as part of their job:
But there is actually very little to go on at present. Some fuss has been made about Hale’s art depicting Jack Nicholson’s character from ‘The Shining’:
But this appears to be the only piece of art that references The Shining, one of the most popular movies ever made. It’s hard to see how anyone could interpret a single piece of fan art as a red flag.
The Wet Cement Moment
Whenever some horrific act breaks through the normal cacophony of media noise to draw mass attention, there’s a fleeting period of time in which it is possible to reach people and break through media bubbles in ways that are normally not possible. This is why fighting disinformation is so important in the early stages of a mass shooting, terrorist attack, or similar event.
The right wing media understands this, and conservative personalities rallied rapidly behind the claim that this was an act of terrorism by a transgender person that justifies punitive responses.
This post from DC Draino (686k+ followers), a “husband”, “patriot”, “lawyer”, “constitutionalist” and “anti-woke”, represents some of the most popular and widely shared right wing responses:
DC_Draino, and many of his colleagues, are eager to paint this as part of a wave of “trans terrorism”.
The shooting he references as part of this purported trend happened in 2019. A 19-year-old and a 17-year old shooting and killing a student at a high school in Highlands Ranch, Colorado and wounding several others. The 17-year-old, who has been sentenced for their part in the shooting, is transgender. They claimed the shooting was in retaliation for bullying.
This was, of course, not an act of terrorism. Bullying has been invoked as an excuse by school shooters for decades and there is no reason to suspect the Highlands Ranch shooting represents anything unusual in this country’s long history of gun violence. Still, claims like these have legs, as we see in this post (which earned a comment from Elon Musk).
But the truth is immaterial. The cement is wet and the right is attempting to lock in their narrative while they still can. One of the uglier posts comes from “American Dissident” Stew Peters, who identifies himself as executive producer of #diedsuddenly, which searches for stories of people dying young and blames them on the COVID vaccine.
Other right-wing influencers have used this to further arguments that gender-affirming care, and not firearms, should be restricted:
Jack Posobiec, a conservative commentator and strategist, was among the first to blame the shooter’s actions on his assumption that they were taking hormones.
That tactic has already been picked up by Representative Marjorie Taylor Green:
Jack Posobiec clearly sees political hay in connecting this to Tucker Carlson’s recent fear mongering about armed trans people:
There is no evidence that it was “specifically” targeted to Tennessee, and the police have stated the school itself was the target. This doesn’t matter; for Posobiec this is a gleeful opportunity, and he wasted no time claiming unrelated memes supporting the right to self defense for trans people are somehow tied to this school shooting:
Similar cases abound in the right wing fever swamps. The most blatant and shameless example of this is here:
The photo on the left is claimed to be of the Nashville shooter at a protest, screengrabbed from an instagram account named “chicago_patriots”:
This is a fake, as the chicago_patriots instagram itself makes clear:
Luke Rosiak is an “investigative reporter” at the Daily Wire, and has made a career of lying about transgender people.
Rosiak is another of the many right-wing content creators attempting to make links between this shooting and queer self defense training and protests.
Ian Miles Cheong, a far right internet influencer from Malaysia, stoked fear with similar rhetoric about how “much of the conservative public” is “open season for gender extremists.” Without any evidence Cheong’s post also implied a link between the shooting and the recent anti-trans legislation passed in Tennessee, there is currently no evidence tying the shooting to legislative changes or a so-called “Day of Trans Retribution.”
The sheer speed with which this narrative locked into place is stunning, and underlines the importance they give this issue. It is disheartening and horrifying, but also too early to tell whether or not this will spread beyond their fetid corners of the Internet. Early indications from social media suggest liberal and moderate responses to this shooting have been quite different.
Throughout the day, the Highland Park shooting, in Colorado, the Uvalde shooting and the Columbine shooting all trended, as most people rightfully connected this to the increasingly vast history of American school shootings rather than trans people. What is evident so far suggests most people see through this attempt.
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