The right's newest target of hate reveals the true depth of their depravity

At first blush, the right's new war on children's hospitals is most reminiscent of the tactics that have been used to harass abortion providers for decades. As Taylor Lorenz, Elizabeth Dwoskin and Peter Jamison reported over the weekend for the Washington Post, "Children's hospitals across the U.S. are facing growing threats of violence" from crazed right-wingers, like fans of the virulently queerphobic Twitter account Libs of TikTok, run by a woman named Chaya Raichik. Raichik keeps pointing her unhinged audience at various pediatric care facilities, resulting in "a flood of online harassment and phoned-in threats" at doctors and hospital staff.

Abortion providers and their allies will immediately see the connection to the throngs of anti-choice militants that gather around family planning clinics to bully patients. Like anti-choice activists, the people attacking children's hospitals are inserting themselves into the very personal decisions of total strangers. With anti-choicers, they're asserting that their religious beliefs about a woman's duty to breed trumps the right of bodily autonomy of patients. With those attacking children's hospitals, right-wingers are all wound up because they heard trans children are getting treatment, and they believe their opposition to trans identities should trump the child's right to gender-affirming care.

But there's one major difference between the two, one that really highlights how the already bizarre world of right-wing ideology has become more disconnected from reality.

Patients who have to run the gauntlet of misogynist hecklers at Planned Parenthood are mostly trying to get abortions and birth control, and the harassers are trying to stop them. But the vast majority of patients at Boston Children's Hospital or Children's National Hospital in Washington — which have both been subject to abuse — are getting care that has nothing to do with gender or sexuality. Conservatives are whipping themselves into a frenzy of hate for facilities that mostly treat cancer, asthma, and other childhood ailments.

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It's part of a larger, troubling trend of Republicans growing increasingly hostile to the very concept of science-based medical care.

The right has always been hostile to gynecological care that made it easier for women to have sex without unwanted pregnancy, but that rarely spilled out to hatred of doctors generally. During the pandemic, however, it became an article of faith on the right that any effort to reduce the impacts of COVID-19, from the initial lockdowns to the vaccination push, was a hoax or a sinister assault on "freedom." Now the hate is ballooning out, turning into a general suspicion of all kinds of health care. Children's hospitals, which were once unassailable, have now become the focus of this fascistic rage.

To be certain, there is gender-affirming care at these hospitals, as there should be. As the American Academy of Pediatrics explained in a recent court brief defending gender-affirming care, "Gender dysphoria is a serious medical condition" and gender-affirming care is the "accepted standard of care for adolescents at risk of or suffering from gender dysphoria." But what this care actually looks like has no relationship to the lurid tales spun by Libs of TikTok or other transphobic hysterics. Fewer than 2% of adolescents identify as trans, and the standards of care they receive are both intensive and relatively slow-moving. So the recommendations are focused heavily on therapeutic approaches, mostly social transitioning with lots of checking in. It's child-directed, based on listening to what kids are telling adults about their lives. Hormonal interventions tend to move cautiously and "current protocols typically reserve surgical interventions for adults."

But to hear right-wingers tell it, the "left" — a group that is now routinely conflated with the medical establishment — is engaged in a mass experiment of forcing everyone to be queer. Recently, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., filmed herself raving, "They just want you to think that all of a sudden the entire population is steadily turning gay or turning trans" and that soon "no one will be straight anymore."

This is, of course, silly and also doesn't make a ton of sense. The point of the LGBTQ rights movement is to free people to live their true lives, not to force anyone who is comfortable being straight or cis into another identity. It's not even clear what conservatives think the point of "making" people trans would be. What do they think the end game is? It's never really clear.

To be certain, the anti-choice movement is awash in all sorts of bizarre conspiracy theories, as well, from racist legends about people "eating" fetuses to myths about women being "tricked" into abortion through the "contraceptive mentality." These conspiracy theories serve the same purpose as the hyperbolic attacks on trans youth, which is to deny the possibility that people sincerely want the choices the right would deny them. But it was rare for conservatives to use anti-abortion rhetoric as an excuse to launch a broad-based attack on the larger medical establishment. On the contrary, they've been so successful at rhetorically isolating abortion and contraception from the rest of medicine that it was genuinely a shock to many how laws banning abortion impact access to miscarriage management and treatment for ectopic pregnancies.

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The attacks on trans youth, on the other hand, are tied to a more generalized suspicion of pediatric care. It's likely not a coincidence this is happening right on the tail-end of a now two-year-long campaign to demonize ordinary public health bureaucrats like Dr. Anthony Fauci, whose only goal was to keep people from dying of an airborne virus. It is a symptom of the right's larger turn towards authoritarianism. Anger over gender non-conformity is the bait. Once conservatives bite, they're coached to distrust any kind of scientific or empirical sources of information and instead put all of their trust into the often-bizarre claims of their ideological leaders.

People often compare Trumpism to a cult — and for good reason. Like cult leaders, authoritarians understand that the more detached their followers are from reality, the more control they exert over them. The word "brainwashing" is severe, but brainwashing is the point of convincing followers to hate trusted institutions like the Boston Children's Hospital or to reject banal medical advice to get vaccinated. Trans kids are being scapegoated for this larger project of drowning conservatives in a sea of paranoia where they're too isolated from moderating forces — a doctor, a friend, a relative — who might guide them back to reality.