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A police officer stands at the top of the steps inside Lakewood Church on Feb. 18, 2024, in Houston. (AP) A police officer stands at the top of the steps inside Lakewood Church on Feb. 18, 2024, in Houston. (AP)

A police officer stands at the top of the steps inside Lakewood Church on Feb. 18, 2024, in Houston. (AP)

Grace Abels
By Grace Abels February 26, 2024

If Your Time is short

  • After a shooting at a Houston church, several social media users began claiming the shooter was transgender. Police said  “she has been identified this entire time as female.”

  • Experts in extremism, domestic terrorism, and mass shootings told us data does not support the assertion that “trans terrorism” or LGBTQ+ extremist violence is increasing.

  • Mass shootings are most commonly perpetrated by young men. Experts say most extremist attacks in the past few decades have been motivated by right-wing ideologies.

Genesse Ivonne Moreno entered a Houston megachurch on Super Bowl Sunday and began firing an AR-style rifle at worshippers, police said. Investigators were still piecing together details from the violent scene — celebrity pastor Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church — when social media claims focused on the shooter’s gender.

"The Lakewood Church shooter was transgender," the popular Libs of TikTok X account posted Feb. 12. "He went by the name ‘Genesse’ and previously ‘Jeffrey.’" The post included what appeared to be part of a criminal record listing numerous aliases, some of which were male names. The post has 1.2 million views as of Feb 22. 

(Screenshot of X post)

Some users on X claimed Moreno, 36, was a trans woman; others claimed she was a trans man. Fox News included the detail in a headline, writing in a story that the shooter was "born as a man." (Fox News has since changed the headline and story).

A day after the Feb. 11 attack, the Houston Police Department acknowledged reports that Moreno had used the alias Jeffery Escalante, but Cmdr. Christopher Hassig, who leads the police department’s homicide division, said in a press conference that "through all of our investigation to this point … she has been identified this entire time as female … so we are identifying her as Genesse Moreno, Hispanic female."

Hassig also said there was a sticker on the weapon that said "Palestine" and police uncovered  "anti-semitic writings" during their investigation.

Moreno died at the scene after exchanging gunfire with two off-duty police officers. Two other people were injured, including Moreno’s 7-year-old son, The Associated Press reported. 

The claim that Moreno was transgender prompted a flurry of posts from conservative influencers stating that this incident signaled that the LGBTQ+ movement was transforming youth into violent terrorists.

"One thing is VERY clear: the modern LGBTQIA+ movement is radicalizing activists into terrorists, and it’s only getting worse," conservative influencer Benny Johnson wrote on X on Feb. 12.   

Libs of TikTok described a "trans terrorist epidemic" and wrote on X that "the LGBTQ movement is turning activists into violent extremists."

A year ago, we examined similar claims following a deadly shooting at a Nashville, Tennessee, school. Extremism and domestic terrorism experts told PolitiFact they knew of no widespread threats of growing radicalization or violence from the trans population.

A year later, the experts’ views remain the same.

No evidence the LGBTQ+ movement is turning youth into terrorists 

Experts said data shows far-right extremism — not LGBTQ+ violence — is increasing and outpaces terrorism from other perpetrators.

In 2020, the Center for Strategic & International Studies, a nonprofit policy research organization, analyzed 893 terrorist incidents (attempted and foiled) from 1994 to 2020 and found that "right-wing attacks and plots accounted for the majority of all terrorist incidents in the United States," in that period. In 2019, they accounted for almost two-thirds of all incidents, researchers said.

The report defined "right-wing terrorism" as "the use or threat of violence by sub-national or non-state entities whose goals may include racial or ethnic supremacy; opposition to government authority; anger at women … and outrage against certain policies, such as abortion."

In 2021, the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence reported that "racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists" and "militia violent extremists" present the most lethal threat. People who are racially or ethnically motivated, it found, are "most likely to conduct mass-casualty attacks against civilians" and militia violent extremists typically target law enforcement and government personnel. 

A database maintained by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, a University of Maryland research center, tracked 3,203 violent and nonviolent extremists from 1948 to 2021 and found they are most often male, young, single and motivated by "far-right" ideologies.

Experts don’t have the same concerns about LGBTQ+ "radicalization."

"Is there a serious threat by (transgender people) in terms of violence?" said Victor Asal, a University at Albany political science professor. "If you compare it to extremist right wingers and all sorts of other extremists, I think the answer is very easy. And the answer is no."

Adam Lankford, a University of Alabama criminology professor, said although many kinds of violent extremism were discussed during a working group he attended at the FBI’s law enforcement training academy, "there was no concern raised about crimes committed by people based on their gender identity."

Asal said there have been a few examples of violent trans activism. "But compared to other organizations, and more importantly, compared to other groups, this is infinitesimal," he said. 

Jon Lewis, a research fellow at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, said violence against LGBTQ+ people is a greater worry. 

"The closest thing that there is to a threat involving the LGBT community is the deeply concerning spike in threats targeting that community," Lewis said.

In May 2023, ABC News reported the Department of Homeland Security warned law enforcement agencies that threats of violence against the LGBTQ+ community were increasing. DHS’ website says that "these threats are increasingly tied to hate groups and domestic violent extremists." 

Ideological groups that tend to engage in violence frequently promote anti-LGBTQ+ views, said Mia Bloom, a communications professor and extremism expert at Georgia State University: "That's the one thing that all the groups have in common."

The Williams Institute, a public policy research group on sexual orientation and gender identity topics at the University of California, Los Angeles, found in 2021 that transgender people are four times likelier to be victims of violent crime than people whose gender aligns with the gender assigned to them at birth. In 2022, the institute found that LGBTQ+ people are nine times likelier than non-LGBTQ+ people to be victims of violent hate crimes, which include those "motivated by bias," that involve hate language or symbols, or "some confirmation by police as evidence that the incident was a hate crime." 

Do trans shooters perpetrate a disproportionate number of mass shootings?

"Per capita violent trans extremists have to have become the most violent group of people anywhere in the world," Donald Trump Jr. wrote in a post sharing the Libs of TikTok post about Moreno. "The amount of shootings they have completed or attempted likely pales in comparison to any other radical group based on how small a group they are. Can’t be close!"

As evidence of a pattern,  Several social media users posted a list of shootings since 2018 that they claim were committed by people who identified as transgender or nonbinary.

"Colorado Springs shooter: nonbinary (Colorado, 2022) 

Nashville school shooter: trans (Tennessee, 2023)

Aberdeen shooter: trans (Maryland, 2018)

Denver school shooter: trans (Colorado, 2019)

Iowa school shooter: trans/genderfluid (Iowa, 2024)

Lakewood Church shooter: trans (Texas, 2024)

The modern LGBTQ+ movement is radicalizing our youth into becoming violent extremists." posted Libs of TikTok on Feb. 12. State names and years were added by PolitiFact for context.

In four of the six cases cited, the perpetrators died in the attack. Determining shooters’ gender identity after they die often involves piecing together clues from social media accounts or conversations the shooters had with friends and family.

PolitiFact could not independently confirm that all six shooters identified as transgender or nonbinary. The two who are still alive have confirmed their transgender and nonbinary identities. Two of the four who died following the shootings were transgender, police or friends have said. 

A third suspect who is now dead has been linked to social media posts and accounts with LGBTQ+ flag emojis, he/they pronouns, and the hashtag "genderfluid." And police are identifying Moreno as female.

But experts cautioned that the larger context of gun violence and shootings show this list is misleading.

There is no standard for defining and tracking gun violence. Some analyses base it on how many people die during an incident; others include the number of people injured; some track gun violence incidents that unfolded in public. Most databases do not track whether shooters were transgender. 

The Gun Violence Archive, which collects data on mass shootings in which four or more people were shot and/or killed in a single event, counted 3,399 mass shootings from 2018 to Feb. 15, 2024. The earliest incident in the six shootings social media users cited happened in September 2018 in Aberdeen, Maryland — three people were killed by a 26-year-old whose family members and friends said struggled with mental illness and identified as transgender.

Even if all six shooters identified as transgender, that is six out of 3,399 incidents, or 0.17%. Survey data from 2022 estimates transgender adults compose about 0.5% to 1.6% of the nation’s adult population. 

This is an imperfect calculation. Not all six shootings listed by X users would qualify as a mass shooting under the Gun Violence Archive’s definition because, in the Lakewood Church shooting, fewer than four people were shot. And there may be more mass shooters who would identify as transgender that social media users haven’t cited.

A narrower way to analyze this would be to look at the number of active shooter incidents, in which one or more people are engaged in killing or trying to kill people in a populated area. This way of tracking focuses on location and intent rather than injuries or fatalities. The FBI, which tracks these incidents annually, said there were 206 active shooter incidents from 2018 to 2022, 2023 data has not yet been released.

If you take the three of the six shootings that happened from 2018 to 2022 and compare them with active shooting incidents tracked by the FBI, they would make up 1.46% of all incidents. 

An epidemiological analysis of active and public mass shooters Lankford and others conducted in 2021 found that public mass shooters are most often young and male. Not all mass shooters are motivated by extremist ideology, but they are likelier to be single, unemployed and have previous military experience than the general population, the study said. 

"To start worrying that somebody who's trans is going to do mass shootings," said Laura Dugan, a human security and sociology professor at Ohio State University, "that's just not a concern, given the vast number of people who are not trans who do mass shootings."

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Our Sources

Mia Bloom, Professor of Communications and Middle East Studies at Georgia State University, Feb. 13, 2024

Adam Lankford, Professor of Criminology at the University of Alabama, Feb. 14, 2024

Jon Lewis, Research Fellow at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, Feb. 14, 2024

Laura Dugan, Professor of Human Security and Sociology at The Ohio State University, Feb. 14, 2024

Victor Asal, Director of the Center for Policy Research and Political Science professor at the University of Albany, Feb 14, 2024

ABC News, "Lakewood Church shooting: AR-15 had 'Palestine' sticker, antisemitic writings recovered, police say," Feb 12, 2024

ABC News, "Suspected Lakewood Church shooter Genesse Moreno had criminal history, mental health issues, documents say," Feb 13, 2024

ABC News, "Threats against the LGBTQIA+ community intensifying: Department of Homeland Security," May 15, 2023

American Psychological Association, "An epidemiological analysis of public mass shooters and active shooters: Quantifying key differences between perpetrators and the general population, homicide offenders, and people who die by suicide," 2021

Associated Press, "EXPLAINER: Pronouns, nonbinary people and the Club Q attack," Dec. 8, 2022

Associated Press, "FACT FOCUS: No 'incredible rise' in transgender shooters," March 30, 2023

Associated Press, "The Texas megachurch shooter has not been identified as transgender, despite claims online," Feb 13, 2024

Associated Press, "What to know: Shooting at Joel Osteen's TX Lakewood Church," Feb 12, 2024

CBC, "Vancouver police seek witnesses to violent confrontations at transgender rally," April 2, 2023

CBS News, "Houston shooter at Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church had 2 rifles, police say," Feb 13, 2024

CBS News, "Maya 'Alec' McKinney Being Sentenced To Life In Prison With Possibility Of Parole For Deadly STEM School Shooting," July 24, 2020

Center for Strategic and International Studies, "The Escalating Terrorism Problem in the United States," June 17, 2020

CNN, "Former college swimmer says she was assaulted at an event opposing the inclusion of trans women in women’s sports," April 8, 2023

Department of Homeland Security, "LGBTQI+ Community Resources," June 9, 2023

Federal Bureau of Investigation, Active Shooter Incidents in the United States in 2021," May 2022

Federal Bureau of Investigation, "Active Shooter Incidents in the United States in 2018," April 2019

Federal Bureau of Investigation, "Active Shooter Incidents in the United States in 2019," April 2020 

Federal Bureau of Investigation, "Active Shooter Incidents in the United States in 2020," July 2021

Federal Bureau of Investigation, "Active Shooter Incidents in the United States in 2022," April 2023

Fox News, Transgender activists clash with NYPD during ‘Let Women Speak’ event, 9 arrested," Nov 14, 2023

Fox News, "Lakewood Church shooter identified as Genesse Ivonne Moreno; 'Palestine' written on gun," Feb 12, 2024

Fox News, "Lakewood Church shooting suspect identified as transgender woman; 'Free Palestine' written on gun," archived Feb 12, 2024

Gun Violence Archive, "General Methodology," accessed Feb 15, 2024

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KHOU, "Who is the Lakewood Church shooter, Genesse Moreno?," Feb 12, 2024

NBC News, "Aberdeen, Maryland, shooting: Three dead after woman opens fire at Rite Aid facility, shoots self," Spet. 20, 2018

NBC News, "Club Q shooter sentenced to life in prison for attack on gay nightclub," June 26, 2023

NBC News, "Colorado Springs suspect identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, defense lawyer says," Nov. 23, 2023

NBC News, "Details about the Nashville shooter's gender identity sow confusion and disinformation," March 30, 2023

NBC News, "Musk and far-right figures seize on Iowa shooter's possible LGBTQ identity," Jan. 5, 2024
Newsweek, "Dylan Butler Transgender Claims Flood Social Media," Jan 5, 2024

NBC News, "Police chief tells NBC News a sense of 'resentment' may have fueled Nashville shooter's attack at former school," March 27, 2023

NBC News, "Why extremism experts say it's worth discussing the Colorado shooting suspect's pronouns," Dec 10, 2022

Newsweek, "Dylan Butler Transgender Claims Flood Social Media," Jan. 5, 2024

New York Times, "What We Know About the Nashville School Shooting," Sept. 13, 2023  

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PolitiFact, "How is a ‘mass shooting’ defined?," Oct. 4, 2017

PolitiFact, "How many trans people are there in the U.S., and why do we overestimate it?," July 13, 2023

PolitiFact, "No evidence of growing trend of trans radicalization or terrorism, experts say," March 31, 2023

Reuters, "Majority of US mass shooters are cis men, not transgender or non-binary people," March 31, 2023 

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UCLA Williams Institute, "Transgender people over four times more likely than cisgender people to be victims of violent crime," March 23, 2021

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Vice, "The Far Right Is Spreading Misinformation Claiming the Lakewood Church Shooter Was Trans," Feb 13, 2024

Vox, "The far right is using the Lakewood Church shooting for anti-trans attacks," Feb 13, 2024 

X post (archived), Feb 12, 2024

X post (archived), Feb 12, 2024

X post (archived), Feb 12, 2024

X post (archived), Feb 12, 2024

X post (archived), Feb 12, 2024

X post (archived), Feb 12, 2024

X post (archived), Feb 12, 2024

X post (archived), Feb 13, 2024

X post (archived), Feb 13, 2024

YouTube, "Update on Lakewood Church Shooting Investigation," Feb. 12, 2024

X post (archived), Feb 12, 2024

X post (archived), Feb 21, 2024

X post (archived), Feb 16, 2024

X post (archived), Feb 15, 2024

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