TL;DR: At the Conservative Political Action Conference in the US last weekend, political commentator Michael Knowles called for the eradication of “transgenderism”. What followed was a concerning focus on the language rather than the threat itself.
Knowles, who works for right-wing US publication The Daily Wire, said in his speech: “For the good of society… transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely - the whole preposterous ideology, at every level” - Rolling Stone
The headline of that Rolling Stone article initially suggested he said transgender people should be ‘eradicated.’” But Knowles threatened a lawsuit.
Now, the headline is: “CPAC speaker calls for eradication of ‘transgenderism’ — and somehow claims he’s not calling for elimination of transgender people”
Knowles demanded the original headline be retracted, calling it “libelous”. He also threatened a number of other outlets with similar headlines with lawsuits.
Rolling Stone changed to prevent a libel lawsuit but did so while doubling down on its original editorial position. It also edited the article itself, reiterating its position and adding statements from trans rights activists and pro-LGBTQIA+ organisations including GLAAD.
Michael Knowles at CPAC: The wider media response
Following the legal back-and-forth at Rolling Stone, other outlets jumped onto the story.
The anti-trans rhetoric bandied around at the conference was dissected, along with its real-world implications for trans people in the US and around the world - Guardian
The Human Rights Campaign said the conference was “a litany of malice, hatred and discrimination on display” - HRC
Diana Goetsch, a trans-American poet, called the speech what it was: “fascism”. They also argued had any other marginalised community been the subject of Knowles tirade, the “murderous intent” would not have been questioned - LA Times
While Harvard clinical law instructor Alejandro Caraballo posted a video of the speech, captioned: “Michael Knowles is openly calling for genocide against trans people at CPAC” - Advocate
Analysis: "Eradicating 'transgenderism'" means only one thing
It’s not about the fact he used the outdated word “transgenderism” rather than saying ‘trans people’.
Eradicating an identity and eradicating the people that have an identity are the same thing. It’s still a threat.
If he wasn’t inciting literal, physical violence - as he later claimed he wasn’t - he was still advocating for a world where trans people cannot live openly or authentically.
He threatened to make the US so hostile and uninhabitable for trans people that they must choose never to admit who they are, or leave.
Thankfully, Rolling Stone and others saw his vitriol for exactly what it was.
Still, this was a horrific attack on the trans community. Crucially, the CPAC conference is a barometer for where conservative grassroots thoughts and feelings are at. It shows and tells us what to expect from them in the coming months and years - Vox
That said, it's also a conference that hosted Donald Trump and Brazil's former president Bolsonaro among a host of other deeply right-wing voices.
It doesn’t matter how they phrase it: saying trans identities shouldn’t exist feeds into a narrative that leads to violence against trans people. Even if they don’t plan on actively following through on their threats - someone else will.
It’s not libel laws that should make people change their language, it’s basic humanity.
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