Adult MAGA rage is making schools more dangerous for students

Chaya Raichik Flickr / Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0
Chaya Raichik Flickr / Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0
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Last week saw national headlines regarding two tragic stories that illustrate how MAGA radicalization of adults endangers kids in school. First, a medical examiner reported that Nex Benedict, the non-binary Oklahoma 10th-grader who passed away recently after enduring a beating in a school bathroom, apparently died by suicide. Then, James Crumbley, the father of Michigan school shooter Ethan Crumbley, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for providing his disturbed son with a gun. The boy's mother, Jennifer Crumbley, was convicted of the same crime in February.

What links these stories is that they are both case studies in how the hatreds and obsessions of MAGA adults are trickling down into the lives of children, and causing real harm and even death.

The Crumbleys faced such unusual charges because they gave their son access to guns mere days before the 2021 shooting, despite knowing he was articulating violent fantasies. One could guess right-wing politics were a factor, but there's no need to speculate. In 2016, Jennifer Crumbley wrote a gushing open letter praising Donald Trump as a man of "sincerity, and humility" who she trusted with "my son's future." She claimed children of immigrants get "free tutors, free tablets from our Government," while her son supposedly gets nothing.

Benedict died in the wake of a growing crescendo of right-wing hysterics demonizing LGBTQ students and teachers as "groomers" and accusing them of being a threat to other students. In Oklahoma, the far-right Republican state superintendent, Ryan Walters, has been especially aggressive on culture war issues, attacking LGBTQ people and calling for book bans. In an especially trollish move, Walters recently hired Chaya Raichik, who runs the infamous "Libs of TikTok" Twitter account, to be on the state's library committee. Raichick's only "experience" in education is targeting LGBTQ teachers and allies with her account, knowing bomb threats and harassment usually follow. Benedict was beaten up in a girls' bathroom, after being required by Oklahoma state law to use a restroom based on gender assigned at birth, not the one they live as.

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Raichik, Walters, and other MAGA Republicans are scrambling to deny any link between Benedict getting beaten up in a bathroom and a suicide that literally happened the next day. Benedict's family disagrees, however, noting the "severity of the assault" as shown by the autopsy. President Joe Biden released a statement declaring, "no one should face the bullying that Nex did" and they "should still be here with us today." Walters, in response to the criticism, leveled baseless accusations implying LGBTQ people are pedophiles.

This doubling down on the MAGA vitriol that is linked to school violence is not unique to Walters, but swiftly becoming endemic to the Republican Party. That's evident in the growing popularity of Raichik as a conservative leader, even though she regularly proves she is incapable of coherent sentences when asked to explain what she believes. Even more determinative, from a pure numbers perspective, was the North Carolina primary this month. Republicans nominated far-right activist Michele Morrow for state superintendent, despite — or because of — her history of shockingly violent rhetoric. Unlike the current Republican incumbent, Catherine Truitt, Morrow has no experience in education. On the contrary, Morrow hates public schools, calling them "socialism centers" and "indoctrination centers" and homeschooling her kids instead. But, in a sign of how radical the GOP has become, this is the least incendiary aspect of Morrow's campaign. As CNN reported, Morrow has a long-standing habit of calling for the violent deaths of Democrats or anyone she perceives as "liberal."

In other comments on social media between 2019 and 2021 reviewed by CNN’s KFile, Morrow made disturbing suggestions about executing prominent Democrats for treason, including Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Hillary Clinton, Sen. Chuck Schumer and other prominent people such as Anthony Fauci and Bill Gates.

She wants Obama to be killed by "firing squad," and called for it to be aired on "Pay Per View." She also longed for Obama to be executed by electric chair. In response to President Joe Biden asking Americans to temporarily wear a mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Morrow wrote, "KILL all TRAITORS!!!" She also called for the imprisonment of Georgia's Republican Gov. Brian Kemp for refusing to help Donald Trump steal the 2020 election.

On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported, "School hate crimes targeting LGBTQ+ people have sharply risen in recent years, climbing fastest in states that have passed laws restricting LGBTQ student rights and education." Overall, the annual reported hate crimes doubled from what they were just a few years ago. In the "states with restrictive laws, the number of hate crimes on K-12 campuses has more than quadrupled" since Raichik and her Republican cronies in states like Florida and Oklahoma got to work.

In the wake of Benedict's death, we're hearing a lot of Republicans, even the most rabidly MAGA ones, claim they oppose violence in schools, even against queer kids. Actions like elevating Morrow, Raichik and Walters say otherwise. At this point, it's almost banal to point out that the Republicans who claim to be "protecting" kids do not actually care how many children are hurt — or killed — because of their cynical efforts to generate right-wing panics and culture wars. But it's crucial nonetheless to keep talking about this.

That the MAGA movement stokes violence hardly needs arguing, as evidenced by January 6. It was inevitable that some of that ugliness would trickle down from adults to kids. But, as the nomination of Morrow shows, it's even worse than that. For years now, through "don't say gay" laws and groups like Moms for Liberty, the MAGA movement has been actively trying to remake America's schools in their own image. Where MAGA goes, violence follows. Ignore the glib denials of Republican leaders about school violence. Judge them by what they do — and who they support going into the 2024 election.