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News Analysis

LA Sheriff extremely anti-media, except when he’s on right-wing networks

LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva threatened, then backed off, an LA Times reporter. But he’s happy to appear on far-right media

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LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva with Fox host Tucker Carlson (Screenshot/Fox News)

By John Knefel – LOS ANGELES – LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva this week targeted – and then backed off – a Los Angeles Times reporter in a criminal investigation, but Villanueva’s threats against the media don’t extend to his favorite extremist networks. The hard-right sheriff has appeared on Fox News at least 32 times, including four appearances on Tucker Carlson Tonight, according to an internal Media Matters database. 

Villanueva is also a central figure in the two-part Suicide of Los Angeles, the Season Two premiere of Fox Nation’s documentary series Tucker Carlson Originals. Not content to limit himself to Murdoch-owned media, Villanueva has also appeared on fledgling Fox News competitor One America News, and on Newsmax’s questionably named The Gorka Reality Check.

Villanueva’s appearances on Fox programs often follow a well-worn template. In the wake of either a real or perceived crisis regarding law enforcement, he shows up to fearmonger about the dangers of defunding the policeinvestigating prosecutorial misconduct, or other moderate approaches to reform of the criminal punishment system. He demonizes unhoused people and drug users, all while doubling down on the carceral policies that are at the root of so much poverty and immiseration in Los Angeles and other cities in the United States.

An illustrative example is from February 22 of this year. When asked by Guy Benson on Fox Business about the effect a COVID-19 vaccine mandate would have on his department, Villanueva reached for apocalyptic analogies. “Well, just think of any dystopian – future movie,” Villanueva responded. “Think of Beyond ThunderdomeMad Max, anything like that, it would be applicable. We have the desert environment, there would be an absolute lack of cops on the street, in the jails. We’d have to close jails.” To ensure he hit his talking point, Villanueva then said the “defunding” board that oversees his department wants to “even further” defund it.

When Villanueva isn’t citing post-apocalyptic movies to talk about LA’s supposed slide into chaos, he’s often setting his sights on his favorite target: Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón. The DA is a moderate reformer, but to hear it from Villanueva in Suicide of Los Angeles, Gascón’s politics fall somewhere to the left of prison abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore

“The problem is here in LA, in city and county government, they occupy every single seat,” Villanueva says, without specifying exactly whom he’s referencing. “There is no other point of view other than that ‘woke’ ideology.” He adds that Gascón and other liberal reformers are “funded by Soros and company,” a narrative frequently featured on Fox News.

Appearing in a promo for the film alongside Carlson, Villanueva made it clear who he thinks is getting preferential treatment from Gascón’s office. “Unless you come from the public defender’s office, you are a Black Lives Matter activist – those are about the only people he’s speaking to. Everyone else just doesn’t exist in his world.”

Villanueva’s regular presence on right-wing media only underscores how inappropriate his comments about the Los Angeles Times were. The investigation into staff writer Alene Tchekmedyian arose from a story she’d written about a departmental cover-up of a deputy’s assault of a person in their custody. The Times obtained a “surveillance video from a lockup area of the San Fernando Courthouse that captured the deputy kneeling on the inmate’s head for three minutes after handcuffing him,” according to Tchekmedyian’s reporting.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Villanueva accused two political rivals, in addition to Tchekmedyian, of being responsible for the tape’s release. When asked if the reporter was specifically under threat of prosecution, Villanueva responded, ​“All parties to the act are subjects of the investigation,” according to the Times. 

By that evening, facing intense criticism, the sheriff backed down. “I must clarify at no time today did I state an L.A. Times reporter was a suspect in a criminal investigation,” he said, according to the Times. “We have no interest in pursuing, nor are we pursuing, criminal charges against any reporter.” 

Far-right views within sheriff’s departments are alarmingly common, and they are regularly aired on Fox. The far-right movement known as “constitutional sheriffs” holds that local sheriffs are the highest legitimate legal jurisdiction in the country. Although Villanueva is not known to be a follower of that philosophy, Fox News has a documented history of embracing those who are.

Villanueva’s walk-back notwithstanding, it’s ridiculous for him to claim Tchekmedyian was never a subject in his investigation. His comments were filmed and posted to his own department’s Facebook page. Just don’t expect to see that footage on Fox News any time soon.

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John Knefel is a Senior Writer, and Rapid Response team member at Media Matters. Follow him on Twitter @mmfa or @johnknefel

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The preceding article was previously published by Media Matters for America and is republished by permission.

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News Analysis

Right-wing media spreads altered footage of drag queen- who sues

Libs of TikTok and other anti-LGBTQ media falsely claimed a drag queen exposed himself to minors — now the performer is suing

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Graphic by Andrea Austria for Media Matters

By Mia Gingerich | WASHINGTON – A drag queen who performed at the Idaho Pride event targeted by white nationalists in June is suing a right-wing blogger who doctored footage of his performance to falsely claim he had exposed himself to children.

Even though the video was swiftly debunked by local news, right-wing media — including Libs of TikTok’s Chaya Raichik and others who initially helped drive harassment against the Pride event — pushed the edited footage, leading to abuse against the performer. 

On June 11, police in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, arrested 31 members of the Patriot Front near Pride in the Park, a planned Pride event. Authorities said evidence showed the white nationalists, who had gathered at the park from across the country, were planning to riot at the event and in multiple areas around the town. Patriot Front has a history of anti-LGBTQ actions, including burning trans pride flags and vandalizing a memorial for the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated it as a hate group.

The event was also targeted by a far-right biker group that announced it was holding an event nearby at the same time as Pride in the Park, with organizers saying there were “going to be going after the groomers” while alluding to possible violence. 

One of the performers at the event was Eric Posey, whose drag name is Mona Liza Million. Following Pride in the Park, right-wing blogger Summer Bushnell posted footage from Posey’s performance that blurred his crotch. In her posts, Bushnell erroneously claimed Posey had exposed himself to minors and called for her audience to report the video to police. The video, which was debunked by local news two days after the event was held, led to harassment against Posey after it went viral on social media. Now Posey is suing Bushnell, claiming she defamed him in an effort to gain popularity as part of the nationwide effort to malign LGBTQ people and Pride Month events.

A key instigator in manufacturing outrage over the event was Chaya Raichik, who runs the social media account “Libs of TikTok.” Raichik not only targeted Pride in the Park after Idaho-based white nationalist Dave Reilly called for her to do so, but she also helped spread Bushnell’s video weeks after it had been debunked by both the media and authorities. On July 31, Raichik retweeted a tweet with Bushnell’s video and calling Posey a “pedophile,” with Raichik adding, “This is what a ‘family-friendly’ drag show looks like.” Commenters reacting to Raichik’s post falsely accused Posey of being a “groomer” and “pedophile,” while others threatened extreme acts of violence against him, including multiple threats to castrate him.

Although the tweet she quoted was later removed for violating Twitter’s rule on hateful conduct, Raichik’s tweet was never deleted. 

Raichik was joined in sharing the doctored video by anti-LGBTQ trolls including right-wing podcaster Liz Wheeler and Gays Against Groomers, with the latter writing, “If gay rights do get rolled back, it will only be because of things like this.”

The renewed social media pickup of the doctored video led to an article published by right-wing blog Post Millennial headlined “Drag queen accused of exposing self to children at ‘family friendly’ Pride event.” The article promoted conspiracy theories that antifa was involved in targeting the Idaho Pride event, and the header for the article included a still from Bushnell’s video, with the edited video embedded.  

The Idaho Family Policy Center, a right-wing Christian nonprofit that partners with extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom and multiple other anti-LGBTQ organizations, posted a petition on September 8 denying law enforcement’s debunking of the video and claiming it had “reviewed the unedited footage and can confirm it portrays public exposure of the performer’s genitalia.” Included with the petition, which called for drag performances to be banned from taking place around children, was a still from Bushnell’s video. The petition remains active as of publication date. 

Far-right conspiracy theory outlet Infowars posted an article also featuring a still from the doctored video. The article suggested the targeting of the event by Patriot Front was “a federal false flag operation” and criticized the “mainstream media” for “ignoring a potential child sex crime occurring at the very same event.”

The article cited a press release from the local sheriff’s department saying police were investigating the video. The announcement came after a local outlet had already debunked the claims and released the unedited video, and despite law enforcement officials acknowledging that their investigation stemmed entirely from reports by individuals who had seen Bushnell’s doctored footage and none of whom had seen the performance in person. The stunt culminated on July 1 with the city prosecutor stating what had been demonstrated weeks earlier — Posey had not exposed himself. 

Disregarding available evidence, right-wing media widely used the release to push the false narrative and disseminate the doctored footage. Stephanie Hamill, a contributing writer for Media Research Center and ambassador for Turning Point USA, tweeted Bushnell’s video while adding that the “dancer’s genitals were reportedly exposed on the main stage with children viewing the ‘dance.’”

Right-wing author Janie Johnson tweeted a link to the video to her nearly 200,000 followers, attempting to excuse the white nationalists who targeted the event and writing, “Wonder what ticked the Idaho dads? This drag demon exposed himself to children.” 

The incident is nearly identical to another manufactured controversy pushed by right-wing media in which an edited photo of a drag performer reading to children at a library in 2019 was blurred and paired with the claim that they were exposing themselves to children. That smear, too, was quickly debunked, which did not prevent the ensuing harassment and an attempt from lawmakers to strip libraries of their funding.   

The targeting of Posey and the broader attacks on Pride in the Park followed an escalating campaign of harassment against drag and Pride Month events that falsely accused participants of abusing children. This harassment, and the escalating rhetoric of maligning LGBTQ people as groomers, has largely been enabled by the failure of social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook to adequately handle the targeted harassment. 

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Mia Gingerich is a researcher at Media Matters. She has a bachelor’s degree in politics and government from Northern Arizona University and has previously worked in rural organizing and local media.

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The preceding article was previously published by Media Matters for America and is republished by permission.

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Research/Study

Suicide risk & access to care among LGBTQ college students

LGBTQ college students with access to mental health services through their college had drastically lower odds of attempting suicide

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LGBTQ+ UCLA graduates (Photo Credit: UCLA LGBTQ Campus Resource Center)

NEW YORK – The Trevor Project’s researchers team published new data this week that assessed suicide risk, access to mental health services, and access to LGBTQ student services among a national sampling of LGBTQ+ college and university students.

The report’s findings show that LGBTQ college students with access to mental health services through their college or university had drastically lower odds of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those without access.

The data in the report takes on greater relevance as National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month is observed this September and highlight the ways in which community leaders, parents, and others can help prevent suicide among LGBTQ youth — a group that is more than four times more likely to attempt suicide compared to their straight and cisgender peers.

Key Findings:

  • LGBTQ college students with access to mental health services through their college had 84% lower odds of attempting suicide in the past year compared to LGBTQ college students without access. 
    • LGBTQ college students reported that common barriers to accessing care included that they did not feel comfortable going (33%), long waitlists, (29%), and privacy concerns (17%).
  • LGBTQ college students with access to LGBTQ student services through their college had 44% lower odds of attempting suicide in the past year compared to LGBTQ college students without access.
    •  Over six in ten (63%) LGBTQ college students reported that their college had LGBTQ-specific services, such as an LGBTQ center, available. 
    • Those who did not have access to LGBTQ student services through their college reported significantly higher rates of seriously considering suicide in the past year (41%) compared to those who did have access (30%). 
  • One in three (33%) LGBTQ college students seriously considered suicide in the past year, and 7% reported a suicide attempt in the past year. 
    • Rates of considering suicide were higher among LGBTQ college students of color (35%), multisexual students (35%), and transgender and nonbinary students (39%),
    • LGBTQ students of color (9%) and transgender and nonbinary students (9%) reported significantly higher rates of attempting suicide in the past year compared to White LGBTQ students (6%) and cisgender LGBQ students (4%).
  • Nearly nine in ten LGBTQ college students (89%) reported that their college was accepting of LGBTQ people, and this was associated with the availability of LGBTQ-specific student services.

“These findings are strikingly clear: LGBTQ college students who reported having access to mental health services at school had dramatically lower odds of attempting suicide compared to those without access,” said Dr. Jonah DeChants (he/him), Research Scientist at The Trevor Project.

“While college environments offer a number of positive and protective factors for LGBTQ students, the reality is that suicide risk still very much persists, especially among those who do not have access to affirming spaces and services. We urge all colleges and universities to realize that access to mental health care services, as well as LGBTQ-specific student services, on college campuses is critical for ensuring the mental health and safety of their LGBTQ student body,” he added.

Read the report here (Link)

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Research/Study

Black men account for 91% of HIV-related arrests in Louisiana

A new data interactive looks at the impact of HIV criminal laws on people living with HIV in nine states, including Louisiana

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Screenshot/YouTube

BATON ROUGE – Since 2011, as many as 176 people have had contact with Louisiana’s criminal legal system because of allegations of HIV crimes, according to a new report by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. HIV-related crimes are disproportionately enforced based on race and sex. In Louisiana, Black men represent 15% of the state population and 44% of people living with HIV, but 91% of those arrested for an HIV crime.

Using data obtained from the Louisiana Incident-Based Reporting System and from the state’s most populous parishes, researchers found that enforcement of HIV crimes is concentrated in East Baton Rouge Parish, Orleans Parish, and Calcasieu Parish. Furthermore, the number of HIV incidents—or interactions with law enforcement involving allegations of HIV crimes—is not declining over time.

HIV criminalization is a term used to describe laws that either criminalize otherwise legal conduct or increase the penalties for illegal conduct based upon a person’s HIV-positive status. Nearly two-thirds of U.S. states and territories currently have laws that criminalize people living with HIV.

A new data interactive looks at the impact of HIV criminal laws on people living with HIV in nine states, including Louisiana.

Louisiana has one criminal law related to HIV, which makes it a felony for a person who knows of their HIV-positive status to intentionally expose another person to HIV through sexual contact or other means without consent. The maximum sentence for an intentional exposure conviction is 10 years, and people convicted of an HIV crime are required to register on the state’s sex offender registry for at least 15 years.

Louisiana’s HIV criminal law does not require actual transmission, intent to transmit, or even the possibility of transmission to sustain a conviction. Between 2011 and 2022, incarceration for HIV crimes cost Louisiana at least $6.5 million.

“The cost of Louisiana’s HIV criminal law is likely much higher. Even with only partial access to the state’s criminal enforcement data, the trends were dramatic,” said lead author Nathan Cisneros, HIV Criminalization Analyst at the Williams Institute. “Louisiana’s HIV criminal law may undermine the state’s public health efforts by deterring the communities most impacted by HIV, including people of color and sex workers, from seeking testing and treatment.”  

KEY FINDINGS

  • Most HIV criminal incidents (80%) in Louisiana involved only allegations of an HIV-related crime; no other crimes were alleged in the incidents.
  • Black people—and especially Black men—were the majority of people identified as suspects and arrested for HIV-related crimes in Louisiana.
    • Across the state, 63% of suspects were Black and 45% were Black men. For incidents that resulted in arrest, all of those arrested were Black and 91% were Black men.
    • In New Orleans, close to 80% of all suspects were identified as Black and 58% were Black men.
  • Black people and women were overrepresented among victims of HIV-related incidents.
    • Across the state, Black women and white women each represented 28% of all victims.
    • In New Orleans, Black men were 58% of all victims.
  • Since 1998, there have been at least 47 separate HIV-related convictions resulting in sex offender registration, involving 43 people.
  • Most people (63%) on the sex offender registry because of an HIV-related conviction are on the registry only because of the HIV-related conviction.
  • Three-quarters of people on the sex offender registry for an HIV-related conviction were Black.
  • Guilty outcomes resulted in an average sentence of 4.3 years.
  • Incarcerating people for HIV-related charges has cost Louisiana at least $6.5 million.

This report is part of a series of reports examining the ongoing impact of state HIV criminalization laws on people living with HIV. Take a look at our new data interactive summarizing the findings of our research.

Read the report

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