NBC News reports for their nationwide audience on the fake news phenomenon that has swept up dozens of Republican candidates this year all over the country including here in Colorado, the alleged threat of students “identifying as animals” disrupting public schools:
At least 20 conservative candidates and elected officials have claimed this year that K-12 schools are placing litter boxes on campus or making other accommodations for students who identify as cats, according to an NBC News review of public statements.
Every school district that has been named by those 20 politicians said either to NBC News or in public statements that these claims are untrue. There is no evidence that any school has deployed litter boxes for students to use because they identify as cats.
But the claim has taken on a life of its own among a growing number of Republicans, conservative influencers and political commentators. In an episode of Spotify’s “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast this week, host Joe Rogan told former U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard that a litter box was installed in a school that his friend’s wife worked at for a girl who “identifies as an animal.” A clip of the discussion quickly began to circulate on social media. Rogan did not name the school, and his publicist did not respond to a request for comment.
As readers know, our state is not immune:
In Colorado, GOP gubernatorial nominee Heidi Ganahl insisted in several recent interviews that students were dressing and identifying as cats, disrupting class, and the state’s schools were tolerating it. Some children, she alleged, would only communicate in barks and hisses. Her campaign declined to answer questions about Ganahl’s claims, but in one interview with a local Fox affiliate, she suggested “there’s a lot of this going on” in Jefferson County.
The Jefferson County school district disputed Ganahl’s claims and said its dress code prohibits costumes at school. The district — where Columbine High School is located — has been stocking classrooms with small amounts of cat litter since 2017, but as part of “go buckets” that contain emergency supplies in case students are locked in a classroom during a shooting. The buckets also contain candy for diabetic students, a map of the school, flashlights, wet wipes and first aid items.
For over three weeks since the first report from the Colorado Times Recorder about Republican gubernatorial candidate
Hiedi Heidi Ganahl’s interview with local right-wing radio cabin boy Jimmy Sengenberger, in which Ganahl warned of children “identifying as cats” in Colorado public schools, this bizarre and entirely fictional moral panic has dominated the governor’s race while fellow Republicans desperately try to change the subject and Democrats can barely contain their glee. Even before Ganahl’s “furry panic” her campaign was in serious trouble, down by a double-digit gap that has only widened since. Ganahl’s insistence on talking about “furries” in multiple interviews since that first appearance on KNUS has not helped her cause.
As the story has played out, we learned about a fringy “parent’s group” known as Jeffco Kids First who it appears was principally responsible for compiling the “evidence” for Ganahl’s consumption of “furries” taking over public schools–including the supposed availability of litterboxes for the use of students who “identify as animals.” In truth, as Jeffco school officials explained, schools keep buckets of kitty litter on hand for use during mass shooting lockdowns–not for “furries.”
“This thing has gotten out of control with politicians just wanting to have a talking point,” said John McDonald, former director of campus safety at Jefferson County schools, who’s now a school security consultant.
And as we noted previously, Ganahl’s campaign against “furries” is not victimless, part of a broader attack on LGBTQ+ people by drawing equivalency between sexual identity and putting on a costume. It’s more proof that unlike other statewide Republican candidates feinting to the middle after winning their primaries, Ganahl has stayed true to her far-right ideological convictions and supporters with whom she won the nomination. Ganahl latching on to the “furry panic” sweeping the far right this year across the country was nothing unique, but refusing to let it go after so much damage done truly is remarkable.
Ganahl’s steadfast refusal to back away from this absurd fake news despite innumerable opportunities, continuing to insist “furries” are a looming social catastrophe despite every responsible party in a position to know screaming that’s not the case, is one of the most inexplicable political grandstands we’ve ever seen in our years covering Colorado politics.