A far-right podcaster working for The Daily Wire, Ben Shapiro‘s right-wing outlet, has been attempting to dupe dozens of trans people and doctors into participating in an anti-trans documentary under false pretenses, a prominent trans activist revealed this week.
Matt Walsh, who has an extensive history of overtly bigoted rhetoric predating his work for Shapiro’s burgeoning media empire, has become a leading anti-trans voice in the conservative movement of late. The one-time shock jock’s cartoonishly hateful remarks about the LGBTQ community have only increased his public profile and garnered him right-wing media stardom, including frequent appearances on Fox News.
Along the way, Walsh has continually upped his trollish antics. Late last year, for instance, his transphobic children’s book, titled Johnny the Walrus, was briefly the best-selling “LGBTQ” book on Amazon before the retailer recategorized it following a public backlash. “So I’m an LGBT author, and I’m, you know, I think one of the leading LGBT voices in the country right now according to Amazon, and I embrace that,” Walsh gloated to Fox News last December.
Fresh off the mainstream attention he gained from a controversial appearance on Dr. Phil, and after promising to wage an “all-out assault on gender ideology,” Walsh apparently decided to up the ante yet again. While ripping a page from the Project Veritas playbook, he recently attempted to trick a number of trans people and medical professionals into volunteering for what now appears to be an anti-trans documentary.
Walsh’s deception was exposed, however, by one of the activists his team attempted to deceive.
Eli Erlick, a writer and co-founder of the organization Trans Student Educational Resources, revealed on Twitter this week that she had been contacted by an associate producer from an organization billing itself as the Gender Unity Project, which, according to the producer, was doing a film on the trans community and wanted Erlick to participate.
According to Erlick, however, the situation quickly became suspicious when the producer, who called herself Makenna Lynn, offered to fly the trans activist to different locations for filming but abruptly canceled. Eventually, the producer settled on bringing Erlick to Nashville, where Walsh lives and The Daily Wire is now headquartered.
After some digging, Erlick discovered that Makenna Lynn was actually Makenna Waters, who is actually an associate producer for The Matt Walsh Show and has worked on hundreds of the right-wing troll’s broadcasts.
The Gender Unity Project’s deception was further revealed when Erlick unearthed the fake group’s filing as a limited liability corporation in Colorado. The agent on that registration, the trans activist discovered, was Justin Folk, a right-wing documentarian who has done projects for Walsh and far-right content mill PragerU.
Walsh, Waters, and The Daily Wire did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment on this story.
Shortly after Erlick posted an extensive Twitter thread revealing the Walsh gambit, Waters deleted her Twitter account and Folk set his to private. By Tuesday morning, Twitter had suspended an account created for the phony Gender Unity Project. (A Twitter spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.)
Based on the public and private response to Erlick’s posts, it appears quite possible that at least 50 trans people and doctors were contacted by Walsh’s anti-trans project. Erlick told The Daily Beast that at least nine people have personally told her that Walsh’s team approached them and that one of those people actually filmed scenes for the deceptive documentary.
Debi Jackson, an advocate for trans youth, noted on Erlick’s Facebook page that Waters had attempted to reassure her they would “not include any bigotry in our film” in an attempt to get Jackson and her 14-year-old trans child Avery to participate. This allegedly came after Jackson asked Waters—who was pretending to be Makenna Lynn—questions about the production’s funding, whether trans people were involved, and if it would include people opposing trans rights.
“We have an extremely small crew consisting of about 6 people. I must be honest as I don't want to mislead you, we are a small crew of cisgender folks. We all knew each other from prior projects so we came together with a mutual passion for this project and topic with the desire to help the community,” Waters wrote back, according to the text of an email shared by Jackson on Facebook.
“In regards to the subjects of our previous interviews, we’ve had a very wide demographic! We’re actually international right now in Africa doing interviews which has been such an incredible experience,” the producer added.
Jackson told The Daily Beast that it was the bare-bones website the supposed “Gender Unity Project” had put together for the film that acted as an “immediate red flag” and made her extremely cautious to proceed with the project.
And after discovering it was actually Matt Walsh behind the production, Jackson said she realized the far-right commentator has been publicly targeting her and her child for at least five years now. (Avery has been featured in National Geographic and an HBO documentary series.)
“To be honest, I’m not surprised that they like using various manipulative measures like that and it makes me really angry,” she said. “It just proves how cold and calculating and uncaring the anti-trans movement and people like Matt Walsh are.”
Jackson added, “What’s different here is that he knows there’s a child who was involved. He wasn’t just targeting me as a parent. This time they actually asked for Avery to be a participant, which means he’s willing to not just talk about kids, but to take children’s own words and manipulate them to make fun of them, to twist them to suit his own agenda. And that’s the part that angers me the most is that he knows this is hurting kids.”
As Erlick noted to The Daily Beast, Waters revealing that she was in Africa at the time of her email to Jackson correlated with a project Walsh has recently boasted about on social media. In fact, Walsh noted just three days ago that he returned from Africa after filming the project.
“It’s pretty clear what he’s going to be dealing with,” Erlick surmised to The Daily Beast. “It is juxtaposing poverty in Africa with the trans movement and trying to create a wedge between economic, racial, and trans issues. It’s going to end up trying to portray trans issues as a first-world problem.”
Fallon Fox, the first mixed-martial arts fighter to come out as trans, also revealed that she was contacted by Walsh’s production team and even participated in a brief video call to “feel them out” over the project. She posted a screenshot of Waters’ interview request on Twitter. (Fallon is the MMA fighter who, in 2020, told The Daily Beast of the “living hell” she experienced after Joe Rogan led an anti-trans campaign to have her banned from fighting.)
“They just seemed sketchy and kinda ignorant of trans issues so I said no on an interview,” Fallon wrote in response to Erlick's Twitter thread. “All of this confirms what I was thinking. Steer clear of Makenna Lynn!”
Despite exposing Walsh’s deception, Erlick isn’t taking a victory lap.
“Right now, there’s only one thing that we can do that's going to be effective, which is going through and reporting all of his accounts until his social media platforms can’t avoid suspending him anymore,” she told The Daily Beast. “He is breaking their discrimination policies, he’s ignoring their misgendering rules, and he is living it up because they refuse to ban him. So the most effective next steps would be to report his accounts and make sure platforms actually follow through with upholding their policies.”