THE case of transgender prisoner Isla Bryson has dominated Scottish headlines, with numerous American right-wing agitators and publications picking it up and running with it since.

Fox News, Breitbart News, New York Post, InfoWars and fake news website Gateway Pundit all published articles, sometimes multiple, on the case, and alt-right talking heads Andy Ngo, Dr Jordan Peterson and Matt Walsh weighed in on the story as it spread wings and landed across the pond.

Bryson, convicted of two rapes when she was a man named Adam Graham, was initially held in solitary confinement in Scotland’s only female prison, Cornton Vale in Stirling.

After outrage at the possibility of a convicted rapist being housed with vulnerable female inmates, she was moved to HMP Edinburgh after a statement made by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in Holyrood on January 26.

READ MORE: Transgender prisoners: What are the facts in UK jails?

Later the Government would say there had been no ministerial intervention, and all operational decisions around the case were made by the Scottish Prison Service (SPS).

However, a later announcement by Justice Secretary Keith Brown saw a ban placed on trans prisoners convicted of rape or with a history of violence being moved to female jails, while the SPS review is ongoing.

It comes after the UK Government blocked Scotland’s gender reforms from being given Royal Assent and becoming law, but the story making the headlines in the US right-wing media has focused almost entirely on Bryson, and whether or not she is an authentic trans woman.

The framing of the story has been used to “whip up hate” against trans people and make their readers question trans rights, anti-fascist group Hope Not Hate said when we shared the Sunday National’s findings with them.

Meanwhile, trans rights campaigners raised fears that the onslaught of misinformation regarding the Bryson case and what Scotland’s gender reforms actually intended to do, will have tragic implications in the future.

What did right-wing ‘agitators’ say?

An interview with the FM and STV News on January 30, where journalist Peter Smith repeatedly asked whether or not Bryson is a woman, spread on Twitter and Ngo was quick to praise the interview.

Ngo is a well-known right-wing internet personality and journalist who frequently shares stories relating to transgender people in the US and criticising the activities of Antifa.

Despite the FM repeatedly setting out that there is “no automatic right” for a trans woman to be housed in the female prison estate, Smith repeatedly asked if “trans women are really women”.

The clip gathered more than five million views, with Ngo’s retweet to his 1.1 million followers picking up almost 100,000 views. He wrote: “Scotland’s head of government Nicola Sturgeon believes #trans women are women. She is then asked why then did her government decide to suspend sending trans sex offenders to female prisons.”

A quick scroll of Ngo’s Twitter timeline uncovered another four tweets relating to Scotland’s prison row, and one on the passage of Scotland’s gender reforms, which he branded “controversial proposals”.

On tweet, viewed over 60,000 times, read: “In a blow to leftists & militant #trans activists, the Scottish government has announced that trans women incarcerated for violent crimes will be blocked from female prisons pending the conclusion of a review.”

Ngo also claimed that the Scottish Government’s policy would make it easier for “minors” to transition in a post viewed over 55,000 times on January 25. The GRR bill would have allowed 16 and 17-year-olds to apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC), but with an added six month period. A GRC allows a person to legally transition and be recognised in their new gender, for marriage and death certificates, for example, not medically transition.

Ngo tweeted once about the UK Government using a Section 35 order, dubbing the Scottish Government “left wing” and the gender reforms “controversial”, as well as numerous interactions with Harry Potter author JK Rowling, who has consistently campaigned against the reform and has personally targeted Sturgeon, wearing a t-shirt decrying the FM as a “destroyer of women’s rights”.

And Rowling’s retweet of the clip of Smith’s interview led to another right-wing commentator weighing in. Peterson, a Canadian academic and psychologist with a large US following as a conservative media personality, who previously said he supported “enforced monogamy” as well as railing against identity politics and Covid-19 lockdowns, also entered the debate on Twitter. Resharing a post from Rowling, he added: “The internal contradictions in the implicit narrative are beginning to produce cracks – not least in the Scottish leader’s psyche (note derisive desperate giggle).”

Rowling had written: “I don’t know about you, but excluding women from women’s prisons just because they’ve got penises, male pattern baldness and have committed a couple of rapes seems awfully TERFy to me.”

Peterson also shared an opinion column by Alex Massie in The Times, which blamed the “trans prisoner fiasco” entirely on the FM, again originally posted by Rowling with a quote from the piece sent to her 14 million followers.

Walsh, presenter of a controversial online documentary titled “What is a Woman” which was made in opposition to “gender ideology”, where he repeatedly asked people the titular question of the film, made an appearance on Piers Morgan Uncensored on January 30 to discuss the Bryson case. The clip, later posted on Youtube, gathered almost 220,000 views in a single day.

Walsh, another right-wing media personality, recently caused outrage after suggesting doctors who prescribed gender affirming healthcare for trans youth in the US should be executed. He later tweeted: “I believe that the butchery of children should be legally categorised as a capital offense. This should not be a controversial viewpoint.”

On the Talk TV programme, Morgan asked Walsh why he thought the FM was “incapable” of explaining why trans women are women if they have to be kept in male prisons. Walsh replied by saying gender reform supporters were “frauds and cowards” and claimed arguments for “gender theory” fell apart when “basic questions” were asked.

When Morgan raised reports of Bryson’s ex-wife who claimed Bryson’s transition was not genuine, he agreed and used the pronoun “he” to describe the prisoner, before allowing Walsh to come in.

READ MORE: Publish Isla Bryson case review in full, Scottish Government urged

“I think ‘he’ is right. And by the way, even if he was a ‘genuine transitioner’ I’d still call him he, because he means man, that’s what he is. It doesn’t matter how he feels about himself,” Walsh told the programme.

While Walsh did not tweet about his appearance or the trans prisoner case, his own YouTube page instead carried the clip from Morgan’s show where a female guest was outraged at his suggestion that women should wear “more than their underwear” to the gym if they didn’t want men to pay attention to them.

What did right-wing US news outlets run?

Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox News ran four articles on the Bryson case, and a video of the FM giving a statement to Holyrood on January 28 when she stated Bryson would not be housed in a female prison and moved on to the male estate. One article was based on AP agency copy, one based on the Guardian, and another on reports in the Daily Mail.

Tory MSP Russell Findlay was quoted in two articles, SNP MP Joanna Cherry in one, as well as anti-gender reform campaigners For Women Scotland. One headline read: “Male rapist transitions before trial, sent to all-female prison as transgender woman.”

Far-right publication Breitbart News published five articles on the Bryson case and prisoner row, one on the blocking of Scotland’s gender reforms and another on remarks made by Policy Exchange, a Tory think tank, which claimed the Scottish legislation would force all-girls schools in the UK to “admit males who self-identify as transgender”.

The National: Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox News ran four articles on the Isla Bryson caseRupert Murdoch-owned Fox News ran four articles on the Isla Bryson case

The website used pejorative language in its copy: “The story comes as Scotland’s left-separatist Scottish National Party (SNP) government, which has been pushing pro-trans legislation, grapples with the case of Isla Bryson, a tattooed, skinheaded rapist who began dressing in pink and identifying as a woman after being apprehended, and was briefly incarcerated in a woman’s prison.”

Elsewhere, a NY Post headline read: “Convicted UK transgender rapist will serve sentence in male prison, moved from women’s facility after outcry.” They also carried the stories of Bryson’s move to a male prison, and her ex-wife’s comments that Bryson’s transition is a “ploy”.

The tabloid, also Murdoch-owned, has a “transgender” tag on the website with at least one story a day on average, sometimes multiple stories a day from the start of November to date, on sensationalist stories of trans people from across the US and the world.

The story even made it on to InfoWars, a known fake news and conspiracy website owned by alt-right radio host and podcaster Alex Jones, and its European equivalent Jones filed for bankruptcy in December last year after he was handed nearly $1.5bn in court judgments over conspiracy theories he spread about the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre.

“Trans Criminals Who Raped Women Are Women, Says Scottish Leader,” the tagline on InfoWars reads.

Gateway Pundit, another well-known right-wing conspiracy and fake news website, renowned for publishing hoaxes and falsehoods, in a story relating to a female trans prisoner in a Californian prison, included JK Rowling’s “TERFy” tweet of the FM’s STV interview, describing the author as “weighing in on this insanity”.

While the Bryson case itself was not covered in an individual story, another headline on the website read: “Suffer the Children! Scottish Government Wants to Make Trans Mutilation of Minors Legal.”

Why did the Scottish trans prison row appeal to the US right-wing?

“Cherry-picking” negative cases of transgender people which support far right-messaging from international sources is not new, Patrik Hermansson, senior researcher at Hope Not Hate, told us.

“This is true for many target groups and it is here used against transgender people,” he said, after analysing our findings.

HE explained: “By curating, often minor, local stories from across the globe they can give the impression that an issue is happening all the time, everywhere. Each case, even if it happens on the other side of the planet, contributes to build negative beliefs among the consumers of this content.

“It is an effective way to inflate an issue as, like in this case, they rarely cover changes that contradict their argument. Like in the case of giving less focus on the UK Government’s blocking of Scotland’s gender legislation reforms.”

Hermansson said the goal was to “make their readers question transgender peoples rights and whip up hate against them” and added he believed the tactics used by the far-right won’t change anytime soon as “it’s proven its efficacy”.

READ MORE: Trans prisoners with violent history 'won't be housed in women's jail'

He added: “The responsibility comes on quality outlets and anyone with a platform to question these narratives, highlight that they are cherry picking cases to make their argument, and spread the other side of the story which is that trans people are one of the most threatened communities in the UK right now.”

Maggie Chapman, Scottish Greens MSP and equalities spokesperson, who campaigned in favour of the Gender Recognition (Scotland) Reform Bill, said that the “demonisation and misinformation” spread about trans people has been “disgraceful”.

She added: “It has further stigmatised an already marginalised group while whipping up fear and hostility. Trans lives and experiences have been cynically weaponised by the far right and other powerful voices, who have misrepresented the issue of prisons to peddle hate and smear a whole community.”

Heather Herbert, a trans woman and IT specialist from Aberdeen, who campaigned for the reforms, said she wasn’t surprised the story had spread so quickly.

“The far right have convinced people to support them by claiming to defend people and defend biology against this evil minority of people,” she said.

“And actually from the other stories that we’ve had over the last couple of weeks, they help portray trans people as a danger to people,” she added.

“It’s like – oh, they’re trans prisoners, and therefore they’re rapists, and therefore they’re going to attack people.”

Why does it matter that misinformation around the trans prison story spread?

Chapman echoed fears that this will lead to “more attacks and an even more hostile environment for trans people” as raised by many activists when the gender reforms were being debated in Holyrood and the repeatedly branded “toxic debate” appeared to reach its height.

Reports of hate crimes with a transgender aggravator tripled in Scotland between 2014-15 and 2021-22, while over a quarter of hate crime reports (27%) had a sexual orientation aggravator.

And, it comes after transgender broadcaster India Willoughby said she feared someone would die due to the rhetoric used in the UK media and by politicians.

“Even though we’re strong people I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the final straw for some people, for some trans siblings,” Herbert added, agreeing with Willoughby’s comments.

The National: India Willoughby was told 'you can't change sex' on Question TimeIndia Willoughby was told 'you can't change sex' on Question Time (Image: BBC)

On Thursday night, Willoughby appeared on BBC Question Time, where a female member of the audience told her “you can’t change sex”, which was met with some clapping. The debate began as a question about safeguarding single sex spaces but quickly became a row between Spiked journalist Ella Whelan and Willoughby, and then Whelan and SNP MSP Jenny Gilruth. Whelan repeatedly asked the transport minister if the “individual” [Bryson] was a “man or a woman”.

“This individual is a rapist. That is the most important thing,” the MSP said, to groans from the audience. Willougbhy would later say filming the episode was like attending her own “hanging”.