Peter had provided copies of paperwork from the Family Court. His ex-wife’s transphobia, projected in the ways she treated their son, had been so bad that Peter had won primary custody, with her only seeing her son under supervision.
It had been bearable for a while. Then she had tried to drag Miles out of a fire exit, with a car waiting outside. Her accomplices had sped away, never identified, as a care centre employee intervened, and she had avoided being charged. But that was when father and son had moved halfway up the country. Whether they could truly start anew was a big question. Irwin was going to do what he could to help.
He had done some research before meeting Peter and Miles, getting an overview of the state of the ‘trans debate’. One side effect of diving in was that he had seen the word groomer more times in the last few days than in the rest of his life combined. Shorthand for child groomer, the baseless accusation was thrown out by Gender Critical activists- and a lot of sock puppet accounts- all over social media. Trans people were groomers. Drag queens were groomers. Parents of trans children were groomers. Anyone who supported trans people was a groomer. You were a groomer if you expressed no opinion on transgender issues or didn’t wholeheartedly agree with the bigotry aimed at trans people.
It was ludicrous, and would be comical if it weren’t simultaneously so dangeous. Irwin had tracked extremism whilst with MI6 and studied historical examples of a deadly idea taking hold of a population, hatred building until it boiled over into violence. Genocides didn’t start with mass murder. They began with whispered hatred, insinuations about a particular minority. With increasing volume, and decreasing subtlety, the out group became the focus of more and stronger vitriol. They were blamed for ever more of the problems they had nothing to do with. Politicians used them as a distraction from their failings, promising harsh treatment and punitive laws.
Somewhere along the slide to fascism, people started to die. Irwin hadn’t realised they were already at that stage until he started researching. There had been homophobic attacks in London and elsewhere. People in the United States had been shot because they dared to fly a Pride flag. Politicians in multiple countries were running on culture wars narratives, and putting in place bathroom bans and trans sporting restrictions when they could get away with it.
It was no wonder that Peter was worried what might happen to Miles if his mother tracked him down.
The new information from Peter gave some more specific people and groups to look into. It was unlikely to be any more pleasant than wading through the sea of hate, but it would help narrow the focus to more immediate threats. Peter’s ex had made most of her social media private after the court case, only popping up occasionally to make saccharine posts about missing her little girl and how sad it was when relationships broke down. The mask slipped occasionally, letting some transphobic meme through, but she was clever enough not to use some of the more extreme versions Irwin had seen.
This limited public engagement still gave Irwin a way in, though. Each of these people had their own presence and links, and Irwin started to build a network map from those. A number of tools helped, crawling through post histories to make the connections and creating heat map diagrams of the most prolific users of chosen phrases. This sifted out the merely obnoxious and focused on the obsessed. Some of them were present across multiple platforms, giving him even more to work with. Two, maybe three, he was sure he could match to names in the information Peter had given him.
Luckily, most of them hadn’t heard of VPNs, or knew anything about security basics. When they weren’t openly yelling about where they were, their phones and laptops tagged posts and pictures. There was a cluster in Surrey, which correlated with Peter’s old home and his ex-wife’s presumed location. An even larger grouping near Brighton looked like one human and a lot of sockpuppets on investigation. The spread of the rest roughly matched population density. Which meant there were some in Manchester. He could track their location over time, and one of them had only recently arrived in the city. The current location wasn’t precise, but it matched part of Peter’s background information too closely to be ignored.
Irwin dialled the number he had been given for Peter’s brother.