Utah House candidate Republican Trevor Lee is behind a recently-deleted Twitter account that elevated conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, attacked women and members of the LGBTQ community, made false statements about the coronavirus pandemic and frequently used the #DezNat hashtag in support of the conservative religious philosophy.
Lee, who defeated longtime Republican Steve Handy for the GOP nomination in the Utah House District 16 primary, operated the @ballinlee Twitter account that used the screen name “Truth seeker.” The account disappeared from the platform earlier this month, within hours of The Salt Lake Tribune contacting Lee about his association with it. Lee took the account private shortly after filing to run for office in March.
During an interview, Lee admitted he owned the account. So why did he take it offline?
“The world we live in now. I can say something that I may not think is controversial, but the world is changing to a point where it thinks it is,” Lee said.
Those comments included calling Republican Gov. Spencer Cox “spineless” for supporting transgender girls in athletics; using a derogatory term for transgender people after publicly apologizing for using it initially; and saying Brigham Young University was a “progressive cesspool” that “needs to be cleansed.”
GOP House leaders expressed shock when they were informed of Lee’s social media account, making it clear they were unaware.
“Presenting one face publicly while posting demeaning comments behind a hidden Twitter account is disrespectful to the people and the electoral process. I am deeply disappointed that a candidate for the Utah House of Representatives did not have this same commitment to transparency,” said Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville.
House Majority Leader Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, said Utah lawmakers, even aspiring ones, should not hide behind anonymous online personas.
“These private, anonymous tweets in no way reflect the values of the House of Representatives or the majority caucus. We collectively shake our heads at these types of ‘Pierre DeLecto-type’ Twitter accounts, meant to conceal a person’s identity and convey statements or observations that the author would not want to openly stand by,” Schultz said, referencing Sen. Mitt Romney’s onetime anonymous Twitter account.
‘FamProc’ and attacking LGBTQ
Lee’s now-deleted Twitter account included a profile picture featuring an umbrella emblazoned with “FamProc” shielding a house that says “The Family” from a rainbow.
The imagery is common to DezNat, or the Deseret Nation movement, which is a group of self-appointed defenders of the doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “FamProc” is short for “Family Proclamation,” the 1995 proclamation from the LDS Church that defines marriage as between a man and a woman and advocates for traditional gender roles for men and women.
The thirteen-star “Betsy Ross flag,” representing the first colonies, was used as the background. Lee posted more than 16,000 times before the social media platform was wiped.
Lee’s account wasn’t always so anonymous. According to posts saved on the Internet Archive, Lee’s Twitter screen name was simply “Trevor” as recently as January. Older archived posts show he used his own picture as an avatar.
According to the archived webpages and screenshots of posts provided to The Tribune, Lee’s account was littered with controversial, and often trolling, hate-filled posts — including attacking the LGBTQ community.
On May 25, 2021, Lee posted a meme featuring Ned Stark from “Game of Thrones” and more than a dozen corporate logos with rainbow colors, saying, “Brace yourself, June is coming.”
In June, Lee replied to a post that claimed the message of Pride Month is “satanic” with, “Gosh, this is amazing.”
“Doing things that are explicit, you know, people that are topless, that are running around in underwear and they have children there. Yeah, I think that’s satanic. I think that’s horrible,” Lee said during an interview.
In April he highlighted a meme in support of Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” law, which prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation in a manner that is not age-appropriate.
Hate speech directed toward LGBTQ people exploded online after Florida passed the law, The Associated Press reported.
Lee attacked Cox later that month when he responded to a suggestion that the Utah Jazz move to Las Vegas. Lee said, “Yes, than (sic) our spineless governor can stop acting like he needs to let transsexuals destroy our girls in sports.”
In another post, Lee wished the Utah governor “had some balls” to support a law like one passed by Texas lawmakers last year requiring public school athletes to compete against others of the same biological gender, even if they had a different gender identity.
Lee was referencing Cox’s veto of a bill to block transgender athletes from participating in girls’ sports in Utah.
After being criticized for using a slur to describe transgender people on a right-wing podcast earlier this year, Lee publically apologized for using the slur on his Facebook page, vowing to remove it from his vocabulary.
However, Lee also responded with his anonymous Twitter account to a post about the story by saying, “When did the word Tranny (sic) become a slur?”
Using that particular slur was not a one-off for Lee, as there are multiple examples of transphobic content.
Following a post complaining about a joke about trans people made during elders quorum — a Sunday meeting for male members of the LDS Church — Lee replied, “Trans people need help. Let’s never encourage what they’re doing.”
Posts show Lee was a supporter of the DezNat movement, but he says he recently has distanced himself.
In 2021, he and several other DezNat enthusiasts got into a Twitter spat with the wife of a high school classmate about Julie Hanks, a prominent therapist who is a member of the LDS Church. Hanks has frequently drawn the ire of DezNat followers for her focus on emotional health and relationship skills.
That dispute did not stay online. According to text messages shared with The Tribune, Lee reached out to the woman’s husband to warn him that his wife was a fan of Hanks, whom he said “tells members to go against God’s words and leaders.”
After the man defended his wife, Lee extolled the virtues of DezNat, directing him to the “Official DezNat User Guide.” He offered to connect him with a man he referred to as “JP” — meaning J.P. Bellum, who coined the #DezNat hashtag.
“There’s a lot of misconceptions about the hashtag and how it’s used. I was saying if you want to learn, go read that article and the reasoning behind that,” Lee said in a text. Lee added that he knows “JP” personally, but did not realize his involvement with DezNat until after he had gotten involved with the movement.
The Tribune will not share the name of the person who provided the text messages to prevent further harassment. Lee acknowledged the texts are real.
“Because I’m still in the church and willing to talk about hard things,” Hanks told The Tribune, “I have become a place where people with questions or criticisms of the church feel comfortable.”
Back online, Lee was not shy about expressing his feelings toward Hanks. In response to a post that claims Hanks “teaches her followers to leave the church,” Lee said, “She will be held accountable.”
Hanks said she has “no agenda to lead anyone out of the church. People leave the church all the time, and they have legitimate reasons to leave. There are also legitimate reasons to stay. That’s not my business.”
While she has never been physically threatened by DezNat followers, Hanks says they have directed significant harassment her way.
“They’ve spearheaded a letter-writing campaign to my church leaders. I’ve been called a false prophet. They’ve made videos and memes of me being a money changer in the temple. It’s just ridiculous how much time they spend tearing other people down in the name of Jesus Christ,” Hanks said.
Lee says he has pulled away from the DezNat movement in recent months because it has strayed from its original focus.
“It’s just a hashtag, right? It was a way to connect with people who want to defend the LDS Church. It’s just been so contaminated by other people who don’t defend the church anymore,” Lee said.
Lee has also used the hashtag in a post claiming that “teachers should be paid less not more.”
In other replies, Lee argued teachers get amazing benefits, including having summers off, and said they are “nearly impossible to fire.”
When asked about that post, Lee said his opinion has shifted greatly in the past year.
“I don’t stand by that. I think teachers need to be paid more. I think administrators get paid way too much,” he said.
On the topic of education, Lee complained that the LDS Church-run Brigham Young University has drifted to the political left. He responded to a post warning about groups hoping to “expose” BYU professors for teaching “divisive topics” with “BYU needs to be cleansed.”
When the school apologized for a talk by Brad Wilcox, a high-level leader in the LDS Church, Lee replied, “BYU is a progressive cesspool now.”
Lee told The Tribune that he was simply complaining that the school, which he did not attend, was drifting from the teachings of the church.
“I think a lot of the professors who are indoctrinating the college students, and who don’t go along with what the church espouses, I don’t think they have a place at the university. I just don’t see why they would keep holding on to someone who was actively fighting against what they believe in the church,” Lee said.
A search through the Internet Archive of Lee’s now-defunct Twitter account showed posts aligned with outrage dominating the conservative zeitgeist at the moment — including election and coronavirus pandemic conspiracies.
There are posts hyping false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. He responded to a Salt Lake Tribune story about Sen. Mike Lee’s (no known relation to Trevor) efforts to assist Donald Trump’s campaign to overturn the election results, and the Utah House candidate claimed there was “rampant fraud in many states.”
He has also insulted prominent women for how they looked.
He retweeted a post that called Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan “disgusting freaks.” In another instance, he called first lady Jill Biden, who was wearing a black-spotted outfit, a “dog.”
As the Republican nominee in the district, Lee is the odds-on favorite to take the House District 16 seat in November’s election. His only significant opposition is a long-shot, write-in campaign from Steve Handy, whom Lee defeated at the Davis County convention. Handy said Lee’s social media demonstrates he is out of Utah’s political mainstream.
“This extreme rhetoric simply does not align with the good people of Davis County and the people I represent in the Legislature, regardless of political party,” Handy said in a statement about Lee’s Twitter account.
Handy has received donations from several current legislators since launching his write-in effort. They include Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City; Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton; Sen. Don Ipson, R-St. George; Sen. Gregg Buxton, R-Roy; Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville and Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara.
Lee has received a handful of donations from lawmakers since winning the nomination, and only one — from Sen. John Johnson, R-Ogden — coming since Handy’s write-in announcement.
Schultz, the House GOP leader who criticized Lee’s online behavior, made a small campaign donation to Lee in May. Schultz says he had no inkling of the posts Lee made with the @ballinlee account when he donated. Lee also received a small donation from the Utah House Republican Election Committee PAC in August, which is afforded to all Republican House candidates once they become the party nominee.