Ever since South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg jumped into the Democratic presidential primary, he’s been surpassing expectations. Buttigieg has risen steadily in the polls. He has been a regular feature of favorable media coverage, and he has spoken to standing-room-only crowds.

His early surge has led some to suggest that his sexuality — Buttigieg is an openly gay, married man — would be a non-factor for many Americans. As I wrote previously, nearly 70 percent of Americans say they’re okay with a gay president.

But a recent alleged attack on Buttigieg from Internet provocateur Jacob Wohl and lobbyist Jack Burkman show how his opponents could use homophobia to gin up fear and anxiety over his candidacy.

According to a Daily Beast article, Wohl and Burkman tried to recruit young Republican men to falsely claim that Buttigieg sexually assaulted them.

“A Republican source told The Daily Beast that lobbyist Jack Burkman and Internet troll Jacob Wohl approached him last week to try to persuade him to falsely accuse Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, of engaging him sexually while he was too drunk to consent,” Beast reporters wrote.

The source, who asked to remain anonymous to protect himself from retaliation, told the Daily Beast that Burkman and Wohl said their goal was to kneecap Buttigieg’s momentum in the 2020 presidential race. The source provided the Daily Beast with an audio recording of the meeting, which corroborated his account. In it, Wohl allegedly calls Buttigieg a “terminal threat” to Trump’s reelection.

In a statement on Twitter, Burkman denied that the claims were false.

Since the Beast article ran, much of the coverage has focused on how poorly executed the alleged plan seemed. (“World’s Most Incompetent Right-Wing Troll Reportedly Bungles Yet Another Scheme,” reads one headline from New York magazine.)

That misses the more serious consequences it could have had — not just for Buttigieg, but for LGBT Americans and those affiliated with the #MeToo movement. Painting Buttigieg as a predator references ugly stereotypes about gay men.

“For them to choose Pete Buttigieg to be singled out of all the presidential contenders was truly an attempt to prey on tired stereotypes of gay men as predators," Elliot Imse, communications director for the Victory Fund, a group the supports LGBT candidates, told the Fix. "But it’s just as much an attack on sexual assault survivors who are often not believed. It’s just horrific.”

Adam Best, host of the Left podcast and an activist for LGBT rights, also believes Buttigieg was targeted because of his sexuality.

Wohl “didn’t target Bernie Sanders. He didn’t target Beto O’Rourke. He didn’t target Joe Biden," Best said.

He suggested the attempt to smear Buttigieg echoed “the sort of fearmongering that goes around on the right like the trans bathroom bill kind of stuff."

“I do think the far right attempts to characterize the LGBT community as dangerous and predatory, which is unfair and untrue,” Best said. "And they obviously see Pete Buttigieg as a threat electorally.”

Pushing a false sexual assault allegation also threatens the credibility of the #MeToo movement. Research shows false sexual assault accusations are rare, yet victims are often forced to prove that they are credible before their account is accepted. Putting out a debunked claim would make it harder for others to be believed. And, given the emphasis on believing victims in the #MeToo era, it’s possible to imagine the allegations dividing Democrats, with some willing to give the allegations credence they didn’t deserve.

It’s ironic that Wohl allegedly tried to fabricate allegations against Buttigieg while also steadily dismissing the multiple credible accusations facing Trump. If the accusations are false, it’s hard to see this latest plan as anything other than an attempt to stir up division and homophobia by attacking a popular Democrat.