On Sunday, a small group of men wearing Proud Boy gear showed up at the public library in Sparks, Nevada, ready to protest a “Drag Queen Storytime” event. They were prepared with signs that spread conspiratorial rhetoric about LGBTQ people and claimed the drag storytime was “sexual extremism” and “grooming.”
Officers with the Sparks Police Department were there to observe the protest, and left shortly after it began, according to NBC News4 and Fox 11. But some time after law enforcement departed, one of the protesters allegedly pulled a gun and walked toward the library, sending children and adults running for cover.
It’s still unclear whether the man who brandished his firearm is being investigated, let alone charged, but the incident was a textbook example of the kind of violent intimidation that emerged throughout a month of Pride activities in 2022. These confrontations live on via social media, spread and encouraged by a mass of far-right believers who now see LGBTQ rights as the newest existential struggle in their war over culture and identity — and for extremist agitators, every incident is propaganda to inspire copycats and lone wolves.
As one commenter noted on a 4chan post about the Sparks, Nevada incident: “I’m only sad he didn’t actually ventilate the pedo.”
More than a dozen different Pride events across the U.S. have been canceled or delayed due to threats of violence, according to research from Time and the watchdog group Media Matters, and there are likely many more disruptions that went unreported. Local officials, organizers and police have had to beef up security in cities as disparate as Tulsa, Atlanta, Toronto and Seattle. One man was charged with a hate crime in Anacortes, 90 minutes to the north of Seattle, for threatening the town’s first-ever Pride event; he had earlier threatened his same-sex neighbors, yelling that “it used to be legal to kill gay people.”
Such incidents, especially the failure of 31 Neo-Nazis to organize against Pride events in northern Idaho, have been denounced by an assortment of mainstream media outlets and politicians. But for right-wing extremists online, the last month has been a wildly successful moment for experimentation, strategy and revisions to the conservative playbook, affirming their fears of “mass grooming” while emboldening their desire to fight harder. And it’s all the more frightening given the tragedy that unfolded on June 25th in Oslo, Norway, when an alleged extremist shot up a Pride event, killing two and wounding 21 others.
Nonetheless, it was a big weekend for anti-LGBTQ agitator Ethan Schmidt, who has made a minor career out of harassing and stalking queer people, and their allies, in public. He crashed a drag queen storytime in Arizona with another “member” of his “ANTIMASKERSCLUB,” just as he had done a week prior. “Val and I destroyed the lgbt reprobates,” he wrote on Telegram on Sunday. “Make June great again.” (“Destroy them. Fucking Heil Victory. Hail Christ,” a fan wrote in the replies of the video.)
Elsewhere, an account purporting to represent White Lives Matter in California also took to Telegram on Sunday, targeting the Sacramento Children’s Museum for hosting an event to teach people about trans and queer identity, with performances from the Sacramento Gay Men’s Chorus. “Based on the behavior we witnessed yesterday we highly encourage further research into this group,” they wrote, posting a link to the choir’s webpage. “WLM will continue to stand with other activists to fight against state-enforced pedophilia and all forms of cultural Marxism that directly affect White children.”
Then there’s the group dubbed “Gays Against Groomers,” which claims to be run by gay people who believe that modern queerness is “indoctrination” and unacceptable. Its Twitter and Telegram accounts were only started last week, yet its reach has grown rapidly thanks to shout-outs from far-right influencers like “Salty Cracker,” a livestreamer who has more than 775,000 subscribers on YouTube.
The group has been extremely active since its inception, asking for donations on GiveSendGo and bemoaning efforts to deplatform it, all while spreading the blanket narrative that kids in “today’s generation” are “led to believe” they must seek gender transition because of “indoctrination by radical ideologues.” (This is contrary to studies that do not show a major swell in the number of trans-identifying youth, as well as other research that affirms trans youth rarely change their minds about transitioning.) “Enough of this sick shit (excuse our language),” the account wrote on Telegram. “It’s going to take those of us within the community to end it.”
Amid the chaos, anonymous accounts continue to rise to help organize anti-LGBTQ events, school board disruptions and harassment of pro-vaccine doctors and abortion providers, among other conflicts. It represents the trickle-down economics of far-right disinformation, with seemingly “mainstream” figures like political candidates normalizing violent rhetoric, middlemen using that rhetoric to expand the far-right’s reach and ground-floor extremists who carry out the legwork.
It’s this system that allows people like Mark Burns, a Trump-loving congressional candidate from South Carolina, to call LGBT people a national security threat and suggest using treason laws as justification for “executing” parents and teachers who advocate for queer rights. Or why a Texas pastor named Dillon Awes would use his pulpit to righteously exclaim that queer people should be “lined up against the wall and shot in the back of the head.” “That’s what God teaches. That’s what the Bible says,” he exhorted earlier this month.
This isn’t just a battle over LGBTQ rights and Pride expression — it’s part of a broader fight over the identity of America, and the perceived victimization of conservative whites within that context. Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel for the Human Rights Campaign, noted to BuzzFeed News that although the attacks on the queer community have escalated in recent years, it’s the “same forces” who have been targeting LGBTQ equality for decades. “[They are] actually sort of reverting back to some of the vintage tactics that they used back in the day,” Oakley noted, referring to the moral fixation on “children” and the targeting of community spaces.
Although Pride month is coming to a close, those tactics will remain useful, much to the glee of agitators in Congress, on social media and on the ground. This was a month for those figures to prove that extremism can leave lasting marks. And although the vast majority of Pride events in the U.S. went off without a hitch, the incidents of violence and harassment, shared and celebrated online, have left an intriguing blueprint for the far right to leverage again, and again.