Pride is the Devil: Anti-Gay Terror in 2022

It is hardly a scandal to assert that the LGBTQ+ community and the Christian community have a strained relationship. I write this as a member of the former, not of the latter, and as a researcher covering developments in right-wing extremism in the United States – inclusive of “Christian nationalism,” or the ideology that seeks to mold public policy, particularly social policy, in light of conservative Christian political theology. My intent is not to dispute Biblical teachings on human sexuality; see above. Instead, I hope to shine a light on a upon a developing safety concern for gay people in this nation. I also hope to expose the connections between “nonviolent” Christian discourse around sexuality and actually-existing political violence against gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people in the United States.

On Saturday, June 11th, Northern Idaho police in tandem with the FBI arrested thirty-one members of the neo-Nazi organization Patriot Front, packed like sardines into a U-Haul bound for the Couer d’Alene Pride event. The arrestees, all white men between the ages of 20-40, were charged with conspiracy to riot and received a negligible $300 bond. Inside the truck, authorities found riot shields, shin guards, and a smoke bomb. Their leader had created an operation plan complete with pseudo-militaristic discipline. All but two had traveled from out of state. Patriot Front sank thousands of dollars and hours into planning this flash demonstration, all for the sake of imparting terror. Their presence was a message, heard loud and clear by queer people: Our existence in public is a matter of contention, and there exists a profound strain of right-wing extremism that desires our elimination.

Over the past few days, press has called a rightful degree of public attention toward the potential catastrophes that could have ensued had the thirty-one balaclava-wearing members of Patriot Front managed to descend upon the Pride event. History is rich with examples of the bloodshed that ensues when fanatics roleplaying as a paramilitary get to enact their violent fantasies upon innocent people. Lest we forget Charlottesville in 2017, the site of the fatal “Unite the Right” riot, an optical disaster for the far-right that led to the formation of Patriot Front in the first place.

However, as we lament the ongoing acts of violence perpetuated against gay and trans people in this country, we must not allow the flash-demo spectacle of Patriot Front to represent the only – or even the primary – threat against queer life and livelihood in this nation. In fact, a whole network of far-right provocateurs and Christian extremists collaborated to demonize the Pride celebrants of Northern Idaho in preparation for the event.

At the same time and in the same city as the arrest of Patriot Front, a group of Christian Nationalists associated with a handful of youth Catholic and Evangelical militant networks, prayed the rosary to express their dissention toward the very idea of gay people in public. At least three brought AR-15s, and a few dressed in military camouflage. Some of the attendees boast high-profile connections to large churches and to state lawmakers. Like the Patriot Front caravan, Christian Nationalists, including Telegram-famous extremist Vincent James, came from out-of-state to join each other at this specific Pride event. They prayed that God would rain on the parade, they feared the Satanic influence that they associated with gay people existing in public, and they peddled the same “defense of children” rhetoric that mobilized the QAnon conspiracy, the January 6th coup attempt, and most other right-wing extremist ventures in this nation.

Image: Vincent James, an extremist content creator, advertises the Couer d’Alene Rosary Walk on Telegram. This message was shared with hundreds of thousands of Telegram users, accusing the Pride Parade of allegiance to the Satanic Temple.
Image: Christian Nationalists get on their knees for Daddy in the Couer d’Alene park in protest of Gay Pride. Curious!

At first glance, this seems like nothing out of the ordinary. After all, one would be hard pressed to find any Pride event in the country that is not attended in some force by Christian extremists, angry at our very presence in public. One need not seek out the Westboro Baptist Church to find a cavalcade of poster-wielding, megaphone-screeching Christians on the corner of your local Pride. In a typical year, these protestors would scream into the void, receive a few flipped-birds from Pride attendees, and be on their way. But this year, the rhetorical situation is far more acute.

It is important to understand the purpose that these protests serve before we attempt to understand their more extreme variations. Obviously, Christian pickets have never served as a genuine attempt to establish dialogue of any type – let alone an attempt at conversion or “coming to Jesus” – between Christians and the LGBTQ+ community. One does not accept the invitation to anything, let alone a religion, when it is presented in the language of derision, anger, and cruelty toward an oppressed minority. Any Christian paying heed to John, or to the basics of rhetoric, would understand that. This is a common sense position, so much so that I cannot help but think that these protestors are fully aware that their presence at Pride parades are doing nothing more than further distancing gay and trans people from the Christian community, the national community, and even their local communities.

These are not missionaries. These are crusaders.

And in 2022, the crusaders have an unprecedented sense of direction. As reported by Southern Poverty Law Center journalist Michael Edison Hayden, myriad high-profile right-wing content creators, including the multi-million follower account Libs of TikTok, encouraged Christian nationalists to descend upon Couer d’Alene amidst an accusation that the Satanic Temple attended their Pride parade. The Satanic tip came from the Idaho Tribune, a right-wing Idahoan news outlet which hyped up their story in the language of “kids at drag brunches,” a refrain that has received national attention throughout Pride Month. In other words, Christian nationalists deliberately chose to descend upon the Northern Idaho Pride, consciously creating a situation that invited the descent of neo-Nazis upon innocent people.

In case you are unfamiliar with how parades work, gays do not hold monthly meetings to decide who gets to come to Pride and who doesn’t. It is very well possible that Satanists attended Pride. The problem of journalistic integrity here is the accusation, stated implicitly in the Tribune and explicitly by Libs of TikTok and the Christian protestors, that gay people collaborated to push Satanism to children through their presence at Pride.

All of this is occurring as 2022 is set to break records as the year in which the most anti-gay and anti-transgender bills have been introduced into state legislatures. Over two-hundred individual bills, thirty-one in the state of Tennessee alone: prohibiting transgender people from public places, criminalizing doctors who support the transition of trans kids (and trans adults!), stripping gay marriage benefits, criminalizing drag brunch, and exorcising any intelligent discussion of gender from public schools, among myriad other nonsensical and authoritarian measures. By the way, the overwhelming majority of the American public – two-thirds of them according to recent polls – oppose these bills.

What does this long chain of social media correspondence, journalistic malfeasance, and political reaction suggest? Put simply: Patriot Front is not alone in their desire to violently eliminate the LGBTQ+ community from public space. A long chain of propaganda sets the stage for their existence: comparing gays to Satanists, analogizing our presence in public with pedophilic grooming, and hyping the impotent threat of conscious sex education in schools, all with little evidence outside of lazy talking-point repetition, domino effect fallacies, and prudishness intense enough to make a Puritan cover their ankles in shame. In short, Patriot Front is a product of something far more dire: a rhetorical process, ongoing for decades, through which queer people’s very existence becomes framed as a domestic threat worthy of governmental regulation and elimination. One need not load into a truck with thirty of their Nazi friends to participate in creating the environment that facilitates the existence, growth, radicalization, and mobilization of violent anti-gay extremism in the United States.

It may be tempting to accuse me of overdramatization. How many people could really be thinking about going outside to kill gay people? It is not like Christian homophobia is a phenomenon new to 2022. While that may be true, the unfortunate reality is that we are currently living through an acute period of anti-gay reaction mixed with a swell in recruitment within Christian nationalist movements, particularly those which target young white men. Sound familiar?

Image: A top Facebook comment asserts that the Idaho police should arrest gay people for being outside rather than Nazis for plotting to riot.

For gay people, the effects are palpable. Christian nationalist beliefs run rampant among the far-right end of the Republican Party, featuring endorsements from politicians like Marjorie Taylor Greene, organizations like the Oathkeepers, and youth-targeted content creators on social media platforms. Even the all-American hatred of Nazis cannot prevent many from openly expressing their preference for the elimination of gay people over the elimination of fascism. A casual scroll through the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page after the arrest of Patriot Front reveals the profundity of “patriotic” homophobia and transphobia. Top comments lament the arrest of the truckload of terrorists, urging police to turn their batons toward the Pride celebrants for an eclectic and unwarranted array of reasons. This is not a casual difference of opinion, nor is it a healthy disagreement in a democratic society. This is the result of a decades-long campaign of gay hatred spewed by politicians, press, and within the pulpit.

And its effects will be deadly. Yesterday, antifascists in Washington state revealed that a man has expressed plans on his social media accounts to bring rifles to a local Pride event on June 18th. As is the case whenever political violence reaches mainstream audiences, sympathizers will be emboldened to take matters into their own hands, especially in right-wing strongholds like Idaho. In the wake of a spike in violence represented by shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, none of us can afford to take this as anything less than a trend toward the elimination of queer life.

Yet, as we take these threats of violence seriously, we cannot allow ourselves to be disarmed by fear. In conclusion, I’d like to offer some recommendations for active steps to confront anti-gay rhetoric and to preserve the beauty of public queer joy:

To members of the LGBTQ+ community: Keep going to Pride. Bring your friends. Go to brunch, and tip your local queens. Be as elated, loud, scandalous, hot, and homosexual as you want to be in public. Follow your local antifascists. If you don’t have any, become your local antifascists. Read the news, and if you have the mental fortitude for the job, keep tabs on your local extremists. Be prepared in case of an emergency, especially if you live in the Pacific Northwest.

To heterosexual Christians: Recognize that you under no obligation to understand queerness. Lord knows that many of us do not understand you. As I’m sure you will agree, absence of knowledge is not knowledge of absence. But you do have a robust, Scriptural obligation to defend the weak against oppression. Find it in yourself to identify with those whom you do not quite understand as a means to defend against an evil that you do: that of authoritarianism, an evil that promises a Kingdom of God while delivering anything but. When you hear your brothers and sisters spreading anti-gay hogwash, intervene. You need not defend (or believe) that Scripture supports gay marriage to confront the fallacious arguments of Christian nationalism. “Do not go about spreading slander among your people.

Cover image courtesy of NPR

Follow antifascist journalists to hear it first, particularly David Neiwert.

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