In Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, 31 members of the Patriot Front organization were arrested for conspiracy to riot, when they were discovered in a U-Haul near a Pride event with riot gear and at least one smoke grenade. Members of what the Southern Poverty Law Center calls a “white nationalist hate group” had traveled from around the country for the event, although authorities were not sure why Coeur d’Alene was targeted.
“It is clear to us based on the gear that the individuals had with them, the stuff they had in their possession in the U-Haul with them, along with paperwork that was seized from them, that they came to riot downtown,” Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Lee White said after the arrests. He said the men were spotted after a concerned citizen noticed them boarding a truck at a local hotel.
At a press conference Monday, White said the police department had received death threats. At that event, someone who was not a member of the media claimed that the men arrested were in fact members of the FBI, following a similar trajectory as Tucker Carlson’s contention on Fox News that the Jan. 6 Capitol riot was staged by federal agencies.
Members of the North Idaho Pride Alliance, which organized the event, posted to Facebook Sunday saying that its members were taking a day of rest after “organizing a momentous, joyful, and SAFE Pride in the Park community celebration under the most challenging of circumstances.” They added that they were “deeply grateful to law enforcement agencies who were present and professionally responded throughout the day to keep our community safe.”
Over the last two years, in an anti-LGBTQ push from conservatives. Republicans across the country have passed laws banning transgender youth from participating in sports and have attempted to purge books by LGBTQ authors from schools and libraries. In Texas, GOP leadership has attempted to make it illegal for parents to seek gender-affirming care for trans youth. Some have argued that the anti-trans bills are an attempt to lock in the white evangelical vote for this fall’s midterm elections. There is also concern among advocates that once abortion rights have been rolled back, activists will turn their attention to getting rid of same-sex marriage.
In a statement following the arrests, the president of GLAAD, an LGBTQ rights organization, placed the blame on Republican politicians and conservative media outlets.
“Lawmakers and governors like [Florida Gov. Ron] DeSantis and [Texas Gov. Greg] Abbott, along with their co-conspirators at Fox News, better pause today and recognize that their anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and the nearly 250 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced this year are responsible for this dangerous climate,” said GLAAD’s president, Sarah Kate Ellis.
“Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media platforms must also take responsibility and urgently stop fueling the hate and misinformation that inspire white supremacist groups like the Patriot Front,” she continued, adding: “We have to stop the shameful anti-LGBTQ laws, misinformation and rhetoric that make America unsafe for LGBTQ and other marginalized communities. Corporations, media, politicians, have to act now, not send thoughts and prayers in the future.”
On the day of the arrests in Idaho, members of the Proud Boys entered a “Drag Queen Story Hour” at the San Lorenzo Public Library in the San Francisco Bay Area. In a statement posted to Facebook, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office wrote, “A group of 5 men entered the library and disrupted the reading event. The men were described as members of the Proud Boys organization, known to be a right wing hate group with anti-LGBTQ affiliations.”
The Proud Boys are a self-styled “Western chauvinist” far-right group who marched alongside white supremacists at the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., an event that preceded the formation of the Patriot Front group. Last week, Proud Boy leaders were charged with seditious conspiracy for their role in the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.
“The men began to shout homophobic and transphobic slurs at the event organizer” and “were described as extremely aggressive with a threatening violent demeanor causing people to fear for their safety,” continued the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office statement, adding: “An active hate crime investigation is underway as is an investigation into the annoying and harassing of children.”
Cellphone video of the men shows one wearing a shirt that reads, “Kill your local pedophile,” a continued homophobic attack categorizing queer Americans as predators. The host of the event, Kyle Chu — also known as drag queen Panda Dulce — told KPIX 5, “I’ve always received death threats, hate mail for doing Drag Queen Story Hour. This time it felt very close to violence.
“It was extremely loud,” Chu said. “It was like a cacophony of voices just yelling over one another, taunting me, calling me a groomer, a pedophile, a tranny, and an ‘it’. [They were] interrogating the parents, ‘Why are you bringing your kids to this?’”
The sheriff’s office said it would “dedicate all resources to ensure the safety of members of our LGBTQ community. We will make sure any future events at the library are safe against hate speech and threats of violence. As we celebrate Pride Month, we will be swift in our response to any incidents where there are threats to harm members of this community.”
Drag events have become a popular target of Republican politicians and aligned media organizations. Last week, DeSantis said he may ask Florida’s child protective services to investigate parents who take their children to drag shows, while Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., said it should be “illegal” to take children to “Drag Queen shows.”
A Republican state legislator in Texas said earlier this month that he would file a bill banning drag shows in the presence of minors. On Sunday, video posted to Twitter appeared to show members of the Proud Boys outside a drag brunch in Arlington, Texas, intended for people over 21.
The Alameda County event was flagged last month by the Libs of TikTok Twitter account, which has more than one million followers. Run by an attendee of the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection, the account has been criticized for targeting queer teachers in an attempt to get them fired and, in a now-deleted tweet, for calling the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention hotline for LGBTQ youth, a “grooming organization.”
“They say it’s innocent,” the tweet said. “They say it’s just about inclusion and acceptance. They say no one is trying to confuse, corrupt, or sexualize kids. They lie.”
“Grooming” is a term used to describe tactics that have long been used by sexual abusers, primarily against young children but also against vulnerable adults. The goal is to gain access to potential victims, coerce them into abuse and then avoid getting caught. However, it has emerged as a popular buzzword on the political right, where it’s been wrongly conflated with discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity.
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), “Sexual assault is in no way related to the sexual orientation of the perpetrator or the survivor, and a person’s sexual orientation cannot be caused by sexual abuse or assault.”
The term “groomer” began to spread on the right in March in connection to Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” law, a vaguely worded statute that prohibits teachers from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity with children in kindergarten through third grade. Critics say its intent is to target LGBTQ teachers. Experts told Yahoo News that the false accusations make it more difficult to prevent real abuse.
DeSantis and Greene have led Republicans pushing anti-LGBTQ language and policy. DeSantis was mocked for comments Sunday after saying he “will not tolerate hatred towards the LGBTQ” community “of any kind.” Greene called Republican senators who supported President Biden’s Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson “pro-pedophile,” a revival of the QAnon conspiracy theory that Greene has supported in the past.
It alleges that former President Donald Trump was working to take down a powerful cabal of child traffickers, typically portrayed as the Democratic elite. Believers in the debunked theory frequently allege that their political opponents support pedophiles. Those pushing the accusations have a large audience — a recent survey from the Public Religion Research Institute found that 16% of Americans believed that “the government, media, and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex-trafficking operation.” QAnon-related clothing and signs were visible at the Jan. 6 insurrection, and government officials have warned about violence associated with the conspiracy theory.