President Biden celebrated Pride Month at the White House Wednesday as events encouraging celebration of LGBTQ identity and visibility are increasingly being targeted by white supremacist violence and as Republican-controlled states pass a slew of anti-LGBTQ measures. We speak with Ari Drennen, LGBTQ program director for Media Matters, who says far-right social media influencers and conservative media outlets are spreading lies that members of the LGBTQ community “aim to confuse, corrupt or sexualize kids.” We also talk to Southern Poverty Law Center investigative reporter Michael Edison Hayden, who has studied the key players in recent attacks and describes a “concerted effort to ramp up this rhetoric tying LGBTQ people baselessly to pedophilia.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
In a Pride Month celebration and address at the White House Wednesday, President Biden announced several executive actions to address a slew of state-level discriminatory laws in Republican-led states that target the rights of LGBTQ+ children and adults. The orders seek to discourage so-called conversion therapy, a discredited practice to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and also aim to promote gender-affirming surgery and expand foster care protections for gay and transgender parents and children. In a ceremony in the East Room, President Biden said he was moved to take action to prevent what he called “hateful attacks” by Republican governors and lawmakers.
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I don’t have to tell you about the ultra-MAGA agenda attacking families and our freedoms. Three hundred discriminatory bills introduced in states across this country. In Texas, knocking on front doors to harass and investigate parents who are raising transgender children. In Florida, going after Mickey Mouse, for God’s sake. That’s striking close to home.
No, but think about this: All of you in this room know better than anyone that these attacks are real and consequential for real families — for real families. Just look at what happened in Idaho last weekend: 31 white supremacists stopped just before they reached the Pride celebration, where they apparently planned to unleash violence on people gathering peacefully in a show of their pride. I’m grateful of the swift response of law enforcement. And they responded. They responded.
Violent attacks on the community, including ongoing attacks on transgender women of color, make our nation less safe, because the attacks are more than ever last year, and they’re on pace again this year.
AMY GOODMAN: In addition to legislative attacks on the rights of LGBTQ+ people, Biden mentioned Saturday’s foiled attack on a Pride event in Coeur d’Alene, Ohio [sic], where 31 members of the white — Idaho, 31 members of the white supremacist neo-Nazi group Patriot Front were arrested. Police say the men were found packed into a U-Haul truck armed with riot gear, including a smoke grenade and shields. A tipster had called police saying they had seen a, quote, “little army” being loaded into the truck at a nearby hotel. At a news conference, Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Lee White said the members of the Patriot Front were arrested on charges of conspiracy to riot.
LEE WHITE: They were wearing arm patches. One of them said “Patriot Front.” The majority of them had logos on their hats that were consistent with the Patriot Front group that you would see online. They were also wearing khaki pants, and everyone was dressed exactly the same — well, very, very similar anyway. And if you go online, look up Patriot Front, this is exactly how these individuals were dressed.
AMY GOODMAN: Police officers in Idaho say they’ve received death threats since arresting the Patriot Front members, who were released on bail set at $300 per person.
Also Saturday, the same day of the planned attack on the Pride event in Coeur d’Alene, members of the far-right Proud Boys interrupted Drag Queen Story Hour for kids at a library at the San Lorenzo Public Library in California. They confronted the host, Kyle Chu, whose drag name is Panda Dulce, who recounted the ordeal to KPIX-TV.
KYLE CHU: 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. There was a cacophony of voices just yelling over one another, taunting me, calling me a “groomer,” a “pedophile,” a “tranny,” an “it,” asking — like, interrogating the parents: “Why are you bringing your kids to this?” I remember one child looked to their mom and was like, “What is going on? Why are they raising their voices? Who are these people?” And they were these men who were towering over them. I didn’t feel safe, because one of them was wearing a shirt with an AK-47 on it, and it said, “Kill your local pedophile.”
AMY GOODMAN: Leading up to both the attack in Idaho and on the Drag Queen Story Hour in the Bay Area, both events were the focus of a viral right-wing influencer account called “Libs of TikTok,” which our next guests say helped set the stage for white supremacists to target them.
For more on all of this, we’re joined in Berkeley, California, by Ari Drennen, LGBTQ program director for Media Matters, and Michael Edison Hayden, senior investigative reporter with Southern Poverty Law Center, where he focuses on internet radicalization and far-right extremism. His latest Hatewatch analysis is headlined “Far-Right Influencers Hyped Coeur d’Alene Pride Before Patriot Front Showed Up.”
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with you, Michael Edison Hayden. Can you just explain what happened in Coeur d’Alene? A “little army” packed into a U-Haul? What if the police hadn’t found them?
MICHAEL EDISON HAYDEN: I mean, obviously, the situation could have been a lot worse. You know, we’ve seen Patriot Front use this kind of U-Haul tactic, where they rent out a U-Haul and then they pack all their guys quite uncomfortably into the truck and then kind of unleash them at these events, where usually people are expressing themselves. Like Women’s March, for example, was one target, where they can — they try to steal the show and direct attention to their own explicitly fascist agenda. That’s essentially what they do. Obviously, whenever there are white supremacists trying to mix it up with people in the LGBTQ community, there’s always a potential for violence. And that is a really scary —
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain who the Patriot Front is —
MICHAEL EDISON HAYDEN: Sure.
AMY GOODMAN: — and who its leader is?
MICHAEL EDISON HAYDEN: Sure. Well, if you recall, in Charlottesville during “Unite the Right,” there was a group called Vanguard America. And James Fields, the killer of Heather Heyer, marched with Vanguard America that day. And after his murder became international headline news, the group rebranded as Patriot Front.
And I think they really — they have this, like, the slogan, “reclaim America.” It’s a lot of garbage about reclaiming this European ancestry in the United States. And essentially, they’re trying to sell people who may be predisposed to, like, conservative propaganda to buy into this explicitly fascist propaganda by using all kinds of conservative tropes, right? “Patriot Front.” And that’s basically who they are. They tend to get anywhere between the 30 or so people you saw there, and as many as 50 to 80 people marching at an event. That’s basically who they are.
AMY GOODMAN: A mother of one of these men said she realized he was getting radicalized. His first comments were denying the Holocaust. And she was trying to figure out how to stop him. She said, “OK, Patriot Front, or you’re moving out of this house,” so he was forced to move out. And then you have this Proud Boys attack, Michael, in the Bay Area. And explain again for people who aren’t familiar with who the Proud Boys are, the group of leaders now just indicted for seditious conspiracy for the January 6th insurrection.
MICHAEL EDISON HAYDEN: Yeah, I mean, the Proud Boys are a neofascist group that has become notorious for these street brawls, and now, you know, during the insurrection on January 6th, really elevated their game to this very coordinated operation we saw that day.
So, you know, one of the figures was wearing a shirt that says “kill pedophiles” or whatever. It’s important to understand the context of that. “Pedophile” doesn’t mean pedophile in this case; it means any person who is LGBTQ. We have seen propaganda on social media being pushed very heavily starting in around April by figures like Jack Posobiec, who is associated with a number of hate groups, just trying to — using this term “groomer” on social media. Twitter lets them do it, essentially. And it’s just, basically, constantly equating any person who is trans, gay, with being a pedophile. And so, when a person comes in, storms, and they’re part of a neofascist street brawling gang, what they’re saying is “kill a person who is LGBTQ.”
AMY GOODMAN: And again, in Coeur d’Alene, where the “little army” was picked up, that’s right next to — the significance of Idaho for the white supremacists, I mean, Coeur d’Alene right next to a Aryan Nations compound, where they used to have it, in Hayden Lake.
MICHAEL EDISON HAYDEN: Yeah. I mean, it is a — it was a kind of a home game for the white supremacist movement in that sense, and a place that they probably felt that they could exploit. But again, the nature of the location, they could have chosen a lot of different locations. They chose one that influencers, particularly on Twitter, which is proving itself to be really the worst of the major sites for me, you know, could direct the attention of their followers to this relatively small event, where people are kind of bravely coming out and showing their support for the LGBTQ community — come over there and focus on disruption and creating terror.
AMY GOODMAN: Ari Drennen, who are the Libs of TikTok?
ARI DRENNEN: Thank you. It’s a little confusing. Libs of TikTok is not a TikTok account. They were shut down there a long time ago. It’s a Twitter account that has, over the course of the years, sort of escalated its attacks on LGBTQ people and teachers, often LGBTQ teachers, and has more recently moved into highlighting events featuring drag queens, with the allegation, you know, in one thread that they posted, that these events aim to, quote, “confuse, corrupt or sexualize kids.”
AMY GOODMAN: And talk about how — the role of Libs of TikTok, their messaging, more around how they talk about LGBTQ+ people, what are some of the more troubling things you’ve found, and this wave of attacks, either the actual violent attacks or, you know, attacks in the making, because Coeur d’Alene didn’t actually play out, as well as legislation across the country.
ARI DRENNEN: Yeah. Unfortunately, Libs of TikTok has been able to have a huge influence and a huge reach. They have 1.2 million followers on Twitter, which is quite large, but their reach gets even larger when you consider who they’re influencing. We at Media Matters have tracked how content promoted by Libs of TikTok has often ended up on Fox News, where the network has basically used the account as a wire service. The podcaster Joe Rogan, who has an audience of many million people, has frequently said that this is his favorite Twitter account, told his audience to go follow this Twitter account. And Governor Ron DeSantis in Florida, his press secretary actually credited the account Libs of TikTok with her decision to frame the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida as a, quote-unquote, “anti-grooming” bill, rather than how it had been originally framed when it first attracted significant public debate.
AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about that connection you see between anti-LGBTQ attacks and white supremacist groups, Ari?
ARI DRENNEN: The two are pretty inextricable. You know, we’ve seen that — you mentioned Patriot Front, you mentioned the Proud Boys. A lot of these were the same groups that were sort of involved in — or same actors that were involved in Charlottesville, that were involved in the storming of the Capitol. And, you know, now they’re seeing the LGBTQ community as a target. They’re portraying the LGBTQ+ community as a threat to children. And so, you know, we’re continuing to see violent action there that’s escalating off the sort of online rhetoric that we’ve been tracking. You know, in March, for example, Libs of TikTok was the top Twitter user that was amplifying LGBTQ hate attacks.
AMY GOODMAN: Also, Fox News recently ran a positive segment on a trans teenager. Can you talk about what the segment covered and the reaction to it and how that fits into the overall Fox attack on trans people?
ARI DRENNEN: Yeah, that was quite a surprising segment to see last Friday. Fox News, during one of their more news-focused programs, to the extent that those exist on that network, they ran a profile of a Southern California trans teenager, Ryland Whittington, and his supportive family, just talking about how transitioning was something that had allowed Ryland to really grow and develop as a person and, you know, having the support of his family.
Predictably, you know, the sort of right-wing media, especially on Twitter, were very, very upset to see this kind of content on Fox News. They’re used to a much, much more negative spin on LGBTQ content from Fox News. You know, for example, during one three-week stretch earlier this year, Fox News aired 170 attacks on trans people specifically, really focusing on swimmer Lia Thomas, on Biden administration officials, and fearmongering about trans healthcare, about surgery for trans people, and just kind of generally creating this culture of fear. You know, multiple times this week, Fox News host Tucker Carlson has used his show to call for physical violence against LGBTQ people, who he said, you know, kind of echoing some of the dangerous rhetoric that we’ve seen, are a threat to children.
AMY GOODMAN: So, let me ask you about the Pride event. We’re going to be talking more about it in a moment. But on Wednesday, President Biden signed an executive order banning the use of federal funds to finance conversion therapy. Also Wednesday, The New York Times published a piece titled “The Battle Over Gender Therapy” — it was the magazine — which stirred a lot of reaction, much of it negative, among many trans people online. What did you think of the piece?
ARI DRENNEN: Yeah, you know, it was an interesting and very long piece, but I think part of the reason that so many specifically trans people and people who have been working in the space for a very long time were frustrated by it is that The New York Times has sort of continued to sensationalize trans people and run these kind of like very long, navel-gazy, like, intellectual debate pieces about standards of trans healthcare, while ignoring the reality that most trans people don’t have access to healthcare for economic or political reasons. And, you know, according to a study by the Williams Institute at UCLA, trans people are over four times more likely to experience violent victimization. This just fits in with a pattern of coverage that is not connected to the lived experience that many trans people are having in this country, at a time when this is a community that is under direct attack from right-wing politicians and actors across the country.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Michael Edison Hayden, are you concerned in this Pride Month seeing a massive uptick in violent attacks as gay pride parades are happening all over the country, and not only, of course, this month, but beyond?
MICHAEL EDISON HAYDEN: Well, the first thing is, I don’t want to increase alarm among people, and the last thing I would like to do is to give people pause for going out and celebrating Pride. You should do that, because it’s what’s driving these fascists crazy. And, you know, if you back down from them, that’s what they want. So, that’s the first thing.
On the other hand, just in terms of monitoring, yeah, I mean, what concerns me and has concerned a lot of people who monitor these spaces over the last few months is, again, starting in April, in May, and right now into Pride, there has been a concerted effort to ramp up this rhetoric tying LGBTQ people baselessly to pedophilia. And it’s coming from influencers. A lot of them are on Twitter. And, you know, this message is being received by people who are potentially violent. So, yeah, obviously, I’m very concerned about it. But again, don’t be afraid of these people. Just be careful, cautious and alert to what might happen.
AMY GOODMAN: Michael Edison Hayden, senior investigative reporter with Southern Poverty Law Center, and Ari Drennen, LGBTQ program director for Media Matters. We’ll link to all of your work.
Next up, we speak with someone who declined an invitation to Biden’s Pride Month celebration at the White House Wednesday to protest the detention of LGBTQ people. Stay with us.