As hate speech targeting LGBTQ people among some far-right influencers and others continues to rise online, experts are warning that extremist groups may view the rhetoric as a call to action.
Such may be the case when 31 members of the neo-Nazi group Patriot Front were arrested in Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene on Saturday and charged with conspiracy to riot at a Pride event, Sophie Björk-James, a Assistant Professor said. Anthropology at Vanderbilt University which researches the white nationalist movement, racism, and hate crimes in America
The arrests took place in Idaho and elsewhere as a toxic brew of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.
“There is a very clear link between normalizing this hate material and the extremist groups mobilizing around it in hateful acts,” she said. “We can see a direct link between the spectrum of anti-LGBT rhetoric from state homes to these extremist groups.”
Domestic extremist groups see conservatives as potential allies, Björk-James said, and they have found that anti-LGBTQ sentiment is one of the easiest ways to “build a broad coalition among the radical right.”
“Unfortunately, I think this is a strategy that is working,” she said.
Last month, a radical Idaho pastor told his small Boise congregation that gay, lesbian and transgender people should be executed by the government. Another fundamentalist pastor in Texas gives a similar sermon.
Idaho Republican lawmaker Representative Heather Scott recently told the audience that drag queens and other LGBTQ supporters are waging a “war of perversion against our children.” And last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he would consider sending Child Protective Services to investigate parents who take their children to pull shows.
The Department of Homeland Security warned last week that white nationalists and supremacists are using social media platforms like Instagram, Telegram and TikTok to project a skewed frame of divisive issues like abortion, guns and LGBTQ rights, potentially to extremists. Inspired to attack public places across America. coming months.
Online court records do not yet show whether Patriot Front members have obtained attorneys. All were released from prison after posting a $300 bond, and court dates for the misdemeanor charges have yet to be set.
Thomas Russo, 23, of Grapevine, Texas, has been identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as the founder of the Patriot Front and was one of those arrested. He did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.
Police say men wearing balaclavas and wearing riot gear piled into a U-Haul truck, with a plan to instigate a riot in the park where families, children and supporters gathered to celebrate the LGBTQ community. Those arrested came from at least 11 states, including Illinois, Arkansas and Virginia.
Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Lee White said on Monday that since the arrest, his agency had received about 150 calls thanking officers for averting a riot and among people angry about the arrests. were equally divided. Many of the calls included death threats, Lee said, and some came from as far away as Norway.
Jennifer McCoy, a professor of political science at Georgia State University, said that when people with influence, such as political figures, sports or entertainment stars, religious leaders or media people, engage in rhetoric against specific groups, supporters refer to it as a call. can explain. action.
“This can happen regardless of the intent or specific wording of the message and is common in highly polarized contexts such as the one America is currently experiencing,” McCoy wrote in an email Monday.
News of the arrest was worrying for 22-year-old trans woman Bree Latimer from Boise. Even in Boise, one of the most progressive cities in deep red Idaho, persecution or hostility is a daily risk, Latimer said. Just last week Boise police were investigating for the second year in a row after dozens of Pride flags were stolen or damaged from a beautiful neighborhood boulevard.
“I always wonder when I walk into people in the aisles of the grocery store — do they know I’m trans? If they know, are they going to say anything? Will they follow me in the parking lot? Going to do it? Am I going to be called the groom or something? It’s living in constant fear,” Latimer said.
She is dismayed when people call the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric a “culture war,” saying it sounds too ominous.
“It comes down to what we’re doing. We think there’s almost an imminent trans genocide,” Latimer said. “They want us to block our access to hormone therapy, ban talking to trans youth – they want you to be so unhappy with your life that you kill yourself. And now hate speech is even more scary. It’s happening.”
Nevertheless, she tries to focus on her computer science studies at Boise State University. On weekends, she plays board games with friends, or sometimes goes out on the town for an evening out.
“Being trans is a big part of my identity, but it certainly isn’t everything,” Latimer said. “Still, the reality is that being a trans person in America right now is scary.”
Northern Idaho has long been associated with extremist groups, most prominently the Aryan Nation, which was often in the news in the 1990s. The area attracted disaffected people after white supremacist Richard Butler moved there from California in 1973.
After the rise of the Aryan nations, many local authorities attempted to separate the region from the extremism. But in recent years, some politicians, civic leaders and real estate agents have boasted about northern Idaho conservatism in order to attract like-minded people.
At a news conference on Monday, Coeur d’Alene mayor Jim Hammond said the city was no longer a haven for hatred.
He declared, “We are not going back to the days of the Aryan nations. We have gone beyond that.”
Scott, the lawmaker for northern Idaho, who said drag queens are waging a “war of perversion” on children, did not respond to an emailed request for comment.