Voices: I know exactly where far-right attacks on Pride events come from

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Patriot Front Arrests (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
Patriot Front Arrests (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Over the weekend, 31 members of the white nationalist group Patriot Front were arrested in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Police allege they were conspiring to riot at a Pride Parade in the northern Idaho city, just over the state line from Spokane, Washington. No one was injured thanks to the quick thinking of a concerned citizen who phoned police after seeing the men pile into a U-Haul, where they were found with riot gear and at least one smoke grenade.

One of those arrested was the group’s founder and leader, Thomas Rousseau. If that name sounds familiar to you, it is because Rousseau was at the 2017 Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia where a MAGA extremist drove his car into a crowd of anti-racist protestors, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Rousseau was a part of the “explicitly fascist” Patriot Front at that time. However, in the fallout of the Unite the Right rally, Rousseau — upset with the tactics and optics of the group — formed his own breakaway organization.

This lineage is important, because if you trace it, you realize that the same forces who converged in Charlottesville nearly five years ago are today still fighting the same battle. That means the attempted attack on the Idaho Pride Parade is part of a wider campaign of violence and hate being waged by aspiring far-right terrorists Donald Trump once called “very fine people.” This includes the recent racist terrorist attack in Buffalo, New York and scores of other violent acts. In 2020, ABC news reported that it “identified at least 54 criminal cases where Trump was invoked in direct connection with violent acts, threats of violence or allegations of assault” — and that was before January 6.

While I do not know if any of the 31 arrested in Coeur d’Alene were at the Capitol on January 6, 2021 — police have not said they were — I do know that the people who attempted to overthrow the American government that day and these people have much in common. Consider the following from the Patriot Front’s manifesto, as reported by the SPLC: “The time of the Republic has passed in America as the system grows too weak to perform its duty… [d]emocracy has failed in this once great nation.” Or this, which SPLC says was uttered at a Patriot Front rally in Austin, Texas on November 3, 2017: “The lives of your children, and your children’s children, and your prosperity beyond that, dangle above a den of vipers. A corrupt, rootless, global, and tyrannical elite has usurped your democracy and turned it into a weapon, first to enslave and then to replace you.”

These people are the ideological footsoldiers of the MAGA movement. That they are targeting the LGBT community during Pride Month is thus unsurprising; Trump governed in an explicitly transphobic manner and his cronies in the GOP have turned LGBTQ people into the latest wedge issue, hoping to ride a wave of anti-LGBT hate straight to victory in the November midterms.

You cannot divorce what happened in Idaho from what happened in Florida, where the state’s odious “Don’t Say Gay” bill was an explicit attack on the state’s LGBT citizens and especially its LGBT children (and yes, they exist — ask this high school valedictorian who couldn’t even say “gay” in his own commencement speech). It is widely expected that 2022 will see more homophobic and transphobic bills than any other year; by the end of April, more than 300 anti-LGBTQ laws had been proposed in state houses across the country, almost universally introduced and supported by Republicans.

These hateful bills have real consequences for our culture and society, even if they do not pass. Their very proposal creates, for those on the far-right, the belief there is a problem where one does not exist. To the extremist mind, it also creates a license to act. 2020 and 2021 were the deadliest years on record for murders of gender non-conforming and trans folks, per HRC. In 2020, the SPLC warned that there had been a 43% rise in anti-LGBT hate groups. 2021 saw a 44% jump in recorded hate crimes in America’s biggest cities, per the FBI.

It has consequences for people outside of the LGBTQ community, too. Last month, the tiny community of Keil, Wisconsin was rocked when multiple bomb threats — five at my last count — were called in against various targets in the town, ranging from the local schools to stores. A man in California was arrested for making unrelated threats against teachers. Police made clear that the threats were meant to coerce the district into dropping a Title IX sexual assault investigation, and on Friday, the school board did just that.

The town was terrorized for weeks because a transgender student filed a Title IX complaint after being misgendered by their peers. Regardless of what you think of the merits of such a complaint, the student had every right to both exercise their civil right to file it and have it litigated, and the entire school had a right to attend classes without the threat of being blown to smithereens.

What happened in Keil and what happened in Coeur d’Alene have their roots in Charlottesville and January 6. And they are proof that January 6 was not the end of the Trump era. It was, rather, the beginning of the far-right’s war on America.

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