Hateful far-right groups are co-opting and inflaming the growing anti-LGBTQ+ movement for their own agenda
Warning: this post contains violent and profane language
Efforts to demonize, intimidate, and provoke violence against LGBTQ+ people have increased over the past year globally.
In the United States a backlash from online far-right outlets and influencers combined with security concerns have forced the cancellation of numerous LGBTQ+ events to fend off potentially dangerous far-right protests. Most frightening, there have been threats of violence and arrests for attempted and planned mass attacks at these events.
For example, in Pittsburgh, a church service meant to take place on June 11 in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community and organized by Catholics for Change in Our Church (CCOC) was canceled after the church received threatening emails and calls. CCOC representative Kevin Hayes exclaimed the group’s frustration and affirmed that the goal of the event was to “have LGBTQ Catholics feel welcomed as beloved sons and daughters of a loving God.” The same day, a Drag Queen Story Time in Tigard, Oregon, was canceled due to repeated threats of violence made against the event. Most recently, a man was indicted for making threats to commit acts of violence against an upcoming Nashville Pride event, including threats to “make shrapnel pressure cooker bombs” and “commit a mass shooting.”
This isn’t just happening in the U.S. It’s a global phenomenon. In England, a school Pride Day event in Derbyshire titled “Drag ‘n’ Rainbows” meant to take place on June 16 was canceled “to avoid any potential disruption to the school” because of a large number of emails received protesting the event. They followed negative press coverage that inaccurately claimed students were “urged” to wear drag. Similar situations have occurred in multiple countries. Pro-LGBTQ+ and Pride events that did take place were targeted by the far-right, with many culminating in protests drawing the attention of, or being organized by, white supremacists and neo-Nazis. Sadly, some protests have resulted in the cancellation of LGBTQ+ events or led to violence. There were, however, many events that continued despite the presence of hate and bigotry.
In June of last year, an analysis by ACLED found that far-right, anti-LGBTQ+ protests had spiked in the United States during the 2022 Pride Month. That trend continues this year, not only in the United States, but also in other countries.
ACLED data notes an uptick in anti-LGBTQ+ demonstrations in the United States and Europe starting in January, primarily due to events in the United States and Canada, but also increasingly in European countries including Belgium, the United Kingdom, Austria, Denmark, Austria, Netherlands, France, Poland, and Switzerland, where many of the same far-right tactics against the LGBTQ+ community have been adopted.
In the United States, extremist groups like the Proud Boys, Patriot Front, Protect Texas Kids, and White Lives Matter have been responsible for many of the threats, disruptions, and sometimes violence. In Europe, populist far-right parties, such as the Freedom Party of Austria (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs), the Forum for Democracy (Forum voor Democratie), Flemish Interest (Vlaams Belang) have been responsible for organizing them, as well as small far-right groups such as the Schild en Vrienden (Shield and Friends), Patriotic Alternative, Identitarian Movement Denmark, and Voorpost (Outpost).
With Pride events such as Tampa Pride already being canceled in Florida in the wake of a slew of anti-LGBTQ+ laws signed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, the far-right have been emboldened and ramped up their efforts to disrupt and cancel inclusive events leading up to, and during, Pride Month.
Data collected by the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism (GPAHE) of anti-LGBTQ+ information shared among extremist groups online confirms that there has been a large spike in efforts to disrupt LGBTQ+ events during Pride month. GPAHE collected information on nearly 100 instances over the past three months.
Many of the groups involved in anti-LGBTQ+ demonstrations, such as Project 171, Protect Texas Kids, and the Proud Boys, directly organize their protests. But an increasingly common tactic is for these and other groups to share information about an upcoming event in the hopes that online pressure causes the event organizers to cancel, or for a demonstration to unfold in a more opportunistic fashion. This is the case with accounts such as “Libs of Tik Tok Fans” and “r*tards of Tik Tok.” They don’t directly organize counter-protests themselves, but instead dox information about upcoming LGBTQ+ events, often leading to Proud Boys, neo-Nazis, and other groups showing up at the targeted event.
In North America, the lionshare of posts online about upcoming LGBTQ+ events have come from the United States with Ohio, Oregon, Washington, and New Hampshire being particularly targeted. Most of these attempts have targeted “blue states” or “battleground states” where pro-LGBTQ+ events are more likely to happen. Several events in Canada also faced harassment, from the far right, primarily in Ontario and Nova Scotia.
One group that has received little attention but has been responsible for a number of anti-LGBTQ+ demonstrations in the United States is “Project 171.” Formed in January 2023, Project 171 is a far-right group dedicated to “saving kids” by shutting down pro-LGBTQ+ and pro-transgender events they claim are organized by “groomers,” a disparaging term for people identifying as LGBTQ+ who they falsely believe are “recruiting” young people. On Telegram, a generally unmoderated social media platform, the group distributes propaganda that dehumanizes LGBTQ+ people, posts violent content, and actively organizes demonstrations across the country. There are many indications that the group has its origins in previous white supremacist organizations; First, the “171” is a reference to “A.G.A” (anti-Groomer Action) and uses an alphanumeric system prominent among neo-Nazis. In their chats, usage of white supremacist symbols and hand signals are readily apparent (for more on symbols of far-right extremism, see GPAHE’s hate symbols database). Moreover, an analysis of their “training manual” for new activists is nearly identical to the ones used by White Lives Matter, with the exception that white supremacist terms were replaced by anti-LGBTQ+ terms. Members have openly discussed going to LGBTQ+ events “dressed as antifa” in order to frame anti-fascist demonstrators as being violent. This group has promoted protests across the country and was preparing to protest the drag queen story time event in Tigard, Oregon, which may have been the reason why it was subsequently canceled.
The white supremacist Proud Boys shared information about multiple drag brunches and Drag Queen Story Hour events and encouraged their members to protest, including in Chesterland and Chardon, Ohio along with the Hillsboro Pride in Oregon. While their planned Hillsboro protest on June 3 had a supposedly mild turnout, other LGBTQ+ events they advertised were attended by white supremacist organizations such as the Patriot Front. Patriot Front members showed up at the Drag Brunch in Chardon on April 1, and organized a number of their own protests as well. Leading up to Pride Month, Patriot Front organized a protest against a Drag Queen Story Hour in Wadsworth, Ohio on March 11. While they were unsuccessful in getting the event canceled, protestors, including Patriot Front, Proud Boys, and White Lives Matter (WLM) members, were chanting slurs and “there will be blood,” waved swastika flags, and did the Nazi salute. The protest itself led to two arrests related to disorderly conduct following an altercation between supporters and protestors of the event.
One month later, the neighboring city of Columbus was subject to the presence of neo-Nazis on April 29 in a protest featuring the Blood Tribe, a white supremacist organization founded in 2021 by Christopher Pohlhaus, against a drag brunch fundraiser for the Kaleidoscope Youth Center, a community center for queer youth. Neo-Nazis present at the protest were documented carrying swastika flags, prompting well-known drag queen Nina West to denounce the protest and champion the performers for their bravery. Threats to protest and attendance by Patriot Front and the New Colombia Movement at “Drag Show For A Cause” in New Braunfels, Texas on May 6 failed in its efforts to intimidate organizers and performers into canceling the event, however one performer did cancel because of the serious backlash.
In Canada the Christian Nationalist group Save Canada and their leader, Josh Alexander, have been organizing against the LGBTQ+ community since February 2023. Alexander’s rise to prominence started in February 2023, when he was arrested and charged with trespassing at his former high school and arrested again the very next day protesting a drag show at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. The group’s website claims to “[engage] in legal, political, spiritual, and ideological battles against the evil forces that be.” However, their Telegram channel describes them as the “Maga movement of Canada,” and frequently shares posts from Morgan May, who is the partner of white supremacist movement Diagolon leader Jeremy Mackenzie. Save Canada also collaborates with the conspiracy group Action4Canada and the far-right People’s Party of Canada (PPC), led by Maxime Bernier, to host anti-LGBTQ+ events such as one rally on June 4 about “The Gender Agenda” in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
The group was extremely active in the months leading up to Pride, and has continued to ramp up their efforts this month to target pro-LGBTQ+ events and hold rallies, often titled “End Grooming,” across Canada, demonstrating the spread of the popular “groomer” narrative used by far-right influencers and extremists in the United States.
Save Canada organized an “End Grooming” protest on April 12 at an event at York Mills Collegiate Institute in Toronto, which featured a keynote by Martin Boyce, a gay rights activist, and survivor of the Stonewall Riots. Neo-Nazi and former Canadian Nationalist Party leader Gus Stefanis was in attendance. The protest was also endorsed and advertised by Diagolon, on their social media networks. A protest on April 29th outside a library hosting a Drag Queen Story Time in Toronto, also organized by Save Canada, drew the support of the openly neo-Nazi organization White Lives Matter (WLM), which had several members attend the protest. Once again, Gus Stefanis made an appearance, but the protestors were greatly outnumbered by supporters of the LGBTQ+ community. On June 9, Save Canada partnered with anti-transgender influencer Chris Elston, better known as Billboard Chris, to protest against several schools with inclusive policies in Ottawa, which was met by a sizable counter-protest. Protestors were stepping on pride flags, five people were arrested in connection with the protests, and Ottawa Centre MPP Joel Harden claimed on Twitter that he was punched while counter-protesting. In the days following, a Telegram channel with over 10,000 subscribers titled “RealCanadianPatriots” posted a video of a protest captioned, “Civil War is coming to Canada… Leave our Fu***** Children alone pedophiles and Groomers.” These acts and calls to violence targeting the LGBTQ+ community reflect a growing trend of hate in Canada, as the country has already faced a 64 percent increase in hate crimes targeting sexual orientation between 2019 and 2021.
The wave of anti-LGBTQ+ organizing has also spread across the Atlantic, as far-right groups in Europe have targeted Pride events in their own countries. This has been especially felt in places such as France and the United Kingdom, where small, organized groups have targeted drag and Pride events.
In the United Kingdom, white supremacist group Patriotic Alternative, led by British neo-Nazi Mark Collett, has been distributing propaganda and protesting Drag Queen Story Hours across England. On their Telegram channel, Patriotic Alternative advertised their leafleting ahead of a drag event in Huddersfield along with protests in Weston Super Mare and Swindon, with the Swindon protest causing clashes with counter-protestors and leading the theater hosting the show to reportedly bar their doors in case anyone attempted to break into the venue.
The Sofia Pride Film Fest, based in Bulgaria, had a screening canceled following a protest by extreme nationalists on June 10. Protestors were seen wearing t-shirts of the far-right political party Vazrazhdane (Revival). Worryingly, the protest came only days after threats were made against the upcoming Sofia Pride march, which occurred on June 17. The march itself had an increased police presence, a trend seen across the world due to threats by the far-right, and was met by a counter-event called the “March for the Family,” organized by the anti-LGBTQ+ group ROD with the Youth Conservative Club.
In France, anti-LGBTQ+ content and demonstrations have been spearheaded by small local nationalist groups that have adopted the American “anti-groomer” framing. “Parents Vigilants” (Vigilant Parents), founded by Reconquête officials in September 2022, is an anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-immigrant group that targets LGBTQ+ and other inclusive material in French public schools. While they have yet to organize demonstrations, official party publications point to drag shows becoming the next target of the radical right. In Carcassonne, a small group by the name of Novelum Carcassonne placed stickers, banners, and other propagandistic material around the city prior to a Pride march. In Rennes, a group with connections to the neo-Nazi Ouest Casual network dropped a large banner reading “F*** LGBT” with an iron cross prior to a Pride March in the city.
In Portugal, the far right has targeted a single week-long Pride event held in Évora. Elected officials from Chega (Enough), the leader of the extreme-right Ergue-Te (Rise-Up), leaders of the Chega Juventude (Chega Youth), and supporters of the conspiracist Rui da Fonseca e Castro from Habeas Corpus (also former ADN), have all attacked the event in online posts, while the head of the Chega Juventude chapter in Porto praised a hate crime that took place during the event. Later in the week, far-right Youtuber Afonso Gonçalves attempted to disrupt the “Pride dos pequeninos” (Pride of the little ones) event in Evora, but was quickly moved away by the police. Despite calling for locals to join him in a protest, only “three to five” people ended up doing so, demonstrating the relative unpopularity of their efforts. Since then, the organizers of the harassment campaign have begun formalizing a group to continue disrupting LGBTQ+ events in the future.
In Central Europe, the international white nationalist movement Generation Identity (GI) has targeted drag shows in Germany and Austria. In the months leading up to Pride, GI protested a drag show in Vienna, Austria, on April 16 along with around one hundred other Christian fundamentalist, far-right, and alleged neo-Nazi protestors. Despite the hateful presence and tense atmosphere, the show went ahead as planned with dozens of families reportedly attending the event. On June 13, GI leader Martin Sellner advertised the movement’s presence at a drag reading in Munich, Germany, an event that he referred to as a “fetish childrens [sic] book reading.” However, seven protestors with connections to the Identitarian movement were arrested for trespass. There were also counter-demonstrations by drag supporters, but aside from verbal exchanges, they posed no threat to others.