By REBECCA BOONE, Associated Press
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Weeks before 31 members of a white supremacist group were arrested for allegedly planning a riot at an LGBTQ pride event in northern Idaho, a fundamentalist pastor from the Idaho told its Boise congregation that gay, lesbian and transgender people should be executed by the government.
Around the same time, a lawmaker from the state’s northernmost region, Republican Rep. Heather Scott, told an audience that drag queens and other LGBTQ supporters were waging “a war of perversion against our children. “.
A toxic brew of hateful rhetoric has been spreading in Idaho and elsewhere in the United States, long before the arrests of Patriot Front members at Saturday’s Pride event in Coeur d’Alene.
Police say dozens of men from the white supremacist group piled into a U-Haul truck wearing balaclavas and wearing riot gear, with plans to riot in the park where families, children and supporters were gathered to celebrate the LGBTQ community.
Those arrested came from at least 11 states, including Illinois, Arkansas and Virginia. The defendants were convicted of conspiracy to riot and released on bail. As of Monday afternoon, online court records did not indicate whether the men had retained defense attorneys.
Thomas Rousseau, a 23-year-old from Grapevine, Texas, who was identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as the founder of the Patriot Front and was among those arrested, did not immediately respond to an email requesting a comment.
Jon Lewis, a George Washington University researcher who specializes in grassroots violent extremism, said outrage directed at LGBTQ people has been growing for months online, often in chat rooms frequented by members of groups like the Patriot Front.
The same way it mobilized against Black Lives Matter in the nation’s capital in December, the Patriot Front taps into what’s in the news cycle — in this case, drag queen story hours, disputes over transgender people in schools and LGBTQ visibility more broadly.
A “massive right-wing media ecosystem” promoted the idea that “there are people trying to take your kids to drag shows, there are trans people trying to ‘groom’ your kids,” Lewis said.
The rhetoric has been amplified by right-wing social media accounts that use photos and videos of LGBTQ people to spark outrage among their followers.
Several posts have falsely sought to label teachers and librarians who accept the LGBTQ community as child molesters or groomers. Others lambasted Pride events or drag performances as “depraved”.
A photo widely shared on social media this week falsely claimed that a “Drag Queen Story Hour” performer showed children her genitals while reading aloud. But the photograph, from a suburban Minneapolis library in 2019, clearly shows the performer wearing beige underwear.
A Hennepin County Library spokesperson confirmed to The Associated Press that the artist did not expose himself to children.
Northern Idaho has long been associated with extremist groups, primarily the Aryan Nations, which often made headlines in the 1990s. The area attracted disgruntled people after white supremacist Richard Butler moved there in 1973 from California.
After the heyday of the Aryan Nations, many local officials attempted to disassociate the region from extremism. But in recent years, some politicians, city leaders, and real estate agents have touted northern Idaho’s conservatism to attract like-minded people.
At a press conference on Monday, Coeur d’Alene Mayor Jim Hammond said the city was no longer a place of hate.
“We are not going back to the days of the Aryan nations. We are past that,” he said.
Scott, the northern Idaho lawmaker, did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.
During her public appearance a few weeks ago, she introduced two members of the Panhandle Patriots motorcycle club, who urged observers to join them in “the fight” against LGBTQ people during the Pride celebration. Coeur d’Alene. They dubbed their counter-protest “Gun d’Alene”.
“Get up, take it to the head, go to battle. … We say, ‘Damn the repercussions,’ said the members of the motorcycle club. “They are trying to take your children.”
The Panhandle Patriots later changed their event to a prayer rally, saying they are “a Christian group that opposes violence in all its forms.”
Elsewhere in the country, authorities in the San Francisco Bay Area are investigating a possible hate crime after a group of men allegedly shouted anti-LGBTQ slurs during Drag Queen Story Hour at the San Lorenzo Library this weekend.
Associated Press reporters Ali Swenson in New York and Sam Metz in Salt Lake City contributed.
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