There was a mass murder.
I know, this is America, so I have to be more specific. And since the one I’m thinking of, at Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colorado, we’ve had several more—mass shooting events are so common in America you may have missed the others. On November 23rd, the Gun Violence Archive had counted 606 this year alone. In one of them, the mass shooting at Club Q, on Saturday night, November 19th, five people were killed. Nineteen were injured. They leave behind loved ones and friends and acquaintances and a nation that mourns a targeted anti-LGBTQIA+ shooting on the weekend of Transgender Day of Remembrance.
And the horrible truth is we all saw this coming, waited in horror for it to happen, and now we are here. As someone wrote on Focus on the Family’s sign in Colorado Springs, “Their blood is on your hands. Five lives taken.” Below it they left 2 Corinthians 11:14-15:
“And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.”
Plenty of people see this and agree and know the set of ideologies and actors pushing this kind of hate. But for all the people mourning, for all of us heartened by the heroism of Richard Fierro, for all of the people in this country who are angry and outraged by this vile attack, the people who pushed it? They’re salivating at the opportunity, at the violence, at the chance to make it happen again.
Let us start, sadly, with the shooter’s own father. When questioned by reporters about the Club Q shooting, this was his response:
The Colorado shooter’s dad on finding out his son murdered people: “They started telling me about the incident, a shooting… And then I go on to find out it’s a gay bar. I got scared, ‘Shit, is he gay?’ And he’s not gay, so I said, phew… I am a conservative Republican.” (@CBS8) pic.twitter.com/7Zw4vpLtjE
— No Lie with Brian Tyler Cohen (@NoLieWithBTC) November 23, 2022
The functional lack of concern over the mass shooting—that his son murdered five people—and the relief that his son isn’t gay is the attitude that begets this kind of violence. This is dehumanization: killing gay people is not a cause for concern, being gay is. People who knew the shooter said he routinely used anti-LGBTQIA+ slurs and fetishized both guns and violence. And if we’re worried about the sparks that turn this burning hatred into violence, well, we’ve had a year of them.
There are lots of vessels for this call for violence—pushers of stochastic terrorism, a term that usefully helps us put away the concept of the “lone wolf,” which implies that these are individuals with individual grievances not that they’re part of a broader structure. As Bryn Nelson explains, pushing a rhetoric that dehumanizes and vilifies a group, weaponizing disgust to motivate the targeting of specific people, leads to an increase in ideologically-motivated acts of violence: a.k.a. stochastic terrorism. And while it seemed like the level of anti-LGBTQIA+ rhetoric couldn’t get any worse, influential social media purveyors have only doubled down since the shooting.
Libs of Tik Tok, Chaya Raichik’s account that repeatedly pushed anti-LGBTQIA+ violence (and whose targeted anti-trans rhetoric led to multiple bomb threats against the Boston Children’s Hospital), ignored the Club Q attack. The next day, however, she virtually put a target on a drag show education organization and the Colorado State Representatives who’ve appeared at their events—whom she called out by name. She followed it up with posts attacking gender affirming care facilities, drag shows, and an individual’s TikTok profile, writing, “This person doesn’t identify as a human but as an inanimate object so ‘it’ uses it/it’s pronouns.” The dehumanizing rhetoric is very, very clear.
Matt Walsh, a well known anti-trans far-right pundit who’s called gender affirming care “evil”, responded with an angry Twitter thread aggressively blaming the “Left” as “soulless demons” and spouting more anti-trans hate speech. In one tweet he writes:
“Leftists are using a mass shooting to try and blackmail us into accepting the castration and sexualization of children. These people are just beyond evil. I have never felt more motivated to oppose everything they stand for, with every fiber of my being. Despicable scumbags.”
This is his response to the murder of five people, to use “groomer” rhetoric and talk about opposing leftists and how they’re “despicable scumbags.” He also approvingly commented on Candace Owen’s tweet, which read:
“I just want to make sure I’m correct in understanding that the Left is using the tragedy in Colorado to make the argument that unless conservatives get on board with experimenting on children’s genitals with puberty blockers, then nightclub shootings will continue to happen.”
And this is the part where we have to pause for a second and take stock. Because what Owen is suggesting—with just enough “just asking questions” to get away with it—is that violence is a justifiable response to gender affirming care. And Owen, and Walsh echoing her, are just careful enough to phrase it in a way that isn’t hate speech; but the rhetorical game is clear. And now everyone is barely bothering with plausible deniability.
Tim Pool, for example, posted a series of tweets calling for violence:
Once again starting with the rhetoric of “Groomers”—accusing Club Q of hosting a “grooming event”—it’s an overt call for violence. “People are calling for more violence” is Pool calling for more violence. And, of course, it’s the accounts he quote tweets, and the ones that quote tweet him, that carry this on. Conservative media personality Steven Crowder added to Pool’s calls, writing:
An armed populace to protect themselves/their kids? After a mass shooting at an LGBTQIA+ club? This is, of course, another call for violence to protect the children—conveniently enough also QAnon’s rallying cry for mass murder—with just enough veiling to keep him safe next time there is a shooting. But it’s also a justification for the Club Q murders.
And then there’s Tucker Carlson’s guest, Jaimee Michell:
Tucker Carlson guest: Shootings like the Club Q shooting are going to keep happening "until we end this evil agenda" of gender-affirming care. pic.twitter.com/4ajSonqlug
— Kat Abu (@abughazalehkat) November 23, 2022
Shootings will continue “until we end this evil agenda” of gender affirming care. And this isn’t even the most overt of the calls. Sure Foundation Baptist Church was in the news earlier this year for ties to a man who made anti-LGBTQIA+ threats in Washington State. Sure Foundation’s Aaron Thompson, an aggressively anti-LGBTQIA+ hate preacher, is once again in the news for celebrating the mass shooting, saying it was a “good thing” that five people were killed and accusing them of being child molesters. The clip is horrifying:
Christian hate-preacher Aaron Thompson celebrated the mass shooting at Club Q, saying it's a "good thing" the victims were murdered because it means "they're not here anymore to molest kids."
— Hemant Mehta (@hemantmehta) November 24, 2022
Thompson’s rhetoric, with its celebration of the murders, is the most explicit, but all of these responses, from people with substantial platforms, are designed to reaffirm the call to violence. The accusations of “grooming” and “pedophilia” and calls to “protect the children” all reaffirm the most violent anti-LGBTQIA+ rhetoric in the United States, which frames the LGBTQIA+ community as predators who must be met with violence.
Nothing about it is subtle, and the rhetoric barely skirts the edge of where “free speech” meets “hate speech.” What it’s designed to do is maximize rhetorical violence to desensitize people to future physical violence and to increase the potential for that violence to occur.
It isn’t as simple as saying this is a Christian movement that hates the LGBTQIA+ community. This is a much broader coalition, bringing together a wide range of far-right ideologies that have very disparate goals and aggressive disagreements about most things. But the coalition of far-right groups meet in the culture wars, and they especially meet around their mutual hatred of the LGBTQIA+ community.
And so the Christofascists and secular fascists and homophobes and alt right and the far-right evangelicals and non-Christian cultural conservatives and all the rest can bond over their hatred of a group of people who are a minority in this country and who, far from pushing an agenda against others, just want to live in peace as themselves.
But this coalition cannot accept a world in which they have to coexist with people who don’t love the way they do, don’t identify themselves the way they do, and don’t relate to social conditioning the way they do. So no, this violence won’t end until it is stopped, because the pundits and politicians and trolls pushing this rhetoric want more violence. They’re already calling for the next mass shooting, the way they’d been calling for more bombings and more threats and more far-right attacks on drag queen story times. The way they were calling for a shooting like Club Q in the first place.
Until there’s enough pushback or severe enough consequences—socially, politically, legally—they will keep calling out for more blood. And I worry that their call will be answered.