Gov. Ron Desantis fueled white supremacist plot to attack Pride in Idaho
The rhetoric of his "Don't say gay" crusade has emboldened extremist groups, who are taking up his cause with violence.
It’s impossible not to see the link between a violent white supremacist attempt to attack an LGBTQ Pride event over the weekend in Idaho, and the vicious attacks by Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, his staff, and many others in the GOP, promoting Florida’s “Don’t say gay” law as an “anti-grooming” law, and thereby virulently smearing queer people.
Let’s go through all the connections. Over the weekend, 31 masked members of a white supremacist group, Patriot Front, who were targeting an LGBTQ Pride event in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, were arrested. As the Idaho Statesman reports:
Police in Coeur d’Alene arrested 31 masked members of a white nationalist group suspected of conspiring to riot in the city’s downtown on the same day as a scheduled and nearby Pride in the Park event. The arrested men of “Patriot Front” arrived in Coeur d’Alene inside a U-Haul truck that police pulled over for a traffic stop…The rest came from Washington, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia and Wyoming. Among the arrested is the national leader of the group, Tom Rosseau….
…Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Lee White said the group evidently “came to riot downtown.” White said the group also had “paperwork” that appeared similar to a police or military operations plan.
Police later did identify two local Idaho men among those arrested as well. The plot wasn’t a surprise, and police were tipped up, largely because white supremacists had revealed their intent in recent weeks.
I reported on my radio program on SiriusXM back in May about two members of the Panhandle Patriots, an Idaho bikers club that promotes right wing ideology and extremist religious rhetoric, who had shown up at a church gathering organized by Idaho Republican state House member Heather Scott. The event was titled, “Gameplan to Remove Inappropriate Materials in Our Schools and Libraries.”
Justin Allen and Jeff White announced they would host a pro-gun event in Coeur d’Alene on the same say as that city’s Pride festivities, and would target the Pride event: “We actually intend to go head to head with these people. A line has to be drawn in the sand. Good people need to stand up,” White told to the crowd. Then he continued:
Our event is advertised as “Gun d’Alene,” because it’s an anniversary of when we stood to protect our community. We’re standing again to protect our community. We shifted our date to be able to go head-to-head with these people. They are trying to take your children.
As David Neiwert reported at Daily Kos, after this announcement went viral, Panhandle Patriots backed off a little, saying the men misspoke — but still adhered to the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. It didn’t matter anyway because the damage was done, as a clarion call went out to white nationalists nationally:
An online media site called the Idaho Tribune helped stir the extremist pot further with an article—widely distributed on far-right social media—headlined “Antifa Coming to Coeur d’Alene for June 11 LGBT Event in CDA Park to ‘Protect Gay & Trans People.’” It claimed that “Antifa members from across the country are planning on coming to Coeur d’Alene Idaho” for the event, based on a single Twitter account urging community defense.
“Antifa and LGBT groups have taken a particular interest in North Idaho as the predominantly conservative area is viewed as a challenge to the progressive liberal groups,” it claims.
And just last week a call to action went out on another Idaho extremist website, Idaho Freedom:
This weekend, satanists, drag queens, and anti-gun advocates will help the North Idaho Pride Alliance celebrate gay pride -- and public dollars will also help pay for it via money appropriated by state lawmakers.
White nationalists have pushed vile anti-LGBTQ rhetoric for as along as they’ve promoted racist and anti-Semitic bile. This new energy and focus by white nationalists on LGBTQ people and Pride — and particularly on the false and defamatory themes of of “taking our children” and “grooming” — is, however, directly linked to the promotion of smears by right-wing Republican politicians. Indeed it was at a Republican-hosted event by Rep. Heather Scott that Panhandle Patriots made their call to action.
And Republicans like Scott are taking their cues from the ideologies permeating the national GOP — from promoters of QAnon conspiracies, like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, for example — and ideas driven by prominent Republicans in other states. The promotion of “Don’t say gay” bills now across many states, inspired by Desantis’s passage of the “Don’t say gay” law in Florida, has emboldened these haters.
Desantis’s press secretary Christina Pushaw tweeted that anyone opposed to the “Don’t say gay” law is “probably a groomer.” That went viral, whipping up hysteria and an anti-LGBTQ purge on the right, and DeSantis has only backed it up continually, claiming that anti-LGBTQ measures will protect children. He’s now moved to stop Medicaid from covering gender-affirming care for trans youth, and is moving to actually have child protective services investigate parents who take their children to drag shows.
It’s in this atmosphere, which DeSantis elevated in Florida and is taking on the road as he plans a run for the presidency, that white supremacists feel the wind at their backs, with prominent conservative politicians supporting and promoting their deranged ideologies. Most concerning is that, aside from the exceptions like the great Democratic state senator Mallory McMorrow of Michigan, too many Democrats still don’t know how to deal with this, trying to avoid the discussion.
And companies that claim to be LGBTQ-friendly are helping to normalize the hate by allowing DeSantis — positioning himself as a leading GOP presidential contender — to legitimize himself. In the past week in New York City there was an uproar when the Chelsea Piers sports complex agreed to host an event at which DeSantis will speak, after the Museum of Jewish Heritage rightly backed out of hosting the event because of DeSantis’s bigotry.
When even companies in so-called progressive New York City, companies that support Pride and claim to be allies, feel obliged to promote these bigots, you know we’ve gone beyond a very dangerous point.
In Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, while the Patriot Front members were arrested — with plans in hand to attack the Pride event — anti-LGBTQ groups, including the Panhandle Patriots, held events in city parks.
Tom Meyer was part of a small group that held signs and sang hymns at City Park, protesting the Pride celebration. “The drag queen thing, they’re preying on our children and that’s my target,” Meyer said. “I want to focus on the kids to give them a chance and give them a way out so they don’t get caught up in all this. It’s horrible. What they’re doing is they are grooming children for pedophilia in my belief.”
At McEuen Park, about 100 people, including Panhandle Patriots and former Washington state Rep. Matt Shea, walked to several downtown buildings to protest the Pride event and support freedom of speech, guns and other values. “We do not hate the person,” Gabe Blomgren, pastor at On Fire Ministries in Spokane, said through a megaphone outside the Coeur d’Alene Public Library. “God, but we hate the sin of homosexuality … this is the grooming of children.”
All of their words could have come from the mouth of DeSantis and his staff, and now from Republicans in states across the country, pushing over 240 anti-LGBTQ bills. It’s a good thing that the Patriot Front was stopped by concerned citizens tipping off police. But it doesn’t diminish the fact that DeSantis and the GOP are responsible for the hate and the violence we’re seeing, and which we will continue to see.
They have blood on their hands, inciting harm against LGBTQ youth and adults, which sadly will likely escalate in coming weeks and months.