We Pissed-Off Cockroaches
It's time we start taking anti-Queer hate for what it really is: Extremism.
It wasn’t warm on that April evening in London 1999, but it was getting warmer. It wasn’t fully light, but the sun wouldn’t set for another two hours. It wasn’t abnormal, save for the unfamiliar man who seemingly forgot his gray duffel bag under the bar.
That Friday night at the Admiral Duncan was just another Friday night at “a busy, noisy gay club" in Soho. Patrons would slip nickels into the jukebox: Cher’s “Strong Enough” had come out just two months prior. Old Compton Street was London’s Gay Village. It was a safe enclave. When patrons had to leave — perhaps still decked out in layers of make-up and size 11 high heels — they could feel confident. The Rainbow Cars, a Queer taxi service, would take them home.
Then the bomb went off.
The Admiral Duncan disappeared behind a fireball. Then, a moment of stillness, where one of London’s oldest Queer establishments seemed to have disappeared entirely. Then came the billowing smoke and screams of the injured.
Three patrons of the narrow bar, which could fit around 150 people, were dead. Outside, the bar goers — who had, just minutes earlier, been enjoying the blissful calm of one of the world’s most socially progressive societies — were sobbing, bleeding, forever changed. Limbs had been blown off in the force of the blast.
Inside the bomb were 1,500 nails, packed tightly around the explosive. it was not just an attack on the Admiral Duncan, but an attempt to inflict terror on all of Soho.
It was an American tourist who remarked to The Telegraph:
"They went for the Blacks in Brixton and the Bangladeshis in Brick Lane — and now they are going for the gays."
A week earlier, a similar duffel bag had been left in a predominately immigrant neighborhood in East London: Originally intended for a popular street market, a good Samaritan had picked up and tried to give it to police for safekeeping. He hadn’t even unzipped the bag. When the constabulary was closed, he stored it in the trunk of his car.
When it exploded, it rocketed the car four storeys high.
Less than a week before that, the first duffel bag was discovered at a market in South London, in a predominately Black neighbourhood. Vendors had noticed the bag, grew suspicious, and called police — their sharpened wits almost certainly saved lives. The bomb exploded, rocketing nails towards police and onlookers, but didn’t kill anymore.
The three bombs had been planted by David Copeland: Initially a member of the far-right British National Party, his reactionary views had brought him into the circle of a pseudo-intellectual fascist who sought to radicalize young men into the race war. Copeland admitted that, had he not been arrested, his next target would be London’s Jewish community.
The United Kingdom, at the time, was trending in the right direction. Westminster had, in the years prior, moved to normalize the age of consent for same-sex couples and enact basic human rights protections. That steady progress made Copeland’s terror campaign even more of a shock to the country.
But not to the communities that were visited by the violence. They had seen the British National Party stickers affixed to lampposts: "Protect yourself from AIDS — Outlaw Homosexuality.” They had heard spokesperson for the Party proclaim: “The fact of the matter is that most paedophilia comes from homosexuals." The Party had sent out leaflets with the photos of murdered children, insisting that they would still be alive, if only the state would crack down on pedophiles. By extensions, they meant: Gays.
It got more radical than leaflets and stickers. Combat 18, a neo-Nazi street gang, had been attacking immigrant neighbourhoods and gay bookstores for years.
Copeland didn’t see himself as a lone wolf, but part of an international uprising. In America, the Oklahoma City Bombing had, just a few years earlier, become a symbol for how the far-right could make their mark with the blood of civilians.
Copeland was convicted of three counts of murder in 2000. The court accepted that he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and a personality disorder, but declined to accept a lesser plea. He was sentenced to six life sentences and remains in prison to this day.
Queer people have always faced violence. Some of it from the state directly. Some of it, state-sanctioned. Some of it from our fellow citizens. Sometimes, that violence comes from nature.
I found myself thinking a lot about that night in Soho, 23 years ago, recently. And about the night in June, 2016 when a man walked into the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando and murdered 49 people. And that night in October 1998 when bigots robbed, tortured, and murdered Matthew Shepherd in Laramie, Wyoming. And that night in June 1973 when someone set fire to the UpStairs Lounge in New Orleans, killing 32 of the patrons of the gay bar. And, of course, to the eight men who died between 2010 and 2017 in Toronto, victims of serial killer Bruce MacArthur — and, more acutely, of the city police department that failed to stop him.
I was thinking about that long history of terror attacks on Queer people because, after months of warnings, the avowedly anti-Queer rhetoric has finally led to a deadly domestic terror attack.
Five died in the brutal assault on Club Q, including two transgender people. Dozens more were saved thanks to the bravery of club patrons — including an army veteran there with his family.
Today, the massacre at Club Q is already sliding off the frontpage. The same morally bankrupt propagandists who enabled this attack are back to their old tricks. Queer people — Black folks, Jewish people, immigrants, women — are being set up to, once again, be failed.
This week’s Bug-eyed and Shameless is a dispatch about domestic extremism and the motherfuckers who enable it.
Matthew Haynes had been preparing for nights like Saturday.
Haynes had trained his staff to prepare in case someone came to attack Club Q. The staff were to usher patrons through a door enjoining the neighboring club, which Haynes also owned.
The club owner, no doubt, knew what happened at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. After Omar Mateen entered that bar shortly after 2 a.m., he massacred dozens before police could even arrive at the scene. Even after officers and a SWAT team pulled up, the shooter was able to move freely through the bar, killing several more.
Armed with the grim knowledge that he might not be able to rely on police to protect his patrons, an escape plan was wise.
Staff barely had a chance to put that plan into action when Anderson Lee Aldrich pulled up, shortly before midnight. Court documents allege they pulled an AR-15 from their vehicle and began firing indiscriminately as they moved towards the doors and entered the club. Police believe they killed five people over the span of just seven minutes, before they were tackled, disarmed, and beaten.
Aldrich is now in custody, facing 305 charges — including the allegation that hate motivated their actions.
The dead: Daniel Davis Aston, Kelly Loving, Ashley Paugh, Derrick Rump, Raymond Green Vance. Two of the victims were transgender. In reading out the names of the dead, the Colorado Springs Police Department included their proper pronouns.
“For us, it simply came down to showing them the respect they deserve by identifying them using the names they and their loved ones used,” a spokesperson for the department told The Washington Post.
Club Q is the most shocking act of violence targeting the Queer community since Pulse. But there has been a steady drumbeat of violence targeting LGBTQ people in recent years. After Club Q, the total number of transgender and gender non-conforming people murdered in American this year stands at 34.
One was Ariyanna Mitchell, a 17-year-old murdered with an assault rifle. The killer her targeted her and a friend, also transgender, and asked for her gender before opening fire. Cherry Bush was shot to death in L.A. earlier this year on a street because she was transgender.
Too many of those cases haven’t been solved: Like the murder of Brazil Johnson, a trans activist, who was shot and killed in Milwaukee. Or Marisela Castro, who was gunned down while crossing the street in Houston and whose death has garnered scarce news coverage.
Two of those deaths came at the hands of police, who were supposed to be doing wellness checks: Aaron Lynch and Maddie Hofmann.
Coverage of these deaths frequently misgendered or deadnamed those lost. Too many of these cases remain unresolved. And even that number is almost certainly an under-count, as the United States (like Canada and most other countries) fails to systematically collect data on violence against trans people. The motive for these killings are not uniform. Some were intimate partner violence. Some may be random. Some were motivated by hate.
Violence gets worse when hate is normalized. Whether that is intimate partner violence, random attacks on the street, sudden spurts of violence, or premeditated terror attacks.
You can trace a massive surge in violence against gay men across the Western world as they exercised their rights and faced state repression — in New York, following Stonewall in 1969; in San Francisco, as Queer people began to gain political power in the late 1970s; in Toronto, as police began to “clean up” the Gay Village in 1977; in Montreal and Minneapolis, amidst the HIV/AIDS crisis. These surges in violence include ‘pickup’ crimes, from ‘gay panic’ murders to robberies; serial killers; and acts of mass violence.
Through the late 20th century, the idea that Queer people were not just a perversion, but a threat to society as a whole and children in particular, was endemic. The rhetoric is exactly what we hear today, just with different words.
I wrote about this trend in dispatch #8 From Anita Bryant to Milo Yiannopoulos, the anti-Queer backlash is as hateful as it is predictable and tired. Then, during Pride month, I wrote: “this kind of cultural backlash feeds directly into violence.”
Here we are.
You can despair easily.
This problem can feel so massive, so capable of surviving through the decades, and so intractable that you want to arm yourself to the teeth or retreat into a bunker.
But the other side of a history of violence is a history of resiliency.
Let’s start with the most immediate solution: Violence against Queer people needs to be a core part of a national security strategy.
The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project has been monitoring trends in far-right organizing since early 2020. They have found a demonstrable and worrying rise in anti-LGBTQ activist in 2022. That dovetails specifically with legislated assaults on trans rights in Florida and elsewhere, and the moral panic around drag queens.
This anti-Queer mobilizing is not separate or unrelated to the general white supremacist, fascist, anti-abortion, anti-vaccine extremism, it is in addition to it. Many of the same agitators who, in recent years, were organizing events against migrants or Black people are, today, turning their attention against the Queer community.
Despite this problem, police and national security agencies are still far too blithe about the growing risk of right-wing terrorism and infuriatingly unwilling to actually engage Queer people to combat this trend — just like they are slow to deal with Black communities, women, and Jewish groups.
A real right-wing national security strategy means taking seriously threats against Queer people, adequately investigating violence against Queer people, stopping the criminalization of people, and seriously talking about deradicalization as a violence prevention strategy.
Incorporating Queer people into investigating homicide works. ACT UP activists used to deliver coffins to the front steps of police departments to shame their inaction on investigating killings of Queer people. Those tactics pushed police to consult and confer with members of the community and has led to more murders being solved. Having police work with communities to serve their core function — keeping people safe — and ending discriminatory ‘morality’ policing works. Unfortunately, despite some positive trends in the 1980s and 1990s, this is still an exception instead of the rule.
Going wider, we need security agencies to be monitoring extremist trends and properly investigating radical groups.
None of this should be read as an endorsement of our current national security or policing regime. It is not. Our history tackling Islamic extremist violence is a good example — particularly of what not to do. We do not need another War on Terror: A civil liberties-smashing campaign that likely worsened domestic radicalization instead of reducing it.
More useful, then, to talk about how we tackled the threat of the Islamic State and their violent political ideology that tried to turn disaffected and disgruntled young men in the West into bombs. Whilst deeply imperfect, we began to recognize that the greatest threat to our domestic safety is from alienation at home, not a terrorist mastermind abroad. And the solution to that cannot be mass surveillance or arbitrary incarceration — two drivers to the very alienation we’re seeking to quell.
Deradicalization and counter-extremism has to happen on both a societal and individual level. We need programs and practises that disrupt and counter extremist narratives where they arise — that is part of the premise of this entire newsletter — but which also reach out to those most at-risk of falling for those odious and violent ideologies.
But that’s all playing catch up. Deradicalization happens after people have been indoctrinated; homicide investigations happen after the killing has occurred.
We, as a society, frantically worked to address ISIS’ reach here at home. Rightly so. Today, there is none of the same intensity — because admitting we have a domestic extremism problem would mean recognizing major figures in American media and politics are counselling violent extremism.
Fox News and Trucker Carlson seamlessly connect being supportive of trans rights as being “pro-mutilation” and therefore “pro-groomer.” Representative Marjorie Taylor-Greene has warned of “elementary school teachers trying to transition their elementary school aged.” Donald Trump Jr. mounted a hysterical defence of Florida’s law banning any mention of sexual orientation in early gradeschool — the aptly named “don’t say gay” bill — ranting that it was actually the “don’t groom our children” bill. One particularly obscene bit of propaganda, which falsely alleged a drag queen had exposed herself to children onstage, shared by Infowars and LibsofTiktok: It directly led to neo-Nazis targeting a Pride event. Maybe the most disgusting comments from Lauren Boebert, the congresswoman who represents Colorado Springs. She effortlessly connected Queer people and drag queens to grooming and pedophilia. There are plenty of other examples.
Mainstream rhetoric in America now tells people that Queer people are trying to indoctrinate, mutilate, and violate children. When they invoke that invented problem, it is not a push for a legislative response, it is a call for violence.
Let’s be very blunt about this: There is not much difference between the extremist preachers who provide the theological basis for those angry young men and women to join the Islamic State and the propagandist bigots who are offering a political imperative for hateful young men to take action against drag queens.
Criminalizing that speech isn’t the solution. Standing up a mass surveillance regime won’t help. What we need to do is talk about that speech as inherently extremist. This isn’t citing scripture to oppose gay marriage, or prattling on about “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” from behind a shit-eating grin. This is another level.
Resiliency also means combatting hate with actual information.
Whilst the right loves to suggest that trans healthcare is some kind of mad science experiment run amok, it is gender-affirming healthcare that is supported by a massive body of peer-review research, multidisciplinary study, and clinical experience. There are fervent and spirited debates about what therapies are appropriate and when — taking into account both what is medically necessary and safe, and what the patient wants, not politics and ideology. These facts get painfully little airing.
Gender-affirming healthcare, Queer-positive early education, and positive Queer representation all are directly tied to better mental health outcomes and a decrease in suicides.
We need to stop letting the far-right turn these unassailable facts into debate points. Yes, there are a small number of doctors and experts who disagree with elements of those facts: They can certainly be engaged with on their merits. But neither Tucker Carlson nor Ron DeSantis nor the LiksofTikTok troll cares an iota about the science. They are weaponizing isolated data points to mount a terror campaign.
There’s a particular example where the derangement of the far-right is worth talking about.
Aldrich, through a lawyer, says they are non-binary. There appears to be zero indication that Aldrich made any such announcement before they, alleged, led an assault on the LGBTQ bar — and it is an increasingly common tactic for trolls-turned-domestic terrorists to invent parts of their biography in order to troll the media. No doubt, whether Aldrich is genuine or not, there is set to be a lot of think pieces written. And there has certainly been plenty of far-right influencers who have either revelled in this assertion or claimed Aldrich’s gender identity is proof that they were not influencer by the far-right. Bullshit.
The Queer community knows all too well that hate can come from within. Gay men, from Roy Cohn to Milo Yiannopoulos (who now claims to be straight), have enabled their own oppression. Bruce McArthur and Jeffrey Dahmar committed inhumane acts of violence against men who were like them. So being a member of the community does not mean you do not want to terrorize it.
If it is a troll, however, it fundamentally misunderstands a core aspect of the Queer community, as many on the far-right often do. There is nothing inherently political about being gender non-conforming. Others decided to politicize that state of being. No genderqueer person opts to be genderqueer because of how it impacts cisgender people. Cisgender people decided to make it about themselves. Setting out your pronouns, or respecting someone else’s, is not a daily ritual of destroying Western civilization. It is just recognizing a fact about yourself or another person.
So if Aldrich is, in fact, non-binary: That neither diminishes the role of virulent anti-Queer propaganda; nor do we need to reject their pronouns as some political statement. They can simply be, if they are convicted of the crime for which they are charged, a right-wing terrorist, radicalized by a domestic extremist movement; 22 years old, born into a rough childhood, beset by problems, and non-binary.
He was radicalized like David Copeland and like Omar Mateen.
Until we confront that radicalization, and those who peddle it, there will be more attacks.
That’s it for this week. This post is open for all subscribers, but paying subscribers can join the chat on the Substack app, where I’m going to break down a few more aspects of this story.
Until next week!
You are such a good writer!