Why far-right groups are increasingly targeting the LGBTQ community

There have been several recent incidents where far-right, white supremacist groups have targeted LGBTQ people, including last weekend at a pride event in Idaho and a during a drag story hour at a library in California. J.M. Berger, a writer and researcher who focuses on extremist ideologies and has written four books on the topic, joins William Brangham to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    There have been several recent incidents where far right white supremacist groups have targeted LGBTQ people.

    William Brangham explores what is behind these troubling attacks.

  • William Brangham:

    That's right, Judy.

    Two of those events happen this past Saturday. In Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, 31 men believed to be members of the white nationalist group Patriot Front were arrested as they traveled in a U-Haul truck to allegedly riot and the local Pride Month celebration in town.

    In San Lorenzo, California, a group of men believed to be part of the violent far right Proud Boys entered a public library shouting homophobic and transphobic slurs and threats as parents and kids attended what's known as Drag Time Story Hour.

    Earlier today, I spoke with Harris Mojadedi. He lives in that community, works at U.C. Berkeley. And he was part of a group of local leaders who denounced the Proud Boys. I asked him what he thought that group was trying to do that day.

  • Harris Mojadedi, LGBTQ Activist:

    Cause terror. Cause harm. There is so much misunderstanding and I think there's a lot of hate towards the LGBTQ+ community that really probably comes from fear.

    But I think that was the intended purpose, was to stop the program and to say that this community is not inclusive and welcoming. And I think that was their intention.

    We're seeing a rapid rise in discriminatory policies across the country, but the San Francisco Bay Area is not Texas. It's not Florida. And so the fact that this could happen right here in the Bay Area, it is cause for concern, because this is no longer an issue that's far away. This is — it's home. It's in our backyard. It's our community.

    And that's really telling that this is a very serious issue, and it must be addressed. And this is the moment.

  • William Brangham:

    Can you give me a sense of how the community has responded to this? What kinds of conversations have you been having? What have you been hearing from people?

  • Harris Mojadedi:

    I'm honestly very heartened at the response, because it shows that we are going to fight for our rights, and we're going to fight for this community.

    San Francisco Bay Area, it embodies what it means to be an inclusive area. And I can — right, I be an out and proud gay Muslim, Middle Eastern man in the Bay Area. That's part of my story and part of my narrative. And we're going to fight for that. We're going to fight to ensure that this remains a place for all to feel welcome, regardless of their identities.

    And so that's really what's at stake.

  • William Brangham:

    So, for more on why these groups are targeting this community and how it connects to their larger world view, I'm joined again by J.M. Berger. He's a writer and researcher who focuses on extremist ideologies. And he's written four books on the topic.

    J.M., great to have you back on the "NewsHour."

    Could you just help us understand what might seem like a disconnect for some people? Why is it that these far right white supremacist groups would be targeting this particular community?

    J.M. Berger, Author, "Extremism": Thanks for having me.

    So, a lot of these extremist groups that are very strongly identity-based and focused on sort of toxic masculine identities are very focused on gender not as their primary interest, but as a secondary marker of identity.

    So, you see this in far right groups. You also see it in jihadist groups such as ISIS, where people who have nonconforming or unexpected kinds of gender presentations or sexual practice, sexual orientation, they face — really, it's a visceral kind of hatred.

    So, these groups will give you a rationale. They have justifications for what they do. They will talk about birth rates and gender, biological gender, and the sacred — sacred duty to procreate. But, ultimately, I think this is much sort of deeper and more visceral kind of hatred.

  • William Brangham:

    Do you have a sense, is there a connection here?

    We saw these types of attacks, and we also saw the racist attack in Buffalo. We saw Tree of Life and El Paso in years before that. Are those isolated acts? Or are there connections here?

  • J.M. Berger:

    There are definitely connections here.

    The temperature of the far and violent extremist right in this country has been rising. And what we're seeing is a real interplay between these fringe movements, such as Patriot Front or the Proud Boys, and more mainstream kind of far right outlets. What we see on FOX News or OANN, some of these new right-wing media outlets, are really, really alarming levels of rhetoric directed at LGBTQIA+ communities.

    And I'm using all of those letters because all of them are in the crosshairs here. Really, the language that we're hearing from purportedly mainstream kind of outlets is alarming and violent. And I'm very concerned about where this is going.

  • William Brangham:

    I mean, given that, that this has moved from the fringe, as you're describing it, to these more mainstream megaphones, that seems like it's going to make it very difficult to try to address them or to tamp this down or tamp it out.

  • J.M. Berger:

    It is much harder.

    So, I mean, a lot of the research and understanding that we have in this country about violent extremism is based on the idea that extremism is a fringe activity. So, a lot of the expertise in this area, including myself, to some extent, came up in the post-9/11 era of thinking about violent extremism as jihadism. And jihadists never had even a tiny constituency in this country.

    It was always a very marginal community. And so it was much easier to deal with, both from a perspective of sort of law enforcement and public safety, but also in terms of social — social safety, social hygiene, if you want to think about it that way.

    What we have now really is — we're looking at numbers that are 10 percent, 20 percent, maybe even 30 percent of the country who are in some way sympathetic to these views that are very regressive and potentially violent, as far as race and gender identity and sexual orientation.

    And this is — that's a big problem. It's metastasizing, and our ability to combat it is going to be really heavily dependent on a political process in this country that's very deeply broken.

  • William Brangham:

    Those numbers that you're describing of percentages of people who are sympathetic are shocking in some ways.

    As someone who has studied these movements, what is your sense, then, of the trajectory? Where does this go from here?

  • J.M. Berger:

    Well, there's — in my field, there are a lot of different views about what's going to come next, going from a very extreme view that there's, like, an impending new civil war in America to a more restrained view of the problem.

    But it's still very bad, looking at the trajectory of the country being something more akin to the Years of Lead in Europe or more akin to post-construction, Reconstruction era violence in this country.

    I think that it's almost inevitable that we're going to see increasing amounts of political violence and identity-driven violence, such as these texts we were talking about. And it's going to be a very difficult process to walk back from the precipice on this.

    And, really, I think what we see happen in the midterm elections in November and what we see happen in 2024 is going to be very determinative of how bad it gets.

  • William Brangham:

    Well, J.M. Berger, always good to see you. Thanks for this very sober analysis.

    Thank you.

  • J.M. Berger:

    Thank you for having me.

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