Weeks before a gunman opened fire on unsuspecting patrons at the Club Q nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colo., this past weekend, killing five people and leaving at least 17 wounded, the FBI had warned law enforcement nationwide about increased threats to the LGBTQ community, documents obtained by Yahoo News show.
A situational awareness bulletin issued Monday by the Colorado Information Analysis Center notes that the FBI alerted law enforcement partners in a report on Sept. 28 about “the expected increase in threats to the LGBTQ+ community throughout the remainder of 2022.”
According to the Colorado bulletin, which was widely distributed across the country in the aftermath of Saturday night’s shooting in Colorado Springs, the FBI report warned that hate crime perpetrators and domestic violent extremists may increase threats against the LGBTQ community “due to their reactions to legislative or socio-political changes related to LGBTQ+ topics, and conspiracy theories involving the LGBTQ+ community.”
The FBI declined to comment, citing its policy of not discussing products that are not public.
The Colorado bulletin and other documents obtained by Yahoo News provide new information that seems to support concerns raised by advocates about anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and conspiracy theories driving an uptick in threats against members of that community over the past several months. The documents also indicated that such threats have continued to increase since the shooting on Saturday.
One intelligence bulletin, published Sept. 13 by the Delaware Valley Intelligence Center, similarly warned that racially motivated violent extremists were “very likely to disrupt and protest LGBTQIA+ events and drag performances” in the Philadelphia regional area, “posing a threat to public safety.”
Another counterterrorism bulletin issued Monday by the New York State Intelligence Center noted that social media users on multiple domestic extremist platforms had been making violent threats against the LGBTQ community in the wake of the shooting in Colorado Springs. In some cases, the bulletin notes, the authors of those threats were “citing the pervasive conspiracy theory that members of the LGBTQ+ community are pedophiles, and recommending that these types of shootings become the norm.”
Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, is currently being held on murder and hate crime charges in the attack.
Police have yet to identify a motive, and few clues have been gleaned so far from the digital footprint left behind by Aldrich, who, according to the Washington Post, petitioned as a teenager to legally change his name in 2016 following an online bullying incident.
John Cohen, former DHS acting undersecretary of intelligence and analysis, told Yahoo News that while there is more to learn about the Colorado shooting, “it is beginning to appear that this is another in a growing list of mass shootings by an angry, disaffected, socially disconnected individual from a troubled family who exhibited the same warning signs other shooters have exhibited.”
“One has to wonder how many mass casualty attacks have to occur before we acknowledge that our approach to preventing mass shootings has to change and that traditional counterterrorism investigative strategies are inadequate to address the current threat facing the U.S.,” he said.
Advocates were quick to connect the Colorado Springs shooting, which took place on the eve of Transgender Day of Remembrance, to the broader anti-LGBTQ push from conservatives over the last two years.
“When politicians and pundits keep perpetuating tropes, insults, and misinformation about the trans and LGBTQ+ community, this is a result,” Colorado state Rep. Brianna Titone, the state’s first openly trans legislator, tweeted Sunday.
Kevin Jennings, CEO of Lambda Legal, a legal advocacy organization focused on the civil rights of LGBTQ people, said in a statement: “America’s toxic mix of bigotry and absurdly easy access to firearms means that such events are all too common and LGBTQ+ people, BIPOC communities, the Jewish community and other vulnerable populations pay the price again and again for our political leadership’s failure to act.”
Republicans across the country have passed laws banning transgender youth from participating in sports, have attempted to purge books by LGBTQ authors from schools and libraries and have promoted legislation that bans gender-affirming care for youth. Medical centers, particularly Boston Children’s Hospital, have faced repeated bomb threats due to gender-affirming care services.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, state lawmakers around the country have introduced 344 anti-LGBTQ bills in the past year alone, 25 of which have passed.
Some Republicans began tying the term “groomer” to the LGBTQ community in March in relation to Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” law, a vaguely worded statute — which prohibits teachers from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity with children in kindergarten through third grade — that critics say targets LGBTQ teachers.
The term used to describe tactics that have long been employed by sexual abusers has emerged as a popular buzzword on the political right, where it’s been wrongly conflated with discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity. Earlier this year right-wing activists and social media accounts applied the “groomer” label to the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention and crisis intervention program for LGBTQ youth.
Conservative media members and politicians have had a particular focus on drag shows, leading to an increase in threats. Businesses that host drag shows have been firebombed, while members of right-wing extremist groups like the Proud Boys have targeted drag queen story hours at libraries. Last month armed protesters showed up at a drag storytelling event in Oregon.
The New York State Intelligence Center bulletin circulated Monday notes that the Colorado Springs shooting is “the latest in a string of attacks targeting the LGBTQ+ community by both domestic violent extremists (DVEs) and homegrown violent extremists (HVEs).”
Most recently, a gay bar in New York City has been attacked at least four times since October, with three of those incidents occurring in the past week.
In the lead-up to November’s midterm elections, Republicans ramped up the anti-trans rhetoric in their campaigns. Organizations supporting GOP candidates, including one led by former Trump White House adviser Stephen Miller, spent millions targeting trans youth with radio ads and mailers. The NAACP called on stations to pull one of the ads that falsely claimed the “Biden administration is pushing radical gender experiments on children.”
“This is playing to the lowest common denominator of hate and otherizing, targeting the LGBT community,” the organization’s president, Derrick Johnson, told Politico. “When you create this type of negative reaction to individuals who [don’t] present any societal grief, you only create space for people to feel justified for attacking them physically and through public policy.”
In a letter sent to Attorney General Merrick Garland last week, 36 members of Congress called for him “to outline the steps the [Justice] Department is taking to counter anti-transgender threats of violence occurring online and in person and to provide further guidance to health care providers on how to protect their staff and patients from such threats.”
Some Republicans like Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert, a prominent proponent of the kinds of antigay and anti-transgender tropes that have become popular on the right, have faced backlash for attempting to condemn the violence in Colorado Springs that, critics say, they helped fuel.
Others, meanwhile, have continued pushing anti-LGBTQ narratives.
Republican Herschel Walker, campaigning in the Dec. 6 runoff Senate race in Georgia, released a new ad targeting trans athletes on Monday. Walker has made opposing trans participation in sports a key plank of his campaign against Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock.
The intelligence reports issued after the Colorado shooting indicate that the threats against the LGBTQ community aren’t slowing down.
According to the bulletin issued Monday by the Colorado Information Analysis Center, since the deadly shooting in Colorado Springs, users on social media platforms including Gab, 4chan, Telegram and Twitter have praised the attack on the club and encouraged further violence against the LGBTQ community.