On October 15, The Donut Hole in Tulsa, Oklahoma hosted an event organized by a local artist dubbed “The Queens Dirty Dozens” where drag queens handed out donuts to customers. That night, the restaurant was vandalized, with its windows and door smashed, forcing the business to close for the next day. After reopening, the business announced an event for Thursday, November 3, where drag queens would hand out 300 free donuts in a token of their appreciation for their customers. That event has now been canceled after a man in a red baseball hat smashed the glass door with a wooden baseball bat before throwing a Molotov cocktail into the empty store. On the front door of the business next door, he’d left an anti-LGBTQ screed.
Right-wing media have focused obsessively on drag shows in recent months, falsely claiming that they represent a threat to children, and to civilization, and that mere political action is not enough to stop them. It is not unreasonable to suggest that their audience has been listening.
A recent segment on Jesse Watters Primetime made the disturbing claim that drag shows are held in part in an effort “to change the mainstream opinion of fringe sexual activity including, but not limited to, sex with children.” A segment the next night on Tucker Carlson Tonight claimed that drag queens “want to sexualize children, they want to subvert the middle-class family, and they want to basically eliminate what they called the sexual hierarchy in favor of creating a sexual connection between adult and child which has of course long been the kind of final taboo of the sexual revolution.”
Both segments featured Chris Rufo, the dangerous right-wing propagandist behind last year’s panic about “critical race theory” who, in a manner suggesting fondness for the villains of James Bond films, seems unable to resist tweeting out his diabolical plans in full view of the public. That includes an apparently abandoned plan to reframe drag queens as “trans strippers” because of the term’s “more lurid set of connotations.”
Other prominent members of right-wing media have joined in on fueling panic about drag queens, including The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh, who recently ranted that “this doesn't stop until police are breaking down the doors at these places and carting the adults away in handcuffs” and compared drag shows to cancer, arguing that “just like cancer, stopping it is not a gentle or a painless process. The farther along the cancer is, the more aggressive you have to be in fighting it.”
The “cancer” comparison seems popular with the staff of The Daily Wire, where a recent manifesto by editor Ben Shapiro raised that comparison before claiming that drag events represent a civilization-level threat paving the way for acceptance of gay marriage and trans people (what horrors!) that cannot be combated through politics alone.
Of course, some evidence is necessary to convince their audience of these extraordinary claims. Earlier this year, multiple large right-wing media accounts shared a video of a drag queen that had been doctored to suggest that he was exposing himself to children. The drag queen is suing, but the damage has been done.
Incidents of anti-LGBTQ demonstrations, propaganda dissemination, and violence jumped from 15 events in 2020 to 61 in 2021, according to data collected by Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project. 2022 is on track to be even worse than last year. Multiple drag events this year were disrupted by the white nationalist Proud Boys gang after the events were publicized by anti-LGBTQ social media accounts including Libs of TikTok. 31 white nationalists with the group Patriot Front were arrested with riot gear and alleged plans to create violence at a Pride event in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. An LGBTQ nightclub in Brooklyn was the site of an arson attack earlier this year, and a bakery in the Chicago suburbs was allegedly vandalized for holding a drag event by a member of the Proud Boys.
Right-wing media have continued doubling down on their rhetoric. A recent Walsh rally aimed at stopping gender-affirming health care for young trans people drew a crowd that included Proud Boys and at least one sign holder calling for the murder of doctors. Walsh has defended political violence in the past, saying that “if you want extreme change, you must take extreme action.”
One of the cornerstones of our modern society is the notion of tolerance, the idea that discomfort with the personal expression of another person is not grounds to cause them harm. But the right-wing media ecosystem is hard at work convincing listeners that anyone whose traditions and preferences differ from theirs is, in fact, a threat to them and their children. An election result with which they disagree becomes grounds to riot. A drag queen handing out donuts becomes cause for vandalism. Clicks go up, and our open democracy begins to fall apart in the name of a way of life that never really existed.
“We are approaching,” Walsh told his audience of nearly 3 million followers on Twitter and YouTube recently, “ ... a terminal state, which means we have to be all the more aggressive.”
After the first act of vandalism, The Donut Hole started a GoFundMe to help with expenses.