A drag queen who performed at the Idaho Pride event targeted by white nationalists in June is suing a right-wing blogger who doctored footage of his performance to falsely claim he had exposed himself to children. Even though the video was swiftly debunked by local news, right-wing media — including Libs of TikTok’s Chaya Raichik and others who initially helped drive harassment against the Pride event — pushed the edited footage, leading to abuse against the performer.
On June 11, police in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, arrested 31 members of the Patriot Front near Pride in the Park, a planned Pride event. Authorities said evidence showed the white nationalists, who had gathered at the park from across the country, were planning to riot at the event and in multiple areas around the town. Patriot Front has a history of anti-LGBTQ actions, including burning trans pride flags and vandalizing a memorial for the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated it as a hate group.
The event was also targeted by a far-right biker group that announced it was holding an event nearby at the same time as Pride in the Park, with organizers saying there were “going to be going after the groomers” while alluding to possible violence.
One of the performers at the event was Eric Posey, whose drag name is Mona Liza Million. Following Pride in the Park, right-wing blogger Summer Bushnell posted footage from Posey’s performance that blurred his crotch. In her posts, Bushnell erroneously claimed Posey had exposed himself to minors and called for her audience to report the video to police. The video, which was debunked by local news two days after the event was held, led to harassment against Posey after it went viral on social media. Now Posey is suing Bushnell, claiming she defamed him in an effort to gain popularity as part of the nationwide effort to malign LGBTQ people and Pride Month events.
A key instigator in manufacturing outrage over the event was Chaya Raichik, who runs the social media account “Libs of TikTok.” Raichik not only targeted Pride in the Park after Idaho-based white nationalist Dave Reilly called for her to do so, but she also helped spread Bushnell’s video weeks after it had been debunked by both the media and authorities. On July 31, Raichik retweeted a tweet with Bushnell’s video and calling Posey a “pedophile,” with Raichik adding, “This is what a ‘family-friendly’ drag show looks like.” Commenters reacting to Raichik’s post falsely accused Posey of being a “groomer” and “pedophile,” while others threatened extreme acts of violence against him, including multiple threats to castrate him.
Although the tweet she quoted was later removed for violating Twitter’s rule on hateful conduct, Raichik’s tweet was never deleted.
Raichik was joined in sharing the doctored video by anti-LGBTQ trolls including right-wing podcaster Liz Wheeler and Gays Against Groomers, with the latter writing, “If gay rights do get rolled back, it will only be because of things like this.”
The renewed social media pickup of the doctored video led to an article published by right-wing blog Post Millennial headlined “Drag queen accused of exposing self to children at 'family friendly' Pride event.” The article promoted conspiracy theories that antifa was involved in targeting the Idaho Pride event, and the header for the article included a still from Bushnell’s video, with the edited video embedded.
The Idaho Family Policy Center, a right-wing Christian nonprofit that partners with extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom and multiple other anti-LGBTQ organizations, posted a petition on September 8 denying law enforcement’s debunking of the video and claiming it had “reviewed the unedited footage and can confirm it portrays public exposure of the performer’s genitalia.” Included with the petition, which called for drag performances to be banned from taking place around children, was a still from Bushnell’s video. The petition remains active as of publication date.
Far-right conspiracy theory outlet Infowars posted an article also featuring a still from the doctored video. The article suggested the targeting of the event by Patriot Front was “a federal false flag operation” and criticized the “mainstream media” for “ignoring a potential child sex crime occurring at the very same event.”
The article cited a press release from the local sheriff’s department saying police were investigating the video. The announcement came after a local outlet had already debunked the claims and released the unedited video, and despite law enforcement officials acknowledging that their investigation stemmed entirely from reports by individuals who had seen Bushnell’s doctored footage and none of whom had seen the performance in person. The stunt culminated on July 1 with the city prosecutor stating what had been demonstrated weeks earlier — Posey had not exposed himself.
Disregarding available evidence, right-wing media widely used the release to push the false narrative and disseminate the doctored footage. Stephanie Hamill, a contributing writer for Media Research Center and ambassador for Turning Point USA, tweeted Bushnell’s video while adding that the “dancer's genitals were reportedly exposed on the main stage with children viewing the ‘dance.’”
Right-wing author Janie Johnson tweeted a link to the video to her nearly 200,000 followers, attempting to excuse the white nationalists who targeted the event and writing, “Wonder what ticked the Idaho dads? This drag demon exposed himself to children.”
The incident is nearly identical to another manufactured controversy pushed by right-wing media in which an edited photo of a drag performer reading to children at a library in 2019 was blurred and paired with the claim that they were exposing themselves to children. That smear, too, was quickly debunked, which did not prevent the ensuing harassment and an attempt from lawmakers to strip libraries of their funding.
The targeting of Posey and the broader attacks on Pride in the Park followed an escalating campaign of harassment against drag and Pride Month events that falsely accused participants of abusing children. This harassment, and the escalating rhetoric of maligning LGBTQ people as groomers, has largely been enabled by the failure of social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook to adequately handle the targeted harassment.