Last weekend, 66-year-old San Bernardino resident Laura Ann “Lauri” Carleton was shot and killed in front of her store in Lake Arrowhead, California. She is survived by her nine children. Her alleged killer was a 27-year-old man whom she confronted while he tried to tear down the Progress Pride flags in front of her shop.
The man who pulled the trigger against Carleton was later killed in a fatal shootout with police, but the people who helped load his brain with homicidal rage remain free. Nobody is born full of fury at the Pride flag. This rage was learned.
Angry rhetoric about the Pride flag has been unavoidable in the right-wing media ecosystem in 2023. The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh — whom the alleged shooter retweeted and interacted with on X.com (formerly Twitter), along with conservative media personalities Jordan Peterson and Benny Johnson — called it a “hate symbol” that should be treated with “disdain.” Walsh's colleague Michael Knowles laid out a plan to make the Pride flag politically toxic and have it banned “from every public space forever,” calling it “evil.” Shortly thereafter, the entirety of right-wing media joined in having a meltdown over the flag hanging at a White House Pride Month celebration. Turning Point USA leader Charlie Kirk told his audience at the end of June that walking past a Pride flag felt like being in “conquered territory.”
In response to misinformation that Italy had canceled Pride Month to celebrate the “traditional family” instead, the alleged killer wrote, “Hallelujah!!!! Jesus is good!!!” He shared a similar reaction to an article in far-right conspiracy theory outlet The Gateway Pundit reporting that California’s Orange County had banned the Pride flag from being flown on county property.
Imagine being an unstable, angry young man in America in 2023, struggling financially, begging strangers online for money, unable to afford a home. You log into the internet looking for connection, attention, distraction, and instead an algorithm spoon-feeds you an unending string of lies with a consistent villain. You’re told that “mediocre male athletes” are taking over women’s sports, that transgender people are stealing scholarships for the higher education that’s become increasingly necessary but also increasingly unaffordable, that they’re threatening women in bathrooms and locker rooms. Then you’re told that the same people, and their supporters, are indoctrinating the next generation, abusing them, “castrating” them, removing healthy body parts, and leaving them ruined for life. You hear this nearly every day.
You’ve never met a trans person, don’t know how few trans athletes there really are, don’t know how many steps are required before ending up on the operating table, don’t know how rare surgical regrets or even these surgeries are, don’t know how common it is for trans people to avoid bathrooms from fear, don’t know that trans people are far more likely to be the victims of a violent crime than its perpetrators.
All you know is what you have been told by the people who validate your anger and your violent impulses: that the flag of this movement is the flag of the enemy; that it is the role of strong men to do something about it; that your life could mean something.
“This tactic is not going to solve anything,” the alleged shooter wrote on X, in response to a meme suggesting dividing the “TIQA+” community from the “LGB” community. “Where you are cutting off the legs of the octopus and can grow back another one. KILL THE OCTOPUS!!”
Gun ownership is ubiquitous in the United States. The consequences of this fact combined with right-wing media’s anti-LGBTQ hate campaign are predictable. We will all bear the costs — children grieving their mother, parents grieving their child, friends grieving their friends, an empty desk in the classroom, an empty seat in the pews — until we decide to do something about it. We do not have to live like this. We do not need to die like this.