After lawyers for the suspected Club Q shooter said last November that their client identifies as nonbinary, right-wing media emphatically claimed that the massacre could not be a hate crime because of the shooter’s gender identity. But new evidence reveals the shooter has a history of pushing anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and was entrenched in far-right, neo-Nazi online communities — and a judge this week concluded there is enough evidence to proceed with hate crime charges.
On November 19, 2022, a person opened fire inside Club Q, a nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado, that primarily catered to the area's LGBTQ community. Five people were killed with another 26 wounded before the shooter could be subdued by patrons and taken into custody.
Despite little information being publicly known about the alleged shooter or their motivations in the aftermath of the massacre, right-wing media personalities were quick to deny that the mass shooting at an LGBTQ club could possibly be driven by hate. In fact, much of the initial coverage from both broadcast media and mainstream print and online outlets failed to properly connect the shooting to ongoing conservative and far-right campaigns of hateful anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.
In a court filing on November 22, 2022, the suspected shooter’s attorneys said their client is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns. Conservative outlets quickly seized on these details to further downplay and dismiss the idea that the Club Q shooting was motivated by bigotry.
But as more information has emerged, it is becoming clear that right-wing media capitalized on incomplete information to continue pushing their anti-LGBTQ agenda even after the shooting. In December 2022, NBC News reported that the FBI was investigating two websites connected to the suspect, one of which was described as a “free speech” forum that hosted racist and antisemitic content. NBC News and The Daily Beast also spoke to the alleged shooter’s former neighbor and friend who said they often made racist and homophobic statements.
Details in those reports were seemingly confirmed this week during a preliminary hearing to decide whether to try the alleged shooter for hate crimes. A police detective testified that the suspect ran a neo-Nazi website and frequently used racist and anti-LGBTQ slurs — they even sent a photo of a gay pride parade shown through a rifle scope to a friend over Discord. Following this hearing, the judge ruled that there is enough evidence to proceed with the hate crime charges. As MSNBC’s Alex Wagner noted on February 23: “The fact of the matter is sometimes hate speech does inspire hate crimes.”
Here’s a look at how right-wing media used the suspect’s gender identity in the wake of their arrest to argue that the Club Q shooting could not possibly be a hate crime.
- While discussing the shooter's nonbinary identity on November 23, 2022, The Federalist criticized the “left-wing media establishment” for connecting the Club Q shooting to violent anti-LGBTQ rhetoric from the right, adding that those outlets need “to have an actual ‘come to Jesus moment’ over their hysterical coverage that immediately fomented outrage, fear, and division by blaming their political opponents. Now that we actually have a few facts, their narrative appears to be falling apart.”
- Discussing the shooter’s gender identity and pronouns during the November 28, 2022, edition of One America News Network's Allison at Large, host Allison Steinberg said “the mainstream media continues to blame conservatives for trans hate and violence when the corporate media is twisting our words to their followers and the real hate and intolerance is being directed at conservatives, conspiracy theorists, and Trumpsters.” Steinberg later insinuated that LGBTQ individuals are engaged in “covert and overt attacks on the innocence of America’s children,” calling them “literal demons.”
- On the November 23, 2022, edition of OAN’s Real America, host Dan Ball scoffed at claims that anti-LGBTQ hatred could have influenced the shooter, instead deflecting responsibility to blame the victims: “Really, us telling you that ‘stop grooming our kids for the transgender agenda’ … and you can't figure out why a crazy guy like this guy went into a bar — who thinks he's, I don’t know, nonbinary — and shot up some of his own people, but it's our fault?” He later said, “You know what the Democrats are going to do with this one: It’s blame, blame, blame. Blame Trump. Blame Trump supporters. Blame America first. It’s what they do.”
- In a November 23, 2022, article, National Review denied the possibility of violent rhetoric having any role in the attack, stating that “left-wing activists and their allies in the press have been blaming the shooting on conservatives” even though “the shooter’s attorneys also describe him as ‘non-binary’ and preferring ‘they/them pronouns.’” Repeating more baseless anti-LGBTQ talking points, the piece continued, “It is grotesque to lay the blame for this shooting at the feet of the millions of Americans who have legitimate questions about children being exposed to drag shows or undergoing irreversible sex-change surgeries.”
- On the November 23, 2022, edition of War Room, far-right host Steve Bannon attacked mainstream media for blaming the “hard right,” “MAGA hate,” and “extremism” for the shooting. Conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec claimed the media changed the narrative about the shooter’s motivations once the suspect publicly declared they identify as nonbinary, and said, “We’re going to call it what it is. It is MAGA blood libel,” referring to an age-old antisemitic smear. Posobiec then went on a bigoted, anti-LGBTQ rant, saying, “It turns out it wasn’t Trump supporters. It was actually a nonbinary gunman — oh wait, we can’t say gunman any more.”