You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation
Spreading Hate

A Pizzagate in Every City

These conspiracy theories were once fringe. Now they’re being fueled by Republicans and driving far-right anti-LGBTQ violence.

Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post/Getty Images
Comet Ping Pong in Washington, D.C., which was the focal point of the Pizzagate conspiracy theory

After threats made against Pride events by far-right actors in Idaho and Arizona over the past few weeks, a group whose leader calls herself a “Christian fascist” and others with ties to white nationalist groups targeted a Pride event in Dallas on Saturday.

“I wonder if the mama bear instinct is gonna come out in three years when the mainstream Democrat[ic] party platform is to rape their kids,” John Doyle, an influential figure in the white nationalist American Populist Union, taunted the families with kids lining up to get into the event, a family-friendly drag show at the queer club Mr. Misster in the Dallas gay neighborhood of Oak Lawn.* Two children stood in line a few feet away from the approaching Doyle, plugging their ears with their fingers as he continued to yell at those in line through his megaphone. A crowd surrounded the club and chanted, “Groomer! Groomer!” One person waved a Christian flag. “The fist of Christ will come down on you—very soon,” screamed one man, with a rosary clenched between his fingers.

From the idea that children inside this venue were being abused, and that such abuse was part of a plot by Democrats, to the call to internet provocateurs to record their own evidence, as well as the false claims of child rescues made by those promulgating these conspiracy theories, the attack on Mr. Misster called to mind the same fears—if not the same threat of gun violence—as the assault on Comet Ping Pong in Washington, D.C. In 2016, a man motivated by the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory arrived at the restaurant with a rifle to “rescue” children from a nonexistent sex trafficking ring supposedly orchestrated by prominent Democrats.

Now, a little more than five years later, 25 percent of Republicans identify as believers of the Pizzagate successor QAnon, and the far right’s capacity for street violence has grown. At the same time, where once most elected Republican officials would at least nominally distance themselves from Pizzagate-pushers out on the fringe, that wall has largely eroded. Across the country, GOP lawmakers have waged a legislative crusade targeting queer and trans kids, smearing opponents as “groomers,” language that rhymes with the “pedophile” claims that inspired the attack on Comet Ping Pong. And where once the targets of these conspiracy theories were largely confined to a select group of Democratic lawmakers and their allies, the fearmongering—amplified by Fox News and prominent conservative social media accounts—is now targeted at all LGBTQ people, from national figures to members of your local community. The stage is set for a Pizzagate in any city.

The target on Saturday was an early afternoon Pride event, featuring a drag show geared toward families. “We are more than happy to open our doors to celebrate Pride in a family friendly, safe environment, separate from our normal operations,” said a representative for Mr. Misster in a statement, “because we believe that everyone should have a space to be able to celebrate who they are.” On May 30, the Libs of TikTok Twitter account posted about the upcoming event, including the date and location. Operated by a Brooklyn real estate agent named Chaya Raichik, Libs of TikTok now has more than one million Twitter followers. The post about the Dallas event was part of a longer “MEGA DRAG THREAD,” full of drag performance videos and Drag Queen Story Hour flyers with dates and locations. The next day, a new far-right group called Protect Texas Kids shared the Libs of TikTok post and called people to join it in opposition to the family-friendly drag show. What the group described as a protest appeared to consist largely of yelling abuse at the event’s attendees, with some reciting sidewalk prayers reminiscent of anti-abortion groups outside clinics and some directly threatening people, even as they left the event. A little more than 48 hours later, Tucker Carlson was airing footage of these confrontations.

The far right were met by community members in low-key, Pride-inflected black bloc attire—black masks and rainbow bandanas, a trans pride flag or two. They blocked them and protected attendees and performers. After one man followed what looked like a small group of adults and children trying to get away, he was surrounded by others who chanted, “Leave the kids alone.” They also surrounded and shouted down a man trying to get inside the event, while he was yelling, “They’re going to groom a bunch of children!” in the Mr. Misster doorway. He, too, followed a performer to a parking lot and also yelled at a child there, “You should be ashamed of yourself, little man, you don’t deserve to have to go to a gay bar.” Later that night, as journalist Steven Monacelli reported, an incident that police categorized as “terroristic threats” of an “anti-homosexual (gay and lesbian)” nature was reported by bar owners in the same neighborhood.

Videos posted by the Elm Fork John Brown Gun Club, who describe themselves as “a non-political mutual aid collective” who organize community defense against white supremacists and fascism, captured these scenes. One had more than a million views on Twitter.

At the same time, the people there to confront the Pride event pushed out their own videos, sometimes of identical moments. Some of them made it inside with their cameras, shooting videos that misrepresented the drag performers as threatening children, while making threatening comments of their own. One who interrogated a drag performer captioned his video, “These groomers need to be exposed for what they are.” A woman who shot some video inside the bar tweeted later, “This Summer is Slaying Groomers Summer.”

The group who organized this confrontation, Protect Texas Kids, is the new project of Kelly Neidert, who manages communications for the University of North Texas chapter of the Young Conservatives of Texas in Denton. Neidert has called herself a “Christian fascist,” as Steven Monacelli and Jack Wheatley reported in The Daily Beast, and her campus group has hosted a leader in the white nationalist “Groyper” movement. She also hosted a campus event with Jeff Younger, an anti-trans Republican candidate for the Texas House of Representatives, who came to prominence on the right for attempting to block his daughter’s access to gender-affirming care, and who ultimately failed on both counts. At a pro–trans rights demonstration outside the event, a University of North Texas police car accelerated through a group of protesters and hit one of them, a trans man.

With her new group, Neidert says, “we will host protests of clinics that do “gender-affirming care for minors and school districts/teachers who teach LGBTQ propaganda and CRT!” Protect Texas Kids is a friendly-sounding vehicle with which self-avowed Christian fascists in Texas can go into LGBTQ community spaces, armed with video, and claims to be there to “investigate.” All this expands on a now-common playbook: produce local events antagonizing queer and trans people, then go on Fox News, Newsmax, and other right-wing media outlets to put the videos in front of an even broader audience.

The confrontation at Mr. Misster on Saturday attracted assorted far-right personalities who starred in and produced their own videos. Some of them have already been the subject of researchers like Ben Lorber at Political Research Associates and journalist David Neiwert. John Doyle, who yelled about rape at children through a megaphone, has organized a Stop the Steal rally with Nick Fuentes, was a special guest at the white nationalist America First PAC conference in 2022, and is a leader in a group called the American Populist Union; he was in attendance at its 2021 event billed as “Hitler Youth, Without the Hitler.” (Kyle Rittenhouse says he is a Doyle fan.) Alex Stein was one of the men trying to get inside while yelling, “They’re going to groom a bunch of children!” and recording himself. Dubbed a “QAnon stunt troll” by D magazine, Stein is most known for videos of him trying to rap at municipal meetings and his appearances on Tucker Carlson’s show.

Given these existing connections, videos from the event made by far-right content creators—some confronting attendees and performers—were widely picked up across right-wing social media, by people including Andy Ngo, Benny Johnson, and Pizzagate promoter Jack Posobiec, who shared a video of one drag performer, instructing his followers to contact the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services. When some of these same videos made it to Tucker Carlson’s show Monday night, he introduced the segment saying, “Just another weekend in Weimar”—selectively airing the moments when adults yelled back at people like Doyle accusing them of abuse or when other adults used their bodies to block men from forcing their way into the event. All this was used to portray the people threatening the Pride event as the victims.

The street confrontation to video to Fox to Republican Party pipeline took only a little more than two days to complete. By Monday, Texas Republican state Representative Bryan Slaton cited the Protect Texas Kids attack on the Dallas event in his announcement to introduce “a bill to ban drag shows in the presence of minors in Texas.” A Florida state representative pledged to follow suit. U.S. Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert voiced their support. By then, Protect Texas Kids had already moved on to a new target: an LGBTQ-affirming church on Sunday—and the group has already announced several more plans to protest LGBTQ spaces this month.

What we are already seeing this Pride season is alarming, but it did not come out of nowhere. It is a continuation of campaigns targeting drag queen story hours. It is fed by Republican attacks on queer and trans kids in state legislatures across the country. And it is coordinated, by people on the far right who have names and specific movement affiliations. As these threats continue, as they generate yet more videos of confrontations, they also may give heft to the lie that supporting LGBTQ youth is grooming and that queer community spaces are commercial settings for child abuse. No Republican would say, the Pizzagate shooter had a point. But now, based simply on videos of deliberate confrontations with kids at Pride events, they are happy to co-sign.

* This article originally misstated the name of the Dallas neighborhood where the confrontation took place.