Court records obtained by the Associated Press Monday show the 22-year-old suspect is facing five murder charges and five charges of committing a bias-motivated crime causing bodily injury. Just a year prior, the man had threatened his mom with a homemade bomb, multiple weapons and ammunition.
Despite the appalling nature of the attack, after years of increasingly angry and at-times violent messaging from the political far right, many Coloradans and others in the broader LGBTQ community aren’t exactly surprised.
“As much as we are shocked by what happened, we’re not surprised, given the rhetoric that’s been happening across the United States in the last few years,” Colorado House Majority leader Daneya Esgar (D), and the co-founder of the state’s LGBTQ legislative caucus, said Sunday. “It’s been escalating.”
Political extremists have seized upon anti-LGBTQ messaging nationwide as a tactic to rile up voters in a bid to raise campaign funds, and ultimately, to gain power.
Research conducted by the Human Rights Campaign ahead of the 2022 midterm elections found candidates spent at least $50 million on political ads attacking LGBTQ rights and transgender youth.
Anti-trans and anti-equality ads ran in at least 25 states, spreading falsehoods about gender-affirming care and transgender children, and accusing the “radical left” of things like promoting “radical gender identity,” whatever that means.
Conservative media has also amplified the hate-filled obsession. Here’s a Media Matters clip, for example, of various right-wing figures who are convinced drag queens herald the end of civilization. It ends with Tucker Carlson urging viewers to “arm themselves.”
Much of the rhetoric can be traced back to a group of fringe politicians.
In the days following the passage of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill this August, anti-LGBTQ rhetoric surged more than 400% on social media. An HRC report at the time found just 10 people were responsible for two-thirds of the impressions on the 500 most viewed “grooming” tweets, resulting in more than 48 million views.
The group includes Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s press secretary Christina Pushaw, members of Congress like Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), and pro-Trump activists like “Libs of TikTok” founder Chaya Raicheck.
Boebert, whose district abuts Colorado Springs, tweeted after the shooting that the victims and their families “are in my prayers.” Given her long history of smearing LGBTQ people on social media, her sincerity was immediately called into question.
“Thanks for the ‘thoughts and prayers’ but that does nothing to offset the damage that you directly did to incite these kinds of attacks on the LGBTQ+ community,” responded Rep. Brianna Titone (D), Colorado’s first openly transgender state representative. “You spreading tropes and insults contributed to the hatred for us. There’s blood on your hands. Just resign.”
“The LGBTQ+ community woke up this morning to yet another horrific event of murder. When politicians and pundits keep perpetuating tropes, insults, and misinformation about the trans and LTBGQ community, this is a result,” she added. “I’m angry & my heart breaks for those who lost their lives.”
Despite the attacks, at a vigil Sunday at the All Souls Unitarian Church in downtown Colorado Springs, Colorado’s First Gentleman Marlon Reis sounded a defiant, even optimistic tone.
“Every single one of us deserves to feel safe in our communities. And last night wasn’t just an attack on an LGBTQ+ nightclub, it was an attack on the very values that we hold most dear across our state and across our country. It was an attack on freedom,” Reis said. “Colorado should be a place where every person can live their life in peace, be who they are, love who they want to love. And we will settle for nothing less.”