A Small Town’s July 4 Parade Has Been Upended By Right-Wing Culture Warriors

The parade’s planning committee selected a local retired Marine to be grand marshal. Then the threats came pouring in.
Illustration: Damon Dahlen/HuffPost; Photos: Getty

When the city of Friendswood, Texas, announced on Facebook that hometown hero Haley Carter would be the grand marshal for the town’s famed Fourth of July parade, the post was peppered with excited comments. Carter, who was in the Marines and is a retired professional soccer player, was just the type of person residents wanted to see lead the parade.

Then the right-wing culture warriors showed up.

Conservative radio host Jesse Kelly tweeted the same day that Friendswood had appointed a “gun-grabber” who is “into drag” and “trans activism” to lead the parade. Kelly is from Ohio, ran a failed congressional campaign in Arizona, and now hosts his radio show from nearby Houston. “Communists are in blood-red areas too,” he wrote.

Soon, excited Facebook comments were accompanied by screenshots of Kelly’s tweets about Carter, some of which included a picture of her young son. She began receiving threats.

On paper, Carter seems like the kind of person conservatives who claim to love the military would support.

She attended the U.S. Naval Academy and served two tours in Iraq after graduating in 2006. She played in the National Women’s Soccer League for the Houston Dash and served as an assistant coach for the Afghanistan Women’s National Football Team. She has an MBA and a law degree.

But Carter is also an outspoken supporter of gun reform in her home state of Texas. She serves as the chair of the Mayor’s Commission Against Gun Violence in Houston, and in the wake of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, she wrote a letter demanding Texas leaders act on gun reform. She also regularly takes her son to drag events and once surprised him with a trip to Las Vegas to meet his favorite drag queen.

Just two days after she was announced as grand marshal, Carter officially stepped down from the role. No one will replace her.

The city told HuffPost that Carter had “voluntarily stepped down after receiving threats of harm to herself and her family.” (When reached by HuffPost this week, Carter said she was traveling and unable to comment.)

“If right-wing reactionaries are willing to threaten violence over a parade, how far will they go?”

The July 4 parade in Friendswood, a city of roughly 35,000 people about 25 miles from Houston, has been a tradition for 130 years. The Fourth of July Steering Committee, which is made up of community members appointed by the City Council, picks the grand marshal.

Carter was chosen because she’s a native and has a long record of service, the city told HuffPost.

“Haley embodies everything the uniquely American holiday represents. Freedom. Independence. Love of country. In other words, the perfect Fourth of July grand marshal,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a statement. “Unfortunately, some have threatened violence against Haley and her family because of her strength, her belief in equality, and her leadership in trying to reduce gun violence here in Houston.”

Theoretically, if you were so offended by children seeing drag queens, you could just not take your own child to drag shows. But that’s not enough for the likes of Kelly and the hordes of people who follow his lead.

The Friendswood parade is important to the people of the town, but it’s not exactly a national referendum. Haley Carter being the grand marshal of an Independence Day parade shouldn’t be a controversial appointment. And if right-wing reactionaries are willing to threaten violence over a parade, how far will they go?

It’s all a part of an alarming new trend. Conservatives are harassing people out of jobs, like the white parents who chased a Black woman out of two education jobs or the Oklahoma teacher who resigned after parents objected to his TikTok about supporting LGBTQ kids.

Carter was harassed out of participating in the parade, but there were no consequences for the people who launched the attacks. In fact, Kelly bragged about his successful hate campaign.

“If you’re looking for someone to blame, Mayor, you should know that it’s me who did this,” he said in response to a tweet from Turner. “I stopped your communist friend from representing a great community. Welcome to The New Right.”

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