The worst mass shooting in American history comes in the midst of a frenzied culture war. In North Carolina, a legislative battle is unfolding over who exactly should be permitted to use which bathroom stall. Many on the Christian right are still reeling over the supreme court’s decision a year ago to compel the states to allow gay marriages, something they see as trampling on their religious liberty.
In the aftermath of Orlando, hard-edged religious conservatives are facing a dilemma. How can they call for a redoubled assault on “radical Islam” without drawing attention to their own homophobic history?
Jim Hoft, a longtime hard-right blogger also known as the Gateway Pundit, thinks he has the answer. Yesterday, Hoft revealed that he was gay on Breitbart news and argued that it was time for gay people to “come home” to the conservative party. He wrote: “I can no longer remain silent as my gay brothers and sisters are being slaughtered at dance clubs. There is only one man who can lead this nation and protect all gays and all Americans. His name is Donald Trump.”
Hoft claims that he was driven to the announcement by the Orlando massacre in the Pulse nightclub.
He told the Guardian, “If there is an enemy of homosexuality today, we can look at the Middle East. There we see countries where it’s still illegal. We’ve seen the horrific pictures of them throwing gays off the roof in Syria and Iraq, and they believe they’re doing this out of some Islamic connotation. Certainly radical Islam is a severe threat to gays in the west.”
Hoft’s announcement came as a surprise to both friends and foes. Previously he had only been out to friends and family, and liberal bloggers had even accused him of homophobic political activism. In staking out this position, he showed one way conservatives might move to reconcile anti-gay politics with the exigencies of the war on Islam.
This is a tactic also used by politicians in office, even presidential candidates. Last November, with the primary in full swing, Republican contenders Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal all appeared at the Freedom 2015: National Religious Liberties conference. There, they shared a stage – and participated in question and answer sessions – with “Christian Reconstructionist” pastor and radio host Kevin Swanson, who advocates the death penalty for homosexuality.
In the dying days of the Cruz campaign, when he was the last viable opponent to Donald Trump, the Texas senator ran hard on trans people’s use of bathrooms as an issue. Yet in a statement on Sunday, he challenged Democrats to “speak out against an ideology that calls for the murder of gays and lesbians”.
When asked about the apparent contradiction between campaigning against LGBT rights and railing against Democrats for failing to defend them, Cruz’s office would not speak to the Guardian directly. In an email, spokesman Phil Novack wrote: “All life should be valued and defended. Cruz’s opposition to the policies of changing marriage laws or keeping men from using women’s bathrooms does not disqualify him from being a voice in opposition to the cold-blooded murder of innocent Americans.”
Their deflecting strategy? Turn attention from American homophobia towards Islam.
“Redirection is a good word for it,” says Frederick Clarkson, longtime analyst of the Christian right, and a fellow at Political Research Associates. “[The Orlando perpetrator] was a homegrown terrorist. But he has sufficient background that they can turn the entire narrative to being about Islam, foreigners and foreign countries.”
But this effort at redirection may not be wholly convincing coming from those who have built careers on demonising LGBT people. And this is where gay conservatives come in.
Hoft cites alt-right celebrity Milo Yiannopoulos as another who is working to reframe the conversation in a way that opens a door between gay communities and the right. In the wake of Orlando, Milo tweeted that “as a gay person, the scariest words you will hear are ‘Allahu Akbar’”. The phrase means “God is great” in Arabic; Yiannopoulos is playing on its association with terrorist acts.
“I thought that was an intelligent tweet.” Hoft says. “Milo has become a prominent voice in conservative circles.”
He’s hoping that people like himself and Yiannopoulos can encourage gay people to “come home” to conservatism, and offer their full-throated support to a continued war on terror.
Of course, many LGBT activists think that this misses the point. The killer was American, and what we need to face up to is the pervasive and escalating homophobia in US society, rather than trying to pin it on some outside actor.
Chase Strange is an attorney who works for the ACLU and with LGBT detainees seeking bail. Over the weekend, he sent out some tweets indicating his belief that this violence has a particularly American character.
“Right now, we’re living in a moment of escalated vitriol targeted at queer and trans communities and communities of colour,” Chase said. He points to the increasing violence meted out to trans women, and especially trans women of colour, all of which has happened outside the spectacular circumstances of a mass shooting.
“How are we creating a climate where this sort of violence is fostered?” This kind of critical introspection holds no attraction for the emerging salesmen of an anti-Islamic gay sensibility.
Hoft says: “I think when you don’t identify the enemy directly, you’re opening the door for future attacks because you haven’t been able to describe the problem. Barack Obama has been unable to describe the problem and the dangers we are in.”
This lines up perfectly with the script being run by Trump, who has put down Obama’s reluctance to blame radical Islamism to political correctness.
Hoft, you will have guessed, is a Trump supporter: “There’s an opportunity this year. Donald Trump is certainly a different kind of candidate.”
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