Thu Jul 11, 2024
July 11, 2024

U.S. Gov’t ‘Warns’ Pride with a Racist Threat

By RUSS O’SHEA

On May 10, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) put out a joint public service announcement warning that foreign terrorist organizations could target Pride month events. The PSA listed three examples of alleged ISIS connections to anti-LGBTQ hate, including one reference to the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting, which saw the mass murder of 49 and injury of 53 at a gay club in Orlando.

Eight years after Pulse, why is this example being revived now? Why is this PSA being sent to the American people now, when in previous years (such as the year immediately following the Pulse shooting) it was not? The head of the FBI points to Palestine. Testifying before the House Appropriations Committee, FBI Director Christopher Wray noted, “There was already a heightened risk of violence in the United States before Oct. 7. Since then, we’ve seen a rogues’ gallery of foreign terrorist organizations call for attacks against Americans and our allies. And given those calls for action, our most immediate concern has been that individuals or small groups will draw some kind of twisted inspiration from the events in the Middle East to carry out attacks here at home.”

While Hamas was not explicitly named in the report or testimony, the reference to Oct. 7 makes clear that the FBI has Palestinian Liberation forces in mind. In fact, Wray’s comments coupled with the joint PSA may be a subtler refitting of the “Hamas is ISIS” rhetoric that Israel attempted to popularize (including with a social media campaign) following Oct. 7. Since Israel is a huge boon to U.S. interests in the Middle East, the U.S. government will do everything in its power to maintain the current dynamic, including recycling old enemies, if it aids the campaign to crush opposition to an ongoing genocide.

Pro-Palestine activists in the U.S. are already being accused—without evidence—of having connections to Hamas, including in a lawsuit that describes two Pro-Palestine groups, American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), as “agents” of Hamas. These are both popular U.S.-based social justice organizations that many people who care about the Palestinian cause join as a way to get involved with non-violent actions like marches and rallies. The notion that these groups are subservient to Hamas is a stretch, to say the least.

Moreover, the implication that anyone in support of Palestinian liberation is an “agent of Hamas” is dangerous; it opens the door to their repression. This is especially alarming during a period of intense and nationally coordinated repression of campus-based Palestine activists.

In addition to fanning the flames of Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism, the PSA seeks to capitalize on the same logic as the lawsuit; it creates a pretext to target attendees of pride events expressing support for the Palestinian struggle. Queer activists and community members as well as those in solidarity with Palestine should see this move for what it is—an effort to divide our movements at a time when we are all under attack and should be coming together to fight for our collective liberation.

It is no secret that many Queer people are already organizing and mobilizing against the genocide of Palestinians. At virtually every Palestine protest, Queer people are making themselves visible, and Palestinian flags and keffiyehs can be seen at virtually every pride event. It is unusual not to see some overlap between these forces in organizing spaces.

Some have pointed out that while Palestinians face a genocide through military means, trans people in the U.S. face a genocide through the elimination of our rights to things like necessary medicine and basic participation in society. Queer communities are a huge pool of people with which solidarity with Palestinians can be established—which is alarming to the state. The ruling class would like to isolate each of these movements because it knows and fears the power of a working class united in action.

It is noteworthy that the forces that most commonly target pride events and terrorize Queer people—the far right and police—are not even mentioned in the report. Yet these forces, in addition to Zionists, are those who will be most emboldened by the statement to attack peaceful expressions of pride and solidarity–in their minds, to serve out “vigilante justice” a la Kyle Rittenhouse.

At UCLA a Zionist mob, some among them recognized as frequent counter-protesters of pride events, attacked a peaceful gathering in solidarity with Palestine. Police looked on (and laughed) as this took place, just as they looked on when a right-wing mob attacked pro-LGBT+ parents at a Glendale, Calif., school board meeting to recognize June as Pride Month. These examples are reminiscent of the police’s unresponsiveness to violence at Club Q in Colorado Springs, when two gay veterans disarmed a right-winger who had gunned down five and injured many more at a gay club.

The contradiction of what violence gets addressed by the police was also brought to the fore at the University of Texas Austin during a Palestine rally. As a multi-agency force appeared in riot gear to repress the rally, cries of “Who failed Uvalde? DPS!” echoed through campus in reference to the police-enabled slaughter of elementary school children. In all cases, the police have shown they side with violence against the oppressed rather than try to stop it.

The police are well established enemies to both the Queer and Palestinian liberation movements. It is well known that NYC Pride—today one of the largest pride events in the world—began as a series of riots against police brutality following a police raid of the Stonewall Inn, a renowned Queer haven. The Queer Liberation March, which sought to revive the militant spirit of the Stonewall Rebellion and has historically had large Palestinian contingents, was brutally attacked by police in 2020 when fears grew of the movement embracing the banner of the George Floyd Uprising (and again in 2021).

Events such as the Queer Liberation March raise the demands of “no cops, no corporations” because of their acknowledgement of their incompatibility with Queer (or any) liberation. The “no cops” demand in particular comes from the concrete experience of police brutality at Queer events and spaces; for decades Queer people have advocated against police presence at pride events. Unfortunately, as has already been announced in places like Houston, the effect of the PSA will be an increased police presence, which will put Queer people at additional risk of violence. The ruling class, amidst a brutal nationwide repression campaign on college campuses, is readying the baton again to attack Pride events, applying the “outside agitator” rhetoric to both spheres but this time dialing up Islamophobic undertones with mention of “foreign terrorism” in relation to the Middle East.

The invocation of the terrorism label is also noteworthy in that it is used to repress other movements that have a direct connection to Israel, such as Stop Cop City and struggles for Indigenous rights. Stop Cop City activists have raised again and again the fact that U.S. police are trained alongside the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) via programs such as Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange (GILEE). In another example, IDF crowd-control methods, such skunk water, are used on Indigenous and environmental activists. Charges of domestic terrorism and racketeering (RICO) are becoming favorite tools of the ruling class to punish and deter participation in these movements.

The powers that be are not looking to protect Queer people, nor their right to peaceful assembly, by putting out statements like the May 10 PSA. If that was their goal, why has the Biden administration done nothing to meaningfully challenge the unprecedented onslaught of anti-LGBTQ attacks his administration has presided over? Instead, the ruling class licks their lips looking for examples to use the LGBTQ+ community as a tool to portray Muslim and Arab communities as backwards and anti-Queer—to use one oppressed sector of the working class to justify the oppression of another.

Israel, and by extension Israeli apartheid, benefits from this Islamophobic rhetoric by counterposing itself to surrounding Middle Eastern nations as a haven for Queer people, even having Queer-themed birthright programs to draw unaware youth into the lie. But Israel’s image as a paradise for the LGBTQ+ community is a complete fabrication, as those who raise the banner of “no pride in apartheid/no pride in genocide” are quick to point out. To point to one contradiction, it is a well established cultural phenomenon that, since gay marriage is illegal in Israel, same-sex couples travel to Cyprus to get married.

Like those in the United States, pride events in Israel are regularly attacked or threatened by right-wing forces. In 2005, Yishai Schlissel stabbed marchers at Jerusalem Pride. After serving a 10-year prison sentence, he returned in 2015 to the same parade and repeated the same crime at the same spot, this time killing 16-year-old Shira Banki. In 2023, the Jewish-supremacist organization Lehava advocated for a “Deadly Thursday” entailing the mass slaughter of marchers via machine-gun fire, burning, and bombs.

A figure as prominent as the National Security Minister of Israel, Itamar Ben Gvir, is a supporter of these forces, having been “once at the forefront of the extremist protests against the parade before gaining responsibility for the police force and for the march’s security arrangements.” Calls for his removal in this role were rejected despite his track record which includes attending Lehava-led counter protests up to 2019 and providing legal representation for Schlissel’s brother Michael who helped mastermind the stabbing attacks.

This year, Jerusalem Pride announced it would be carried out both as a pride event and as a call to free hostages in Gaza, with the slogan “Born to be Free.” But this messaging rings hollow as Palestinians have for generations been imprisoned and punished with the most inhuman brutality for expressing their basic desire for freedom. Queer Palestinians especially are targeted by the IDF as potential informants, threatened with outing and torture if they do not comply.

Meanwhile, IDF soldiers decked out in rainbow flags make posts on social media to show they take “pride” in murdering Palestinian civilians, contributing to a televised genocide. The pervasiveness of the delusion around the slaughter cannot be understated; in Israeli school settings, more guns appear on desks than laptops as students take courses covering subjects such as mindfulness while killing.

Corporations who have business dealings with Israel turn around and paint themselves as allies during Pride Month to make a buck off yet another oppressed community. In order to maintain the flow of profit, these companies try to make Pride a corporate charade rather than an expression of and expansion upon a long history of struggle. This whitewashing or “rainbow-washing” is part of an internationally occurring effort to erase our history and deactivate Queer communities politically in favor of a mass complacency.

The activation of Queer communities in the streets put on display during the gay liberation struggle must reemerge and the movements for Queer and Palestinian liberation must overcome the divisive rhetoric and join forces. At the same time, this movement must reject attempts by the state to quell freedom of speech in the streets and on the campuses. Neither Israel, nor the U.S. government, are allies of Queers or Palestinians. It’s time to raise the banner of liberation in our own name, independent from any party of the police or the businesses that profit off our plight.

No amount of appealing to the political parties carrying out the genocide will bring about change; instead, the masses must be mobilized in the streets, where their power can really be felt. As was seen in the case of the Vietnam War, a mobilization of millions will create a crisis for the ruling class and force them to bow to the demands of the people.

Stand against Islamophobia! No to rainbow washing! No pride in genocide! Queer liberation now! End all U.S. aid to Israel! For a free, democratic, secular Palestine, from the river to the sea!

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