Jurisprudence

The Conspiracy Theory at the Center of the Far Right’s Violence Against LGBTQ+ People

Several men seen from the back wearing baseball caps and white head coverings kneel on the grass in handcuffs surrounded by police in riot gear
Police guard a group of men arrested near a Pride event in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, on Saturday. KXLY via Reuters

On Saturday, police arrested 31 members of the white nationalist organization Patriot Front for allegedly plotting an attack on a Pride festival event in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. In the aftermath of the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the group has become a muscular presence at anti-government and anti-abortion events. Its rise to prominence is fueled by its fascist aesthetic and the aggressive project announced on its online platform: to “reclaim America” for members of the “European race.”

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The thwarted attack on a Pride festival and the subsequent mass arrest of Patriot Front members calls attention to a broader feature of the contemporary far right: its widespread hostility toward LGBTQ+ communities. In 2020, for instance, the memorial to the homophobic mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, was defaced by Patriot Front stickers.

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This hostility is not new, nor is it accidental. Instead, it reflects the far right’s deepest anxieties over an increasingly diverse nation, rooted in lurid fears over race and reproduction.

At the center of the far right’s homophobia and transphobia lies the same conspiracy theory that led to the killing of 10 Black shoppers at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, in May. These seemingly disparate episodes of violence are connected by a single narrative of white population panic: the “great replacement” conspiracy theory.

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The simplest version of this narrative maintains that white people are being “replaced” as ethnic majorities within their own nations by nonwhite people. This process of population change is not, however, viewed as unintentional. Replacement theory holds that these changes have been intentionally engineered by political elites who seek economic or political gain through expanded immigration. And these demographic shifts are ultimately traced back to the declining birthrates of white majorities who view the nation as their birthright. Because birthrates have declined throughout the Global North, white populations simply cannot keep up with the higher fertility rates of nonwhite competitors.

What makes this narrative particularly toxic is how these racial fears reflect the belief that white people are under attack. The far right persistently maintains that white populations have been specifically targeted for displacement, conveyed by those who describe ongoing population change as “white replacement,” “white extermination,” or “white genocide.”

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As a result, the extreme right increasingly commits itself to a single imperative: saving a “white nation,” which requires an increase in white birthrates. Far-right forums regularly ask, for instance, “How would we bring about a white baby boom?” And before his death in 2002, the white supremacist William Pierce pressed this imperative in clear terms: “We either start having and raising more healthy White babies, or we die. Our race dies. Our country dies.”

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White nationalist groups, therefore, regularly condemn any practices believed to suppress the production of white children. For instance, “miscegenation”—the creation and birth of mixed-race babies—is treated with particular venom. Because interracial reproduction is deemed to “co-opt” white reproduction, it is widely described on the far right as “race treason” or “bedroom genocide.” As a result, the white supremacist Kevin Strom judges miscegenation to be a crime “far worse than mere murder” since it “kill[s] infinite generations of our future.”

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The far-right obsession with white birthrates extends to nonreproductive sexual practices. As the planned attack on the Coeur d’Alene Pride Festival shows, the far right bears the same hostility toward homosexuality as it does toward interracial couplings and immigration.

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Homosexuality is often condemned by white nationalists as a refusal to produce the children needed to restore a majority-white nation. This far-right logic operates in brute terms. “Two women cannot produce Aryan children any faster than two men can. … It does not matter if you are two men or two women together. It is still a crime against nature and treason against the movement,” writes a white nationalist organization, Women for Aryan Unity. This homophobia goes beyond condemning same-sex unions for a perceived dereliction of reproductive duty. More broadly, the far right targets the increased representation of LGBTQ+ relationships in popular culture, often described as part of a “gender ideology” pushed by cultural elites to indoctrinate younger generations and sabotage white reproduction.

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This long-standing hostility toward homosexuality has recently given way to a virulent campaign against transgender people. For much of the far right, the existence of transgender people is viewed as an even deeper blow to the nation’s reproductive future. At bottom, movements for gender autonomy are meant to uproot what far-right figures consider the biological foundation of the white nation: two genders, assigned by nature, that lead to reproductive outcomes. And, in a deeper sense, transgender identities are viewed as a frontal assault on the very foundations of human nature, destabilizing not only gender but all the hierarchies that are meant to be written into our nature.

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To heighten the panic, movements for trans acceptance are persistently described by the far right as part of a plot by the “transgender-industrial complex”—a diagnosis based in antisemitic fantasies over a Jewish conspiracy to undermine white population growth. For this reason, the forums of the extreme right have fixated upon the definition of what is a woman, a talking point that seeks to secure gender identity at an essential, biological level. This polemical question has spread more broadly in public culture as the premise for a recent anti-transgender feature-length film.

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It is no accident, then, that the Patriot Front targeted the Pride Festival for public violence. The far-right panic over population change has led white extremists into obsessive concern over sexuality, gender, and reproduction. To halt “white decline” and restore a white nation, they view reproduction as the deepest front on which a battle for the future must be fought. This battle is conducted not only through enhanced reproductive rates by “pure” whites, but also against all the perceived enemies of white reproduction.

This racial panic over reproduction poses a significant threat to democracy. The homophobia and transphobia of the far right has seeped into the mainstream Republican Party, yielding a wide array of anti-LGBTQ+ policies in recent months. The recent “groomer” campaign, for instance, led multiple state legislatures to propose bills prohibiting discussion of LGBTQ+ issues in primary schools. A wide variety of states have enacted legislation to restrict gender-affirming care for children. And many states have amplified these measures by limiting trans children playing sports on teams of their identified gender. Ultimately, this upsurge in anti-trans activism has not emerged out of thin air. It is fueled by the commitments of the extreme right, which views LGBTQ+ communities as an existential threat for a future white nation.

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