FBI, DHS warn terrorist orgs could target Pride month events

close-up of a crumpled and dirtied LGBTQ pride flag on the ground in the aftermath of a Pride parade
(Photo: Adobe Stock)

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have issued a Public Service Announcement warning about Pride month events being targeted in the U.S. by foreign terrorist organizations. Increased threat levels domestically included recently documented instances of homophobic and transphobic threats.

The joint PSA released on May 10 is “to provide awareness to the public of foreign terrorist organizations (FTOS) or their supporters potential targeting of LGBTQIA+-related events and venues. Foreign terrorist organizations or supporters may seek to exploit increased gatherings associated with the upcoming June 2024 Pride Month,” said the FBI and DHS.

The announcement added that the threat is “compounded” by the “current heightened threat environment” in the U.S. due to recent events in the Middle East. In addition, some far-right antagonists in the U.S. like Libs of TikTok’s creator Chaya Raichik, who has fomented campaigns against Planet Fitness for their trans-inclusive locker room policy has led to some bomb threats to the fitness chain.

Media Matters reports that “the account Libs of TikTok directs the anti-LGBTQ+ outrage of a large audience toward individual people and institutions, authoring posts that are regularly followed by harassment and threats of violence,” making Raichik a primary orchestrator of anti-LGBTQ+ violence and terroristic threats.

Media Matters said, “Harassment and threats of violence against at least 48 institutions, events, or individuals have followed incitement from the social media account.”

Domestic terrorism like that spawned by Raichik is on the rise — according to the FBI — and so is anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric from the GOP, MAGA groups and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

The FBI and DHS stated, “FTO efforts to commit or inspire violence against holiday celebrations, including Pride celebrations or LGBTQIA+-related venues, are compounded by the current heightened threat environment in the United States and other western countries. FTOs and their supporters have previously promoted anti-LGBTQIA+ rhetoric and targeted LGBTQIA+ related events or venues for attacks.”

These threats could come online, in person or in the mail, according to the FBI and DHS. The agencies noted several points that propelled them to make the public announcement.

Back in February 2023, English language ISIS messaging featured an article focused on anti-LGBTQIA+ rhetoric “and rallied against the growth and promotion of the LGBTQIA+ community.” 

That same issue “called for followers to conduct attacks on unidentified soft targets,” although the attacks and targets were not specific to LGBTQIA+ venues.

They also cited that June 12, 2024 marks the eighth anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida and that anniversaries are a prime target for terrorist attacks. The Pulse shooting was the second most deadly mass shooting in the U.S., killing 49 and wounding 53 people at the popular gay venue, nearly all of whom were LGBTQ+, including a Philadelphia teenager who had just graduated from high school.

The FBI and DHS explain that “after the Pulse shooting, pro-ISIS messaging praised this attack as one of the high-profile attacks in Western countries, and FTO supporters celebrated it.”

In 2016, ABC News reported that while there’s no evidence that ISIS directed or had prior knowledge of the Pulse Nightclub attack, the shooter did call 911 after the shooting began to pledge his allegiance to ISIS.

In their PSA, FBI and DHS also said that in June 2023, “three alleged ISIS sympathizers were arrested for attempting to attack a Pride parade in Vienna, Austria, using knives and a vehicle as part of the attack, per open-source reporting.”

RANE, a global risk intelligence platform, noted about that attack in 2023, “The recently disrupted plot against Vienna’s Pride Parade on June 17 — in which local Islamic State sympathizers planned to attack the LGBTQ+ celebration — is either a good example of security services doing their job well or a concerning reminder of the persistence of the Islamist terrorist threat to the West.”

Javed Ali, the former senior counterterrorism director on the National Security Council, told ABC News that members of the LGBTQ+ community have long been the target of terrorist groups.

“LGBQTIA+ members have drawn the ire of al-Qaeda and ISIS supporters in the past based on their perceived lifestyles and beliefs,” Ali, who is now an associate professor at the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy. “However, the degree to which this announcement was driven by specific and credible intelligence about attacks here against this community, versus a more general abundance of caution based on Pride month, remains unclear.”

Probing security measures at events, photography of security and unusual questioning about event security are all telltale signs that an attack might be planned, the FBI warned in their announcement.

Last year, experts warned against canceling Pride events because of the threats they received. Target reportedly received bomb threats following a Pride collection backlash. Extremism experts and LGBTQ+ advocates warned last year that removing merchandise could be seen as a success by anti-LGBTQ+ extremists and violent protesters which could lead to copycat behavior threatening the LGBTQ+ community.

GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a media statement that Pride events “bring communities together” and that safety remains a priority for all LGBTQ+ gatherings.

“A fringe few extremists, domestically and overseas, are irrationally threatened by the rising tide of acceptance for LGBTQ people,” Ellis said. “It is important to keep Prides safe for all attendees, and for people to keep showing up during Pride and throughout the year to speak up for the equality and safety of their communities and all marginalized people.”

To report a threat, contact your local FBI field office (https://www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices), your closest international office (https://www.fbi.gov/contact-us/international-offices), or call 1-800-CALL-FBI. You can also report suspicious activity to the Department of Homeland Security at dhs.gov.

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