The War at Home: The Shooting at Club Q

After the shooting at Club Q several weeks ago I felt a familiar crushing sadness. I have spent the past 20 years thinking and reading and teaching about violence; its causes and strategies for prevention. But I have been silent on this type of violence. Its seemingly random, senseless horror has left me at a loss for words. It has left me feeling powerless.

But that is the point of these attacks, isn’t it? To disempower, to intimidate, to silence the people who believe we can and must share this country and this planet. Who believe that diversity enhances everyone’s lives.  I have struggled with saying something, because saying nothing feels unacceptable. But during the days I thought about how to respond to what happened at Club Q another mass shooting took place at a Walmart in Virginia. In fact, during the week before Thanksgiving there were seven mass shootings in the United States killing 22 people and injuring 44. For those of us who feel any empathy for the victims and survivors, there isn’t even time to grieve between assaults. That is the nature of war. And war is the only word that seems adequate to describe what we are living through today.

A National Crisis

The feeling that these attacks are random and senseless is deceiving. The violence we are experiencing is planned, set up, and the victims are targeted based on race, religion, gender, and gender identity. According to the Human Rights Campaign nearly 1 in 5 hate crimes in 2022 was motivated by anti-LGBTQ bias. The Department of Justice found that in 2020, 74% of hate crimes were motivated by race, ethnicity or religion. A recent study by the ESFGV showed that, between 2014 and 2019, two-thirds of the mass shootings in this country were linked to domestic violence.  And who are the shooters? Statista gathered data on mass shootings between 1982 and 2022 where three or more individuals died. They found that in almost every case the shooter was white and male.

Train a variety of tactical responses to a threat.

What drives this violence?  I think, in part, it is motivated by an increasingly apocalyptic worldview that sees the questioning of traditional gender roles and the acknowledgment of systemic racism as signs of national collapse. It is a worldview promoted by some right-wing conservatives to exploit the very real problems of poverty, homelessness, and a growing mental health crisis, into a toxic political base.

Words Matter

This campaign of fear-mongering and misinformation is being articulated by a relatively small group of powerful people who likely no more believe what they are saying than they care about the harm they are causing. If you look at who is fanning the flames, a shady and disgraced group of businessmen and politicians that include Donald Trump, Michael Cohen, Steven Bannon, and Jerry Falwell Jr., it is clear they are not examples of the conservative Christian values they claim to represent. They are a freakshow of bad behavior, motivated by power, control and greed.

A background performer in the freakshow is Christopher Rufo, a conservative activist and entrepreneur.[i] Rufo uses social media and fox news to gain access to politicians and is the architect of much of the inflammatory and misleading language associated with race and gender identity. He singlehandedly coopted the term Critical Race Theory and turned it into a battle cry to silence education and activism around racial equality. In the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, he assisted the Trump White House in drafting an order limiting how federal agencies could talk about race in diversity trainings. He supported Ron DeSantis in drafting the Parents Rights in Education Act in Florida (known by opponents as the Don’t Say Gay Act), which prohibits classroom instruction to young children on gender and gender identity and limits education with older children and teens. He uses the term “groomers” when referring to LGBTQ teachers and refers to schools as “hunting grounds.”[ii]

Rufo is not bound by the constraints of honesty. He intentionally misrepresents ideas and chooses inflammatory language for maximum impact. Critical Race Theory (CRT) is work that began in the late 1960s by social and civil rights scholars to examine how laws, social and political movements, and media shape and are shaped by conceptions of race and ethnicity.  The term ‘critical’ is meant to connote critical thinking, but as part of the co-opting of CRT Rufo implies that critical means critical of white people. He acknowledges his strategy to oppose CRT is to combine various race-related ideas to create a negative association. In his words: “We will eventually turn it (CRT) toxic, as we put all the cultural insanities under that category… the goal is to have them read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think ‘critical race theory.’ [iii]

He uses language like “grooming” and “hunting grounds” in relation to LGBTQ education to rekindle the false narrative of the gay pedophile and mobilize parents to fear and distrust the institutions and people who educate their children. Fear mongering has become so central to the discussion of gender identity that the supporters of the Parents’ Rights in Education Act also refer to it as the Anti-Grooming Bill. Ron DeSantis’ press secretary tweeted: “If you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you’re probably a groomer, or at least don’t denounce the grooming of 4 – 8-year-old children.” [iv]

Empowerment is the freedom to be yourself.
Connect with your power.

Weaponizing Democracy

As hateful rhetoric is normalized, hate crimes and mass shootings go up. The Gun Violence Archive, an independent data collection and research group that defines mass shootings as any shooting where four or more people are injured or killed, listed 372 mass shootings in 2015 and over 600 so far in 2022. A closer look at the shooters shows they usually come from unstable homes, have experienced bullying and/or other violence, have been exposed to right-wing extremist views, have a history of mental health problems and run-ins with the police, and have easy access to guns.

Due to newly expanded open-carry laws, we are living in an increasingly weaponized society. Guns are publicly being used to intimidate opponents and shut down debate. Proud Boys and other extremist groups are showing up with guns at rallies and demonstrations across the country. In Nashville, Proud Boys brought their guns to intimidate protesters at a rally where lawmakers spoke against making medical treatment available for transgender minors. Men with guns disrupted a Juneteeth festival in Franklin Tennessee. This month armed protesters gathered outside an election center in Phoenix claiming the election had been stolen from Trump’s handpicked candidate Kari Lake.[v]

This war against diversity has been years in the making. We have literally armed disenfranchised, angry young men with words and weapons. Today they are targeting their neighbors because of race, religion, and gender identity. Gunning them down in schools, universities, and places of worship. Terrorizing them in grocery stores, at parades, and at community gathering places like Club Q. Hijacking the safe havens that are the fabric of a healthy society.

But we know the road back to a more peaceful coexistence. We know the importance of schools and education and community centers. We know schools can be safe havens for kids with troubled homes. We know when kids experience or witness violence in their homes, they are more likely to become violent, but early intervention can turn that process around.[vi] We know anti-bullying programs work. We know diversity programs build understanding and appreciation for people from backgrounds different from our own. We know a lot about gender and how gender identity is formed.[vii] We know age-appropriate sex education is an important part of establishing a healthy gender identity and can help reduce sexual assault by normalizing conversations about sex and power and consent.[viii] We know community centers provide a sense of purpose and acceptance to people who might otherwise feel isolated and disenfranchised. We know mental health support is critical for people who have experienced trauma or are in crisis.

The Road to Peace

There is no quick fix to the problems we face. Solutions take commitment, time, and money. How to prioritize, implement and pay for solutions should be the dialogue of legitimate political debate. This blog is not a political endorsement of Democrats or Republicans. It is about identifying people with power that are not looking for solutions but exploiting serious problems for their own nefarious purposes, and the hostile and dangerous environment they are creating. The first step toward empowerment is knowing where the threat is coming from.

How we get out of our current political quagmire perhaps begins with reclaiming our individual power and voice. Naming and identifying the threat. Supporting non-profits and organizations who provide information, services, and community. Speaking up in our families, neighborhoods, and places of work. Getting involved in our children’s schools and supporting our teachers to do the vast and complicated job of helping raise healthy, informed children. Not allowing the rhetoric of violence to be louder than the voice of reason.

On Saturday, November 19th, Richard Fierro did his part. He risked his life to take down a gunman and save innocent lives at Club Q. He is a decorated veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That night he became a hero in the war at home. Most of us will never be called upon to act with that kind of courage, but we are called upon to do something. This blog is the first step for me in breaking the silence and reclaiming my own power to fight back.

Thank you for reading. Have a safe and peaceful holiday.

Feel confident defending yourself and your community.

[i] Wallace-Wells, Benjamin. “How a Conservative Activist Created the Conflict Over Critical Race Theory.” The New Yorker.  June 18, 2021.

[ii] Goldberg, Michelle. “Club Q and the Demonization of Drag Queens.” The New York Times. Nov. 21, 2022.

[iii] Meckler, Laura and Dawsey, Josh. “Republicans, spurred by an unlikely figure, see political promise in targeting critical race theory.” The Washington Post. June 21, 2021.

[iv] Gabriel, Trip. “He Fuels the Right’s Cultural Fires and Spreads Them to Florida.” The New York Times. April 24, 2022.

[v] McIntire, Mike. “At Protests Guns Are Doing the Talking.” The New York Times. Nov. 26,2022.

[vi] The following excellent resource for understanding how and why people become violent and how to interrupt the process.

Rhodes, Richard. Why They Kill: The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist. Viking Books, New York, NY. 1999.

[vii] There are many resources to learn about the biology of gender and what it means to be non-binary including:

The National Center for Trans Equality

The Human Rights Campaign

[viii] The following is an excellent resource for preventing sexual assault on college campuses.

Hirsch, Jennifer and Khan, Shamus. Sexual Citizens: Sex, Power, and Assault on Campus. W.W. Norton and Company, Inc. New York, NY. 2020.

1 comment

  1. ‘The first step toward empowerment is knowing where the threat is coming from.’ This is so important!
    Thank you for writing such a well-reasoned and informative post.

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