FBI warns of potential threats to Pride Month events

FBI Director Christopher Wray. (Photo via the FBI’s Facebook.)

Citing the rising numbers of violent threats primarily across the digital landscape online including emailed bomb and death threats, officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Homeland Security Investigations have issued warnings that foreign terrorist organizations or their supporters are targeting the LGBTQ community during Pride Month.

In a notice released on May 10, the FBI and HSI warn that efforts to commit or inspire violence against LGBTQ celebrations, including Pride celebrations or other LGBTQ-related venues, are compounded by the current heightened threat environment in the U.S. and other Western countries. 

The FBI and HSI noted that June 12 marks the eighth anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla., during which the attacker killed 49 people and wounded 53 others. 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. There are concerns that instances like the Pulse anniversary could spark a violent attack.

In addition to the threats posed by off-shore groups, increased threat levels domestically including recently documented instances of homophobic and transphobic threats exemplified recently from reporting by multiple media outlets regarding Libs of TikTok’s creator Chaya Raichik, who had initiated an ongoing campaign against Planet Fitness, demanding a boycott in retaliation for the gym’s transgender-inclusive locker room policy.

At least 53 locations of Planet Fitness have reported hoax bomb threats in recent weeks; the threats were primarily reported through emails, and in some cases, phone calls, continuing what has become a trend of violent threats against institutions targeted by Raichik. 

Raichik has a long documented history of fostering anti-LGBTQ animus through her posts which in turn has led to what NBC News, Media Matters, the SPLC, the Washington Blade, and others documenting Raichik’s anti-LGBTQ acts of arguably stochastic terrorism.

In February, NBC News Technology Reporter David Ingram, detailed bomb threats and violent threats inspired by Raichik’s social media posts. NBC News identified 33 instances, starting in November 2020, when people or institutions singled out by Libs of TikTok later reported bomb threats or other violent intimidation. 

During his April 11 testimony on Capitol Hill, FBI Director Christopher Wray issued a warning to lawmakers telling a House subcommittee that there is a growing fear among law enforcement officials of possible “coordinated attack” inside the U.S. telling committee members that a “lone-wolf” attack promulgated by events in Middle East are the agency’s overarching worry.

Speaking with the Blade on background, a senior FBI official noted that Pride events in locales other than major urban settings, particularly the largest Pride gatherings in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and D.C., which have a traditionally large police presence, smaller cities and towns are at elevated risk.

In an emailed statement, the FBI said it has, in general, observed an increase in threats of violence targeting institutions like hospitals and schools.

“As a country and organization, we have seen an increase in threats of violence targeting government officials and institutions, houses of worship, schools, and medical facilities, just to name a few. The FBI and our partners take all threats of violence seriously and responding to these threats ties up law enforcement resources.

“When the threats are made as a hoax, it puts innocent people at risk, is a waste of law enforcement’s limited resources, and costs taxpayers. The FBI and our state and local partners will continue to aggressively pursue perpetrators of these threats — real or false — and hold them accountable,” the FBI statement said.

Reacting to the elevated threat levels in a statement, GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis said:

“A fringe few extremists, domestically and overseas, are irrationally threatened by the rising tide of acceptance for LGBTQ people. 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.”

The FBI is asking that Pride event planners, organizers, and others be aware of possible indicators of potential threat activity:

  • Violent threats made online, in person, or via mail.
  • Unusual or prolonged testing or probing of security measures at events or venues.
  • Photography of security related equipment, personnel, or access points consistent with pre-operational surveillance without a reasonable alternative explanation.
  • Unusual surveillance or interest in buildings, gatherings, or events.
  • Attempts to gain access to restricted areas, bypass security, or impersonate law enforcement officials.
  • Observation of or questions about facility security measures, including barriers, restricted areas, cameras, and intrusion detection systems without a reasonable alternative explanation.
  • Eliciting information from facility personnel regarding the nature of upcoming events, crowd sizes, busiest times of day, etc., without a reasonable alternative explanation.
  • Attempts to enter a restricted area, bypass security, or impersonate law enforcement officials.

The National LGBT Media Association represents 13 legacy publications in major markets across the country with a collective readership of more than 400K in print and more than 1 million + online. Learn more here: NationalLGBTMediaAssociation.com.

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