Earlier today, I spent a good chunk of time combing through the right-wing media. I was hoping to get a handle on how the conservative movement was responding to the nationwide backlash that’s followed Indiana Republican Gov. Mike Pence’s decision to sign a so-called religious liberty bill that critics see as anti-gay. What I discovered while reading and listening to the hot takes of the American right may shock you. It turns out there’s a specter haunting the United States today. It is a militant gay rights movement, which some conservatives call “homofascism,” and it is fearsome indeed.
According to people like right-wing talk radio personality Tammy Bruce (who identifies as lesbian), homofascism’s power and its boldness are both on the rise. “For me, as a gay woman, it remains shocking,” she told Fox New’s Tucker Carlson, who once bragged about assaulting a gay person. “The gay liberals have turned into bullies,” Bruce fretted, “when our work is to stop that kind of behavior.” She compared these bullies to fascists and a pack of wolves. Carlson looked on and listened, his face racked with concern.
Fearsome as it may be, homofascism’s goals are not clear. Onetime governor and possible presidential candidate Mike Huckabee theorized its ultimate goal is an America where there are “no more churches” and “no more people who are spreading the Gospel.” The criticisms and boycotts directed Indiana’s way, Huckabee added, are “a classic example” of the kind of tyranny depicted in “1984,” George Orwell’s landmark novel. “In the name of diversity, there’s uniformity,” he said. “In the name of acceptance, there’s true discrimination.”
The once-segregationist National Review’s Kevin Williamson, meanwhile, took a break from dehumanizing trans people and comparing African-Americans to primates in order to proffer his own explanation of the homofascist menace. “[T]he expansion of the state, and the consequent diminution of private life,” he wrote, is the “principal objective” of statists, among whom the homofascists surely rank. “[A]n unthinking, inhumane preference for uniformity, consistency, regimentation, and conformity” — this, he claimed, is what animates Pence’s critics. He warned that “men with guns,” dead-set on enforcing homofascim’s “dictates,” may be on the horizon.
Granted, to those outside the conservative movement, this all might sound overheated. In fact, it might even seem offensive, considering how actual, real-life fascists treat LGBT people today, and how they treated them in recent history. But as is so often the case with the contemporary conservative movement, historical knowledge, however minimal, is an impediment to a greater truth. Sure, the last Republican president campaigned on amending the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage; but that, apparently, was a long time ago, in a country far, far away.
Nowadays, you see, the oppression all true freedom-loving individuals must abhor is more insidious. It’s more diffused. It’s less apparent. And it sometimes involves dough, tomato sauce and cheese. Because rather than focus on how tens of millions of LGBT Americans still lack basic legal protections, liberty-minded conservatives right now are focused on a family-owned Indiana pizza joint named “Memories Pizza,” which on Wednesday became a focal point of national outrage.
“Memories Pizza” is run by the O’Connor family, who brought a screeching halt to their lifetime of blissful anonymity this week by telling a local news reporter that they would refuse to serve their pies at a hypothetical same-sex wedding. “That lifestyle is something they choose,” said the owner, Kevin O’Connor, referring to LGBT people. “I choose to be heterosexual,” he added. “They choose to be homosexual. Why should I be beat over the head to go along with something they choose?”
As anyone familiar with the Internet might imagine, the O’Connors’ position was not well-received. By the end of the day, “Memories” had temporarily closed its doors. The reason, they said, was because they were receiving too many orders that were either fake or threats. How a pizza order could be a threat, exactly, was left unclear; but there’s no doubt that the O’Connor family felt the wrath of the Internet at peak-outrage, which can be terrifying and profoundly upsetting.
While the O’Connors surely felt besieged, the conservative media wasn’t about to make them fight against homofascism all on their own. A contributor to the aforementioned Tucker Carlson’s website, the Daily Caller, accused the local reporter who found the story of endangering the O’Connor’s “safety.” Duly informed, conservative tweeters took care of the rest. And by the next day, right-wing Americans had donated more than $100,000 to the family via GoFundMe.
But will free money and a bullhorn from Fox News be enough to fend off homofascism’s advance? Only time can tell. Arkansas’s Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson certainly did not provide conservatives with much reason to be optimistic; he refused to sign a bill much like Indiana’s, after the real ruler of his state, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon expressed his disapproval. Then again, most of the GOP’s 2016 candidates still support Indiana’s bill and measures like it. There may be time yet to exorcise this malevolent homofascist spirit.