In May 1990, three men from Idaho had a dark idea: Phone in a bomb threat to the Seattle gay bar Neighbors-Disco, wait for the patrons to file into the alley outside and then detonate an explosive, resulting in what mastermind Robert John Winslow described as “fag burgers.”
And these creeps would have gotten away with it had it not been for Rico Valentino, a former professional wrestler-turned-FBI informant. Winslow and his sidekicks, Stephen E. Nelson and James P. Baker, were later found guilty of conspiracy and bomb possession on October 19, 1990, 27-years ago. It’s an incredible story, but not a rare one.
This terrible trio weren’t the first haters to attack gays and lesbians at their safe spaces: an unidentified assailant firebombed New Orleans’ Upstairs Lounge in 1973, killing 32. Nor would Winslow and Co. be the last.
Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph set off a homemade bomb at a gay bar in 1997; a man named Ronald Gay, angry over his tease-able last name, killed one and injured five after shooting up a gay bar in Virginia in 2000; and then there was last year’s horrific attack at Pulse in Orlando, an assault that ended with 50 dead bodies and may have been instigated as much by the shooters’ self-hate as homophobia.
But the thwarted 1990 Idaho attack is worth recalling today as the nation again faces a spike in white supremacy, seen so graphically and vividly in Charlottesville.
The Southern Poverty Law Center tallies just under 1,000 white supremacist groups operating in America today, about 300 of them formed just after Barack Obama’s election and many with chapters scattered across various states. These include old standbys like the Ku Klux Klan, newer groups like the so-called “American Freedom Party” and the oh-so-welcoming, 3000-strong “Assembly of Christian Soldiers.” Yeesh.
The Idaho incident bears remembering for another reason, too: That terrible trio didn’t want to kill just gays and lesbians. They hoped to wreak havoc among Korean, black and Jewish populations, as well. They had hate for all, equally — just like today’s white supremacists.
Winslow and his contemporary counterparts are bound together by their unequivocal hate for all groups and peoples who don’t fit into their rigid and narrow definition of “true Americans:” white, straight, Christian. It’s that hate that unites them; it’s therefore opposition to that hate that must unite us, their natural born nemeses.
We must always remember that when a person hates on us, they no doubt hate on others, too; if a person attacks a person of color or an immigrant or a Jewish person, either verbally or physically, it’s a fair bet that they’ll attack rainbow set, too.
While there was a time when I would say something like “Such groups are going to go the way of the dodo,” now, with the hater-in-chief in the White House, it’s clear we haven’t seen, heard or felt the last of white supremacist hate in America.
It’s therefore up to us to counter such hate with the most powerful weapon of all: Yep, love — but not love for these haters; love for one another, because whenever we deride a fellow LGBTQ person, or a person of color, or an immigrant, or a Jew, or anyone else based on their religion, creed, et cetera, we’re doing the white supremacists’ job for them.
And, let’s face it, we’re all too busy to be taking on more work.