News (USA)

FBI joins investigation of violent threats against St. Louis bars and a drag story hour

An FBI agent gathers evidence at the Armed Forces Career Center in Chattanooga, TN on July 18, 2015. An attack on the center was carried out on July 16th, 2015.
An FBI agent gathers evidence at the Armed Forces Career Center in Chattanooga, TN on July 18, 2015. An attack on the center was carried out on July 16th, 2015. Photo: Shutterstock

The FBI has joined the investigation of violent threats against three LGBTQ+ bars in the Grove neighborhood of St. Louis, and a fourth threat against a children’s play space in the city that was scheduled to host a drag queen story hour. NBC affiliate KMOV reported the addition of federal law enforcement to the probe.

Saturday afternoon, around 4 pm, at least two gay bars in the Grove entertainment district in the city received calls from an individual threatening violence at the establishments. Three bars in the area, Prism STL, Just John, and Rehab, all received calls threatening violence that night.

“The caller off the bat started talking about how they were the Joker, and they were going to blow up the bar, send bombs and shoot up everybody,” Prism bartender Jordan Cox told the Riverfront Times. Cox said it sounded like at least two other people were on the line with the caller.

Just John bar owner John Arnold said he received a voice mail about the same time.

“It said they were going to come in at 3 o’clock in the morning and shoot the place up,” Arnold says. “And that they were tired of us ‘faggots.'”

The same voicemail mentioned a Just John staffer by name, whom the caller said he liked. “They told us to make sure he wasn’t there,” said Arnold.

KMOV reported the FBI is also investigating threats against a children’s play space in the South City area called Urban Fort. The owner said they’ve received violent threats and have been forced to increase security and change the date, time, and location of a scheduled story time hour featuring a drag performer.

“Apparently, the federal government is involved at this point, as well,” Prism owner Sean Abernathy told the Riverfront Times. He says that around midnight on Saturday, St. Louis police showed up with members of law enforcement who looked like they worked for agencies other than St. Louis police.

Since September, the FBI has been on heightened alert for violence directed at LGBTQ+ plus establishments, groups, and events. A threat assessment distributed in the weeks before the Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs in November warned that hate crime perpetrators and violent domestic extremists may increase threats against the LGBTQ+ community “due to their reactions to legislative or socio-political changes related to LGBTQ+ topics, and conspiracy theories involving the LGBTQ+ community.”

The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department said in a statement, “The investigations remain ongoing.”

“It’s frustrating,” Prism owner Abernathy told KMOV, “because we’re just people trying to be ourselves, trying to enjoy our lives. We’re not out to hurt anybody, but it feels like it’s a lot of people out to hurt us.”

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