Metro Weekly

Is the Club Q Shooter ‘Trolling’ by Claiming to be Nonbinary?

Suspect's former friend and neighbor claims Anderson Lee Aldrich never identified as nonbinary or used they/them pronouns prior to shooting.

Anderson Lee Aldrich

A friend of Club Q assailant Anderson Lee Aldrich, who allegedly killed five people and injured at least 19 others when they opened fire on an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs last month, claims that Aldrich expressed hatred towards the LGBTQ community and suggested that Aldrich may be “trolling” the LGBTQ community by claiming to be nonbinary.

Speaking with NBC News, Xavier Kraus, who says he lived in the apartment next door to Aldrich and Aldrich’s mother from August 2021 to September 2022, says he believes that Aldrich’s claim of being nonbinary — which Aldrich’s lawyers have repeated in court — is “a total troll on the community, and a total troll on the system.”

According to Kraus, Aldrich never used they/them pronouns with him, or even mentioned being nonbinary, despite the fact that they had been close friends until just a few months ago, when they had a falling out. Aldrich, Kraus says, frequently made racist and homophobic statements, saying they “hate faggots,” but he chose not to confront them because Aldrich was a “very angry person” who owned guns.

“I think it’s an insult to those people that are actually going through personal struggles with their own sexuality and their own personal identity,” Kraus said of Aldrich’s purported nonbinary gender identity. He suggested that because Aldrich is unlikely to avoid conviction, due to the evidence against them, so they are “going to make it as much of a show and a mockery and just confusing for everybody involved.”

“That definitely seems like Andy, 100%,” Kraus said.

Lawyers for Aldrich, who was charged with 305 criminal counts — including first-degree murder, attempted murder, assault, and at least 48 counts of committing crimes motivated by anti-LGBTQ bias — earlier this month, claim their client identifies as nonbinary and requested that the 22-year-old defendant be referred to with they/them pronouns.

However, during court proceedings, those same lawyers frequently used he/him pronouns when referring to their client — an inconsistency questioned by NBC News, to which Aldrich’s attorney never responded. 

Additionally, a separate report by NBC News revealed that FBI agents have been investigating two websites allegedly created by Aldrich as a forum-type “free speech” site containing anonymous posts utilizing racist and anti-Semitic memes, language, and videos. A video on the homepage of one website, titled “Wrong Targets,” advocates for killing civilians as part of a larger effort to “assassinate the elites at the top” and “cleanse” society.

A link reading “Visit Our Brother Site!” directs to a webpage with links to four short videos, each uploaded in two different formats, that were posted in the hours prior to the Club Q shooting. That second site had previously hosted video of a mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, in May that killed 10 people, according to an archive of the page. Links to the “brother site” were reportedly shared on several extremist sites in the days following the Club Q shooting.

As a result of those links, some have speculated that Aldrich may not be nonbinary at all, but may be “trolling” the LGBTQ community and liberals — or making an inflammatory or disingenuous remark intended to provoke others — in an attempt to sow confusion among them or mock the very idea of nonbinary identity.

Clara Martiny, a digital research analyst for the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a global nonprofit combating online extremism and disinformation, told Metro Weekly that if Aldrich’s nonbinary gender identity was indeed a form of trolling, it is not the only example of such behavior.

“The far-right sees pronouns and individuals who identify as non-binary as a subject for hate attacks and trolling. This is something that we’ve observed a rise in — targeted harassment and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric — over the past several years. The LGBTQ community, especially, has been dehumanized, dehumanized, marginalized, attacked, and even scapegoated online,” Martiny says.

“Now, with this news of Aldrich wanting to identify using they/them pronouns and their lawyers making that clear, we’ve kind of seen how bad actors who have been pushing anti-LGBTQ rhetoric online have tried to take that fact and muddy the waters,” she adds. “We’ve seen them say basically, ‘Oh, well, the shooting is not a hate crime because of Aldrich’s identity,’ and whatever it actually is and whatever Aldrich actually identifies as. … They’ve taken this and kind of begun trolling for the sheer purpose of confusing individuals, of deflecting the blame and deflecting the fact that they have been pushing this rhetoric for the past year, to make it unclear as to what the actual problem is.”

Martiny also notes that Aldrich’s purported nonbinary identity aligns with common right-wing negative tropes and stereotypes about LGBTQ people.

“I think the point of trolling in general, and especially trolling the LGBTQ community, is to continue to dehumanize, to marginalize them, to make them feel less as people and make them not feel welcome, and to push them away,” she says.

“Looking at, for example, how people in far-right spaces online have reacted to the news, they’re saying, ‘The shooter is nonbinary,’  and to them, that makes sense because they claim  ‘alphabet people,’ as they like to call them, are mentally unstable or mentally ill. So it perpetrates these harmful stereotypes and these harmful narratives, and at the end, the people who are affected the most by those are people who are part of the LGBTQ community,” Martiny adds.

Martiny notes that trolling is not contained to far-right or niche spaces, but is persistent on nearly all online platforms, including Facebook and Twitter. She also warns that some trolls will continue their behavior undaunted, as long as they face no repercussions or fail to be held accountable for their actions or statements.

“They will keep playing the game to disparage these communities they’re targeting. They’ll take it to the end, because it comes from a place of hate,” she says. “There can be different reasons why: maybe they have less to lose, or they have one goal in mind and they’re obsessed with it. Whatever it is, they’re not afraid to take it as far as is needed.”

While some have speculated that Aldrich may be asserting nonbinary identity to avoid some of the hate crime charges they face — which typically carry additional, harsher penalties for offenders — legal experts say that belonging to a particular community doesn’t absolve a person of any bias-related charges they may face.

Imran Ahmed, the CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, told NBC News, in the article revealing Kraus’s allegations against Aldrich, that the best course of action is to continue to use they/them pronouns to refer to them, even if such claims of nonbinary identity are later found to be untruthful.

“When a racist troll trolls a Black person, they’re seeking to make them exit that space, feel unsafe and leave, and, therefore, voluntarily abrogate their right to to speak out freely and equally in communal spaces,” Ahmed said. “In this instance, they’re trying to make people say, ‘Well, maybe we should rethink self-identification.’ And I think it’s absolutely crucial that we don’t play the troll’s game.”

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