In January, the Anti-Defamation League released a report naming Gays Against Groomers, a group that “peddles dangerous and misleading narratives about the LGBT community,” among notable amplifiers of anti-LGBT rhetoric online.
GAG reacted to the report as the group has consistently done whenever it has been called out for targeting LGBT rights and inclusion — by claiming that as a “coalition of gay people” it and its members are incapable of spreading anti-LGBT propaganda.
In reality, before the group’s founder Jaimee Michell rode the recent surge in anti-LGBT rhetoric to guest spots on Fox News and right-wing podcasts, she and her fellow GAG chair David Leatherwood were pro-Trump operatives employed by right-wing communications firms representing other conservative figures who have attempted to capitalize off of the anti-LGBT fervor of the last two years.
This recent employment history underscores the far-right pedigree of both Michell and Leatherwood — a record that includes promotion of the QAnon conspiracy theory, intimate involvement with the efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, and emphatic support for the violent actions of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists.
What is Gays Against Groomers?
GAG claims to fight against “the sexualization, indoctrination, and medicalization” of children, with Michell professing to have founded the group last year “to protect the kids” and “reclaim” the gay community’s “good standing in society.” The group has catered to a far-right audience, with Michell promoting the group on fringe outlets like One America News and Infowars. At the end of last year, GAG attended Turning Point USA’s convention, AmericaFest, where the group’s leaders cavorted with white nationalists, former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, and Kyle Rittenhouse.
ADL’s report also noted the coordination between GAG and far-right groups like Moms for Liberty. As with Moms for Liberty, GAG encourages its members to attend school board meetings and speak out against LGBT inclusion and policies. The group used this tactic to claim a victory in Florida last September, when it successfully harassed the Miami-Dade County School Board into voting against recognition of LGBTQ History Month. Last month, a member of the group’s executive team testified at a school board meeting in California where he argued that “every teacher that has a pride flag in their classroom should be fired and arrested.”
Who is Jaimee Michell?
Before founding GAG, Michell was a steadfast Trump supporter. In her one-episode podcast from 2017, she claimed she began supporting Trump in part following her interactions with online conspiracy theories and a pro-Trump Reddit forum that was later banned from the platform for issuing threats of violence. Michell’s earlier Twitter presence involved predominantly pro-Trump content which she posted well after revelations had been made involving Trump’s inappropriate comments and actions directed at underage girls, not to mention myriad reports by women ranging from verbal harassment to inappropriate touching and outright sexual assault.
Michell likewise used her online presence to promote conspiracy theories related to QAnon and the false claim that Democratic politicians were involved in child trafficking, retweeting support for the conspiracy theory from popular QAnon influencers (with whom she continued to interact through 2019) and tweeting that anti-Trump conservative writer Bill Kristol “has some skeletons in his closet. I’m guessing pizza flavored,” seemingly a reference to the QAnon-adjacent “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory. Michell also repeatedly posted a meme she created making similar accusations against liberal celebrities, using it to brand everyone from CNN anchor Jake Tapper to Late Show host Stephen Colbert as “a pedo.”
While lobbing these accusations at her political enemies, Michell posted a pro-Trump quote and picture from far-right figure Milo Yiannopoulos, months after Yiannopoulos’ 2016 comments supporting pedophilia came to light. Michell also continued to use her identity as a lesbian to falsely claim that Trump was a “pro-gay” politician, earning her an advisory board seat on the campaign’s “Trump Pride” coalition.
Leading up to the 2020 election, Michell had frequent online communication with Ali Alexander, the founder of the “Stop the Steal” movement that heavily pushed conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election. Michell would go on to be intimately involved in Alexander’s movement, being listed alongside right-wing activist Alex Bruesewitz as a contact for the Stop the Steal rally in Wisconsin under her online account, “TheGayWhoStrayd.” Following President Joe Biden’s victory, Michell asserted the election had been stolen, telling her followers “the war is just getting started” and later speaking at a Stop the Steal event in Washington, D.C., that November. In reaction to the Jan. 6 insurrection, Michell posted in support of the rioters on Instagram and Telegram, including reposting more content from Yiannopoulos.
Following the insurrection, Michell redirected her focus to taking extreme positions on other far-right talking points, including comparing COVID-19 public health measures to Nazi persecution and calling police murder victim George Floyd “fentanyl Floyd.” Michell continued to attempt to deflect criticism and moderation of her offensive rhetoric by appealing to her sexual orientation, claiming that “right wing gays” were being treated like “thought criminals” after she was temporarily suspended from Instagram, seemingly for posting content mocking memorials to Floyd’s death.
The origins of Gays Against Groomers
In May 2022, Michell started a new job at X Strategies, a right-wing social media communications firm that promises its conservative clientele the ability to “create, shift, and control narratives.” The firm, co-founded and led by Bruesewitz, was previously implicated in a scheme involving paying online influencers as young as 14 years old to run ads for Trump insiders, including the campaign’s “Election Defense Fund.”
Michell’s new job, which she has since scrubbed from her online profiles, coincided with a precipitous rise in misuse and exploitation of the term “groomer” by right-wing figures to malign LGBT people and their allies. The smear campaign was part of the Republican strategy to drive right-wing voters to the polls for the midterm elections. The month after Michell started her new position, she announced the creation of Gays Against Groomers, which Michell used to compare any signs of acceptance for LGBT youth by schools, companies, public figures, or online users to “grooming.”
In September 2022, Michell announced the two other board members who would be leading GAG alongside herself — her fiancée Sasha Leigh and right-wing pro-Trump activist David Leatherwood.
Like Michell, Leatherwood gained notoriety in part for offensive content attacking Black Lives Matter. Like Michell, Leatherwood previously served as a board member for “Trump Pride” (listed under his social media account name, “Brokeback Patriot”) and had ties to the “Stop the Steal” movement, having spoken at an event hosted by Trump ally Roger Stone on December 14, 2020. Like Michell, Leatherwood lauded the rioters involved with the Jan. 6 insurrection, an event he had previously stated he would attend, celebrating that they had made politicians “cower in fear.”
Leatherwood is still apparently employed as a writer and director by conservative communications firm Arsenal Media, for which he appeared in an ad last year for GOP Florida state House candidate Jake Hoffman. Michell also listed Arsenal as an employer until November of last year. The firm claims to “manage some of the largest conservative social media inﬂuencers in the game,” promising increased exposure for its right-wing campaign clients.
Growing GAG’s ranks one pro-Trump conspiracy theorist at a time
Michell and Leatherwood have worked to stock GAG’s executive board with fringe pro-Trump influencers with patterns of promoting conspiracy theories.
The group’s Director of Chapters Mario Presents, whose legal name is Mario Estrada, is a right-wing activist and blogger previously focused on rallying in support of Trump and protesting COVID-19 health measures. Estrada reportedly has connections with extremist groups including California’s Central Valley Militia and the Proud Boys, and he has participated in rallies tied to the QAnon conspiracy theory and promoted QAnon talking points online. He has also taken extremist positions on a number of issues, including defending Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who was responsible for mass murder and torture of political opponents.
GAG’s communications director, Judith Rose, is most notable for a viral TikTok in 2020 where she declared she had been converted to supporting Trump, who she claimed was “taking down human traffickers and a satanic secret society that most of Hollywood, the Vatican, and many elites are involved in” — key tenets of QAnon. Rose later appeared on pro-QAnon show “RedPill78.”
GAG’s New York chapter leader is Marky Hutt, the founder of LGBTrump (cited as the largest gay pro-Trump Facebook group). Hutt has twice been arrested for defacing a Black Lives Matter mural.
GAG’s North Carolina chapter leader, Brian Talbert, founded Deplorable Pride, another pro-Trump organization. Talbert, who has a history of pushing anti-Islam and misogynistic rhetoric, was arrested in 2018 for assaulting a woman during a pro-Trump rally his group had organized.
The group’s list of “ambassadors” is similarly stocked with anti-vaxx activists, pro-Trump acolytes, online influencers, and those with connections to right-wing politics, like Rafaello Carone (now listed only as “Raf” on the group’s website) who last month was hired by the embattled gay Rep. George Santos (R-NY).
RESEARCH CONTRIBUTIONS FROM JASON CAMPBELL.
Reprinted with permission from Media Matters for America.
The Truth Behind the Dangerous, Bigoted Lie Targeting the LGBT Community
Trump Flips the Script; Blasts DeSantis as a 'Groomer'