Democrats were quick to blame Republicans for stoking anti-LGBTQ rhetoric that led to the Colorado nightclub shooting Saturday, but the motive is still unclear, and new details have emerged that the shooter identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns.
"We must drive out the inequities that contribute to violence against LGBTQI+ people. We cannot and must not tolerate hate," President Biden said Sunday after a gunman killed five people and injured more than two dozen others at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs.
Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, faces preliminary murder and hate crime charges for the attack, but prosecutors have not yet filed formal charges. Local and federal authorities have declined to answer questions about why hate crime charges were being considered. District Attorney Michael Allen said it was important to show the community that bias motivated crimes are not tolerated.
The White House has acknowledged that the motive in Saturday’s attack is still unknown, but that has not stopped it from pointing the finger at anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.
"This attack also comes amidst a rise in violent rhetoric and threats against the LGBTQI+ people across the country," press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said during a press briefing Tuesday.
"If you’re a politician or media figure who sets up the LGBTQ community to be hated and feared - not because any of us ever harmed you but because you find it useful - then don’t you dare act surprised when this kind of violence follows," Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg tweeted Monday. "Don’t you dare act surprised."
On Tuesday evening, it was reported that public defenders for Aldrich filed several standard motions referring to the suspect as "Mx. Aldrich," noting in footnotes that the suspect identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns and without providing any further elaboration.
The motions dealt with issues like unsealing documents and evidence gathering and did not pertain directly to Aldrich’s identity.
Hate crime charges would require proving that the shooter was motivated by bias. Investigations have not revealed any information about a possible motive.
The preliminary hate crime charges, however, sparked an onslaught of criticism against conservatives, especially Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert after she tweeted that the victims and their families were in her prayers.
"You encourage this type of hatred. Get off Twitter and start looking inward," replied Buttigieg’s husband, Chasten.
"Republicans continue to run on and spread anti-LGBTQ ideology and hatred while refusing to lift a finger on gun violence," Chasten wrote. "This is preventable, but only if they start seeing LGBTQ people as equals, and themselves as leaders."
"You have played a major role in elevating anti-LGBT+ hate rhetoric and anti-trans lies while spending your time in Congress blocking even the most common sense gun safety laws," tweeted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.
"Your rhetoric and lack of legislative courage and humanity radicalized people to do the evil and unthinkable," tweeted Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y.
"Your record ‘is absolutely awful," tweeted Rep. Mondaire Jones, D-N.Y. "You use hateful rhetoric towards the LGBTQ+ community and helped block even modest efforts to end gun violence. You’re also one of the reasons we put metal detectors outside the House floor."
"Can you please stop bashing trans people and drag queens, @laurenboebert?" asked Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wisc. "That type of rhetoric is partially to blame for the hatred and violence that’s out there."
"You’ve demonized the LGBTQ+ community, called them groomers, attacked trans kids and weaponized anti-LGBTQ+ hatred for political gain," tweeted Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif. "Words have consequences — and your vile rhetoric fuels this kind of violence."
A clip showing CNN host Alisyn Camerota learning on-air about Aldrich being nonbinary has gone viral. Camerota twice stated during the segment that Aldrich "now identifies" as nonbinary.
"I don't know what to say about that," she said. "That is what he is now saying."
Camerota and another panelist in the segment suggested that attorneys advised Aldrich to claim to be nonbinary to avoid hate crime charges.
It was also revealed Tuesday that Aldrich’s name was changed from Nicholas Franklin Brink more than six years ago as a teenager, after Aldrich’s grandparents filed a legal petition on their grandchild's behalf seeking protection from a father with a history of domestic violence. His grandparents were his legal guardian at the time, as his mother struggled with criminal and mental health issues.
Aldrich was previously arrested in 2021 after Aldrich’s mother reported her child threatened her with a homemade bomb and other weapons. Ring doorbell video obtained by The Associated Press showed Aldrich arriving at the mother’s front door with a big black bag the day of the bomb threat, telling her the police were nearby and adding, "This is where I stand. Today I die."
Police said no explosives were found, and no formal charges were filed in that case.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.