CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Anna Douglas | The Charlotte Observer) - A Gaston County man's re-posting of an image on social media – of a masked man with guns strapped to his back and the words: "First gay pride parade! Can't wait!" – set off alarms in the Charlotte LGBTQ community on Thursday.
The photo, to many who left comments on a local activist group's Facebook page, appeared to be a threat to shoot people at Pride events. June is recognized nationally as LGBTQ – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer – Pride Month. Pride events, held in August in Charlotte, typically consist of live music, a street festival, a Pride parade and a range of associated activism workshops and classes. Thursday, local equality advocates urged people to stay alert during upcoming gay pride events.
Some people said they contacted local, state and federal law enforcement agencies about the photo. Agents with the Charlotte field office of the FBI said they worked with local law enforcement partners and determined that the online postings are not credible threats.
A similar situation appears to have played out in Massachusetts just two months ago – with the same image, called an internet meme – and led to a police search of a high school student's home, under suspicion he could be a threat to others.
Charlotte Uprising, a coalition of local groups and people who want to end violence against black people and other minorities, called attention to the material on its Facebook page Thursday, saying: "These types of threats or signs of malicious intent cannot be ignored or dismissed as 'jokes'."
The photo is a form of gender-based violence and harassment, says Ash Williams, a community leader with Charlotte Uprising. The activity – as well as other forms of threats – are on the rise against groups such as LGBT people, Muslims, immigrants, black people and others, Williams said.
"And it's not just anybody – it's particularly done by white, racist men," Williams said.
Charlotte Uprising is a group that supports marginalized people and works to identify and dismantle forms of discrimination and state or police brutality, Williams said.
While the photo makes no direct threat and has appeared in various other places on the internet, the re-posting of the image drew dozens of angry responses and nearly 500 shares on Charlotte Uprising's Facebook page.
One person from Greensboro wrote: "He is trying to incite fear in people who are going to attend this event by posting this."
A response that appeared to come from the Gaston County man who posted the photo said:
"This is simply an image I found on a meme group and is not to be taken as a threat. I'm sorry if this image is deemed offensive or threatening by a liberal revolutionary? group, but humor is a very subjective emotion. What may be funny to me, may not be funny to others. As stated, I have neither the time, means, or intent to harm anyone until absolutely forced to do so to protect myself, my home, and my family."
One person wrote in response: "Violence and threats of murdering people is funny to you? In times like this when people feel empowered to be violent against people based on race/sexual orientation/religion, you think it's funny to 'make a joke' about attacking a gay pride parade?"
The Charlotte Observer is not naming the man who posted the image as he has not been criminally charged and he does not appear to be currently under any police investigation.
An FBI spokesperson said, "As always, we encourage anyone with information about suspicious activity to contact the FBI or local law enforcement."