Did Snipers Really Guard Drag Queen Story Hour? (Probably Not)


Call me out of touch, but I don’t really get Drag Queen Story Hour. The idea is ostensibly to teach kids about inclusivity — but really, if you want to take your 3-year-old down the library to learn about inclusivity, can’t you just show them a book where Mr. Rabbit is friends with Mr. Hedgehog? Inviting a drag queen to do the same seems a weirdly baroque way of going about things.

But that’s not to say that I necessarily buy into the moral panic around the events. And I recently came across a prime example of that panic at work when I read a blog alleging that snipers — yes, snipers! — had protected a Drag Queen Story Hour event, ready to pop a cap in anyone who made too much objection.

The case in question dates back to June, so it’s not all that new. But since I saw nobody else scrutinising the matter, I decided it was worth my while writing about these peculiar claims…

On June 22, the Daily Caller ran a story called “Snipers Defend Drag Queen Story Hour From Mom-Led Protest” which opens thus:

A SWAT team of two snipers was stationed on the roof of a public library in Spokane, Washington June 15. Their mission, along with 30-40 police officers, was to defend Drag Queen Story Hour from 300 concerned mothers and allies protesting the event.

The snipers, decked out in camouflage, were photographed on the roof of the library monitoring the protesting mothers with binoculars.

There are two photographs beneath the headline. On the left, we see an anti-drag protest (which, judging by the placard slogans, appears to be held by feminists rather than conservative parents, but that’s another matter). On the right we see a sniper beside his gun.


Only thing is… the two scenes aren’t from the same place. Take a look at the credits on the bottom: the sniper image is a stock photo from Getty Images. And if you hold your cursor over the picture, the alt text further confirms that it’s a stock photo:


A site called Activist Mommy, picking up the story a few days later, went with a similar choice of illustration:


But once again, the photograph showing armed snipers has nothing to do with the drag queen event. A quick reverse image search took me to a 2003 article on the Police Magazine website.

The Daily Caller article mentions the alleged snipers being photographed, but I had to click through two other articles before I got to the actual images. Here they are, courtesy of a post from the Charles Carroll Society:

Let’s take a closer look at the men in the photos:


Now, here’s the issue: there are no visible firearms in these photos. The “snipers” appear to be unarmed.

The whole point of a sniper is that they are (1) armed with guns and (2) hard to spot. The men in these pictures are the opposite: apparently unarmed, and easily spotted by a photographer on the ground.

The most logical conclusion, then, is that they are not snipers at all, but simply police officers tasked with keeping an eye on the protest from above. Granted, they could conceivably have weapons that are not visible; but there is still a significant difference between a police officer who happens to be carrying a standard-issue police handgun about his person, and a sniper poised for the kill.

In using stock images of men with sniper rifles, rather than the actual photographs from the protest, both the Daily Caller and Activist Mummy deliberately distorted the facts. They wanted to give the impression that protesters at Drag Queen Story Hour were in danger of being shot dead by police snipers; knowing that the photographs of the men with binoculars do nothing to back this claim up, they used completely unrelated stock photos of men with guns — and hoped that nobody would notice.

Fake news, as they say.

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