Brandon Wolf was on vacation with his family when someone told him he should die in a house fire.
The Pulse survivor and gun control advocate was the focus of a Monday segment on Tucker Carlson Tonight, in which the right-wing pundit discussed Wolf’s recent criticism of Vice President Mike Pence. Sitting down with MSNBC anchor Joy Reid just days earlier, the 29-year-old said the second-in-command would put LGBTQ people in “concentration camps hoping to pray away the gay” if he were president.
Wolf clarified on Twitter that he misspoke and meant to say “conversion camps”a reference to Pence’s alleged support of anti-gay reparative therapybut the damage was done.
Two days ago, Carlson hosted gay-journalist-turned-conservative-pundit Chadwick Moore to discuss Wolf’s comments. Moore, who left his job as an editor at OUT magazine after intense criticism of a slobberingly sycophantic 2016 profile of alt-right enfant terrible Milo Yiannopoulos, claimed the depiction of Pence’s views is a “depraved fantasy” of the left.
“They actually believe this could happen, that Mike Pence wants to do this,” Moore said, adding that Wolf was “using the same script as that bedazzled figure skater during the Olympics, Adam Rippon.
“They’re really searching for homophobic monsters in the administration and the best thing they can come up with is Mike Pence,” he continued.
The gay Republican, who claimed he embraced conservatism after feeling alienated by lefty gays, added that LGBTQ advocates “can’t come to terms with the fact that people don’t care about homosexuality anymore in this country.” Moore also referred to the criticism as “rich coming from someone who is a Pulse nightclub survivor.”
“Pulse nightclub was not attacked by the radical Amish,” the born-again right-winger quipped.
Even at a seemingly breezy four minutes in length, the segment is a grueling watch. Among other things, the pair insinuated that Wolf is a paid activista common conspiracy theory lobbied against supporters of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election. Moore claimed the Pulse survivor is “just working on behalf of MSNBC and the Democratic Party.”
“I’m not sure it has much to do with gay people,” he added.
Carlson stayed silent for most of the discussion, grinning and nodding as Moore made light of the Orlando shooting. But in the closing seconds, the talking head went for the jugular. He alleged that Wolf, who huddled for cover in the bathroom as his friends were murdered, is “not actually a civil rights activist.”
“He’s a political hack who will say anything to get his candidates elected,” Carlson said.
The segment was almost unbearably cruel and dismissive toward an individual who suffered unspeakable loss during the June 2016 attack, in which 49 people were gunned down at a gay nightclub on Latin night. But Wolf tells INTO in a phone conversation that he’s a “grown man” and “can handle that kind of thing.”
What was harder to take in, however, was what happened afterward.
His interview with Reida roundtable discussion with LGBTQ advocates on homophobia after decade-old comments made by the MSNBC anchor were unearthedwas picked up by right-wing news blogs like Breitbart, The Daily Caller, and The Blaze over the weekend. The posts received thousands of angry comments.
When video of the Carlson segment was posted to Twitter, it was the final spark igniting the wildfire.
Wolf says that he was inundated with death threats on Twitter. Social media users tweeted that should be “prisoner no. 1” should Pence ever throw gay people in concentration camps. Another individual volunteered himself as a “perimeter guard” at the facility.
“I wish you were converted into dust,” one troll claimed.
“The most common one was telling me that I should have died at Pulse,” Wolf said. “People were sorry that I wasn’t one of the victims. That one hurts in particular because Pulse is so personal to me. I miss my friends every single day, and the idea that somebody could just casually suggest that I should have been in their shoes, it is really just beyond the pale.”
Wolf’s best friends, Christopher “Drew” Leinonen and Juan Guerrero, were two of those killed in the attack. He has since started a nonprofit dedicated to Leinonen’s memory, eponymously called The DRU Project.
When Wolf received these threats, he was in Oregon with members of his family. He hasn’t been home in almost a decade. When INTO asked if Wolf had shared with his relatives the abuse and hate he was being subjected to online, he said he hadn’t. He “didn’t want to burden them,” Wolf claimed.
“My grandmother’s really active on Facebook, and I just did not want her to have to see that, and I did not want her to be subjected to threats of violence like that,” he explained.
After the vitriol against Wolf continued to pile on, the media watchdog organization GLAAD put out a statement on Tuesday calling for an apology from Carlson and Fox News. The LGBTQ advocacy group claimed the news network “planned a disgusting, deliberate, and shameful attack on [Wolf] as well as all the victims, survivors, friends, and family of Pulse.”
“Can you imagine being a young LGBTQ person watching Tucker Carlson with your parents and seeing the host of their favorite nightly news show laugh about the Pulse nightclub shooting?” GLAAD asked.
Wolf can. After all, this isn’t the first time the Fox News host made light of the Pulse shooting.
On the one-year anniversary of the tragedy, Carlson invited Moore onto his program to belittle a vigil in honor of the victims held at New York’s Stonewall Innsite of the 1969 protests kickstarting the Gay Liberation Movement. While the disgraced gay journalist complained that the rally was “about guns and only guns,” the anchor snickered once more.
“I’m sorry to laugh,” Carlson said. “But first of all, [ISIS] endorsed the killings at Pulse nightclub because a lot of the people who were killed were gay and we’re glad that all these gay people have died. They’ve also bragged about murdering people for being gay in the territories that they hold.”
“None of the people at these rallies noted that?” he asked with a note of mock incredulity.
If that weren’t enough, Moore suggested that the LGBTQ community wasn’t motivated enough to pay attention to care about the real issues (i.e., what he referred to in the most recent segment as “Islamofascism”). He claimed, “most gay people [only] care about pop music and going to the beach.”
After calling out those remarks last year, Wolf said Carlson’s continued attacks on Pulse survivors are “abhorrent and despicable” but not surprising.
“Tucker Carlson does not know what it feels like to walk in our shoes,” he argued over the phone. “He does not know what it feels like to be 200 feet away from people while they’re being murdered with an assault weapon. He does not know what it feels like to wonder if you’re being targeted when you’re at the grocery store, when you’re at a nightclub, or when you’re in a movie theater.”
The activist, who appeared at a gun control rally with survivors of the Parkland, Fla. shooting in February, is calling for overdue accountability for the conservative pundit. Wolf claimed that Carlson said those things because he knew he could get away with it.
“I don’t have the same platform that he does,” he said. “I don’t have name recognition.”
In addition to an apology from Carlson, Wolf said it’s time for brands which advertise on his Fox News program to reconsider their relationships with the show. Companies which currently pay to run commercials during Tucker Carlson Tonight include Allstate, Bayer, Capital One, Choice Hotels, Esurance, Jaguar, Jenny Craig, La Quinta, Land Rover, Liberty Mutual, and Mitsubishi.
Following the Feb 14. shooting on Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, public pressure on brands offering a discount for National Rifle Association led to a wave of companies cutting ties with the lobby group. Those businesses included Delta, United Airlines, and Wyndham Hotels.
A litany of corporations also abandoned Laura Ingraham’s Fox News show after she mocked Parkland survivor David Hogg for not getting into the college of his choice.
It remains to be seen whether a similar reckoning is due in Carlson’s case.
Wolf held out hope that Carlson would denounce the rhetoric lobbied his way on Twitter and “call on his viewers to be more civil, be more respectful, and to say threats of violence are totally inappropriate.” But given that the anchor put out a statement to The Wrap calling Wolf a liar, that’s probably not likely.
Carlson referred to claims that he attacked Wolf as “dishonest.”
“Brandon Wolf told MSNBC viewers that if Mike Pence became president, he would put gay people in concentration camps,” he told the entertainment website on Tuesday. “That is false, and I said so. […] I didn’t ‘attack a survivor of the Pulse nightclub massacre,’ I fact-checked a talking head on Joy Reid’s show who was lying. That’s still allowed, I think.”
In lieu of a mea culpa, Wolf said the truth is that far too many people have to endure homophobic attacks every day for daring to be themselves. He is no different.
“As tempting as it is to talk about how lonely it feels for me or how upsetting it was for me, I just come back to the thought that this is what people live with in their workplaces, in their schools, and in their homes,” he said, adding that “LGBTQ youth have to face that kind of bullying, assault, and social media harassment on a daily basis.”
“We really need somebody with the loudspeaker and somebody with a voice to step up and say ‘enough is enough,’” Wolf continued.