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From Telegram to the Tate: Patriotic Alternative, Anti-Drag Activism and Offline Mobilisation

From Telegram to the Tate: Patriotic Alternative, Anti-Drag Activism and Offline Mobilisation
13th October 2023 Catherine Stinton
In Insights


Far-right transphobia has found an outlet in anti-drag activism, with a particular focus on educational drag shows for children. This activism often begins online but frequently escalates to offline protests. Some of these protests have led to convictions for public order offences, such as the incident at the Tate Britain in London in February 2022, or violence against counter-protestors, such as at the Honor Oak pub in Lewisham in June 2023. This in-person activism or violence, however, should not be considered the final objective of online campaigning and organising. Through anti-drag campaigns, far-right groups strive for mainstream appeal by targeting a minority often scrutinised by mass media, providing opportunities for both online and street activism for their members.

This Insight draws on six months of research conducted in 2022 exploring the digital content and activity of the British far-right organisation Patriotic Alternative (PA). Over this period, there was a distinct shift from transphobic discussions characterised by explicit, illiberal language to approaches more closely matching mainstream transphobic discourses. At the same time, as anti-drag campaigning by far-right groups in the USA increased and gathered more mainstream attention, PA seemed to recognise the potential value of street activism in the UK. While it is not always straightforward to draw a direct link between online rhetoric and offline activism, in this instance, the connection is clear. PA serves as a case study to exemplify the dynamics of anti-drag campaigns.

Over the course of this research, PA began their own anti-drag show online campaigns before eventually conducting in-person protests. This Insight explores this process and how each stage plays a distinct role for the far right, fulfilling the different motivations of different members. Offline activism plays an important role in a group’s sense of community, but it also offers opportunities for further online content creation through images, recorded videos, and mainstream attention.

DQSH and the Anti-LGBTQ+ Activism

Drag Queen Story Hour (DQSH) involves drag performers, typically a drag queen, reading books or telling stories, often to children. In recent years, these shows have come under public scrutiny, with anti-drag activists particularly opposing events involving minors. Through transphobic discourses that frame trans people in general and drag queens in particular as inherently sexual, critics assert these performances are dangerous and paedophilic, putting children at risk and indoctrinating them into queerness. Against a backdrop of increasing mainstream transphobic, drag shows are highly visible queer symbols and easy targets for anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda that paints queerness as paedophilic.

Not all anti-drag activists are affiliated with far-right extremism, especially in the US and in online campaigns. Opposition can take the form of letter-writing, filing petitions, or leafleting to prevent performances from going ahead, as well as in-person protests at the shows themselves. However, due to the mainstreaming of this form of activism, many far-right movements have embarked on their own anti-drag campaigns, inciting anti-LGBTQ+ moral panics and leveraging existing protests for publicity.

Liberal Transphobia

Early in the research, PA members and leaders openly expressed transphobia using explicitly bigoted language. However, over the course of months, their digital content expanded to uncritically reposting headlines from legacy media in the UK that platformed transphobic arguments from journalists like Matt Walsh or members of the British government like Home Secretary Suella Braverman. This shift reflected the recent surge in transphobia in both UK-based movements and legacy media. At the same time, the US far right received significant public attention by targeting drag shows for protest, receiving sympathetic coverage by American right-wing media.

Amid this rising sentiment, PA first began their anti-drag activism with an offline leafleting campaign in Wales in spring 2022. However, it was clear that only a handful of members participated in person, but images of the leaflet and photos of campaigners on the streets were widely circulated online. A small physical campaign provided PA with ample material to rail online against drag shows, stoking enthusiasm and outrage among their members and audience.

While many of their talking points reflected mainstream transphobic arguments, these were presented alongside more extreme ideas. They voiced concern for children exposed to drag queens, implying or outright accusing the performers of being sex offenders, echoing much of legacy media’s framing of trans people. However, they did not adopt the liberal transphobic ‘concern’ for women’s rights, where drag is accused of mocking femininity or even ‘woman-face,’ drawing a comparison to racist blackface. They framed drag performances within their far-right notions of an increasingly ‘degenerate’ Western society, part of a conspiratorial attack on traditional families and white culture, central to the Great Replacement Theory. By adopting tenets of both liberal and illiberal transphobia, PA position themselves alongside mainstream anti-trans discourses and campaigns while still appealing to more extreme views among their members and audience.

To the Streets

In summer 2022, PA held an in-person protest against a DQSH performance at a library in Leeds, UK. Key members of the organisation’s leadership attended and a crowd with banners bearing slogans like ‘Parents Against Child Abuse’ or ‘Learn ABCD not LGBT’ rallied outside the library. While this was one of PA’s most public pieces of street activism to date, moving members and their ideas out of relatively closed online spaces, it also marked one of their first encounters with significant opposition. A larger crowd of counter-protestors gathered, and while much news coverage failed to mention the protest’s far-right origins, it was largely unsympathetic to their disruption of the DQSH event.          

The protest was small, but PA placed high-quality photographs and recordings of the event across social media for weeks, celebrating their opposition to child abuse and degeneracy. Multiple livestreams gave lengthy breakdowns, analyses and interviews about the protest while their online audience shared and commented. Every stream raises money for PA with donations rolling in from sympathetic viewers. After years of lockdown restrictions, PA had successfully conducted an in-person event about a contentious issue and spent weeks capitalising on it to drive recruitment and raise money. To this day, photos of the event can be found on their website, with PA’s leadership at the forefront of a small group marching through Leeds bearing banners expressing their moral outrage.

My ethnographic research concluded not long after, and I might not have heard of the Leeds protest if I had not been monitoring PA’s online presence. Nevertheless, mainstream news reported a PA-organised protest against another DQSH event at London’s Tate Britain in February 2023. This culminated in clashes with counter-protesters and the arrest of one protestor for a public order offence. Despite his subsequent conviction for two counts of using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with intent to cause harassment, alarm or distress, he insisted he had attended to protect children and raise awareness. It remains unclear whether this individual has any direct links to PA, who advertised their protest across Telegram and were able to rally offline support reaching beyond their official membership by presenting themselves as victims of law enforcement for trying to speak the truth.

Feedback Loop

Online organisation and discussion in far-right movements are not a substitute for or precursors to offline activism; they are integral components of their strategy. Street activism remains popular among many in PA, and recently splinter groups have emerged, citing a desire for more in-person activism while criticising the leaders for focusing on online fundraising and profile-raising efforts.      However, online content drives engagement from geographically diverse members, helping the far right to reach new audiences and fundraise. It would thus be erroneous to assume that offline activism is the sole objective of online organising.

The Leeds DQSH protest did little for PA’s public image, with only a few dozen members participating, local news offering tepid coverage, and counter-protestors outnumbering them. Despite this, PA used the recordings and photos of the event to paint a narrative of a vibrant, active group making a stand against a highly public issue. Images of crowds waving banners remained a feature on their website’s header for weeks.  While the Leeds protest garnered little attention, the Tate Britain protest firmly placed them in the public eye. Despite widespread criticism from the mainstream news, PA insist that this visibility boosted interest and membership. While these claims are difficult to verify, PA are committed to their narrative of being victims of the system for telling the truth, asserting that a silent majority supports them.

Anti-drag protests in the UK were inspired by far-right activism in the US and further enabled by transphobia in the legacy media. This has led to what acts effectively as a feedback loop for far-right activism and content creation. They respond to a mainstream moral panic with online discourse and propaganda that eventually leads to offline activism. This activism generates footage, photos, and news reports that feed back into online content. Members who cannot or will not participate in street activism for various reasons – personal fears, geographic constraints or financial obstacles – can still amplify content about these events and thus feel like they are contributing to the organisation. This cycle creates fertile ground for more offline protests, generating more online content, which thus drives engagement, fundraising, and recruitment efforts.     

Offline activism is appealing to far-right movements, but they are reliant on their online communities to expand their reach, build a sense of unity and raise money. No single aspect of anti-drag activism is the primary goal; each instead serves a specific purpose for the group and feeds future activism.


Far-right anti-drag campaigns extend beyond organising protests and street activism. These events provide the far right with mainstream spaces to launder their ideology, reproducing transphobic tenets from across the ideological spectrum, and images, recordings, and news coverage produce content for their streams and social media. Engaging with this anti-drag, anti-LGBTQ+ online content not only facilitates future protests – a form of activism that has become increasingly violent – but provides the far right with the exposure they leverage for fundraising and recruitment.

The deplatforming of Patriotic Alternative from mainstream social media has stymied their efforts to fully capitalise on these opportunities. Content moderation can help remove hate speech and counter misinformation as anti-drag and anti-LGBTQ+ discourses create fertile ground for these protests. The nuanced nature of this content makes moderation efforts challenging, however. What’s more, this challenge is compounded when significant contributions to these discourses come from mainstream spaces such as government officials and the legacy media.