Late Saturday night, a 22-year-old man identified as Anderson Lee Aldrich allegedly killed five people and injured dozens more at the LGBTQ nightclub Club Q in Colorado Springs. Aldrich, who’s currently in police custody, has also been identified by Heavy as the grandson of California state Assemblymember Randy Vopel, a pro-Trump Republican who likened the Jan. 6 insurrection that killed five to the Revolutionary War.
The extent of Aldrich’s relationship to his grandfather isn’t immediately clear, but tellingly, the Republican Party has spent the last several months in particular escalating their attacks on queer and trans people. In addition to Aldrich’s ties to a far-right elected official who glorified violence on the Capitol, he has a documented history of violence—but obtained an AR-15 nonetheless.
In 2021, Aldrich’s mother called the police on her son, reporting that he was threatening her with a homemade bomb and other weapons. Police responded to the threat by evacuating part of the neighborhood and engaging in a standoff with Aldrich, before he surrendered and was charged with five felony counts including kidnapping and felony menacing. More than two-thirds of mass shootings are domestic violence incidents or perpetrated by shooters with a history of domestic violence, a 2021 study found.
According to the Washington Post, it’s not clear why local prosecutors declined to pursue charges in the case, and court records for the case were placed under seal, the Colorado Springs Gazette reports. Further, Aldrich seems to have skirted Colorado’s “red flag” gun law that allows authorities to confiscate guns from individuals with histories of mental illness or violence. Colorado Springs is notably in El Paso County, one of 2,000 counties nationwide that identify as “Second Amendment Sanctuaries.” The Associated Press notes that the county “appears especially hostile” to Colorado’s red flag law and went so far as to pass a 2019 resolution condemning the law.
As of Monday, County Sheriff Bill Elder is still declining to answer questions about any actions his department took after Aldrich’s arrest in 2021 for making a bomb, including whether any weapons like firearms were recovered from his home after the incident, or whether anyone cited the state red flag law and asked for Aldrich’s weapons to be removed. A press release from Elder’s office at the time confirms no explosives were found on his property, but not whether any guns in his possession were taken. Online, some have noted the possible role of Aldrich’s privilege as the grandson of an elected official and a young white man in shielding him from prosecution and suspicion, more generally.
On Saturday night, it notably wasn’t police who subdued Aldrich, but club patrons. One Club Q patron reportedly tackled and restrained Aldrich, and, per the New York Times, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said the person who subdued him “grabbed a handgun from him and hit him with it.” Suthers said police arrived “within three minutes after being dispatched” and that Aldrich “was subdued within two minutes after that.” In other words, Club Q’s queer patrons appear to have done what Uvalde police couldn’t (or simply refused to) do to protect an elementary school in May.
Local law enforcement have yet to even acknowledge that the shooting was a hate-motivated attack, even as the shooting took place at a drag show in an LGBTQ nightclub and at a time of particularly vicious and dehumanizing attacks on trans people and drag events. Over this last year, drag brunches and drag story time hours have faced routine protests; in one case in Texas this summer, protesters were armed. A Tulsa, Oklahoma donut shop was recently attacked with a molotov cocktail after hosting a drag show. Colorado Congresswoman Lauren Boebert (R) has been one of the loudest anti-LGBTQ elected officials in the nation.
Despite how police haven’t identified the incident as a hate crime, patrons have identified it as such. “We thank the quick reactions of heroic customers that subdued the gunman and ended this hate attack,” the club wrote on its Facebook page in the aftermath of the attack. Online members of the far-right have also claimed it—and proudly—as an anti-LGBTQ attack. According to SITE Intelligence Group, in a popular neo-Nazi forum, one member wrote, “I hope God welcomes this guy with open arms,” and another praised Aldrich’s “good shot.”
Meanwhile, patrons of Club Q are asking where they can even feel safe in the right-wing area now that their one sanctuary is a horrific murder scene.