Founded just over a year ago, the group adamantly opposes what it calls the "gender binary system," which classifies people as either male or female. Most members consider themselves neither or both. It's anti-establishment, anti-military, and anti-marriage—for anyone. What Bash Back! supports is gender self-determination, lots of sex and pornography, and confrontation as a first resort—a necessary response to violence.
The group's website features images of activists wielding clubs. They seem theatrical given the pranksterlike tenor of the protests, but members insist that their threats to use force are genuine. Real or not, their hard-line stance has struck a chord. Bash Back! has 15 chapters, in cities like Denver, Milwaukee, and West Palm Beach. Such rapid growth troubles the gay establishment. "This looks too much like something I don't want to be involved with," says Sue Hyde, a director at the National Lesbian and Gay Task Force. "Seeing weapons in the hands of gay folks in the U.S.? There's plenty of hate in the world."
But Bash Back! doesn't need the support of movement leaders to make headlines. The chapter in Olympia, Washington, glued a Mormon church's doors shut to protest the Latter Day Saints' financial support of Proposition 8. To avenge the 2008 shooting death of Duanna Johnson—a transgender woman who, months earlier, had achieved a measure of fame when the vicious beating she'd received in the custody of two Memphis cops was broadcast on YouTube—Bash Back! launched a nationwide campaign. Though the officers were fired, her killer remained on the loose. In Philadelphia, members blocked traffic and wrote STOP TRANS MURDER in pink chalk on streets. In Milwaukee, they dropped a banner at the University of Wisconsin that read R.I.P. DUANNA. The Memphis chapter sent a hearse and coffin to one of the cops' houses with a note that read SEE YOU SOON . . . —DUANNA BB!
"We're not trying to change people's minds, we're not trying to bend straight people to give us freedom—we're fighting back," says Milwaukee member Tristyn Trailer-Trash. "We're going to stop them from preaching hate, stop them from creating an environment that's unfriendly to gay, queer, and trans people. We're not going to be nice about it—they're not being nice about it!"
As the sun sinks outside Frankenstein's Castle, Andy and his comrades build a fire inside the bunker, inadvertently filling it with smoke. I ask them if they embrace the charges of terrorism. Mel finds this absurd: "It's disrespectful to the real terrorists."
"What our government is doing right now," Stewart says, "they kill people by the hundreds of thousands—and we're terrorists?"
"It's the most illogical shit," adds Andy, who is 25 and works as a bouncer in a local bar. In his view, Bash Back! stormed Mount Hope to end terrorism against any gay or trans youth who might be sitting in the pews—in much the same way that ACT UP demonstrators invaded St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York to protest the church's opposition to condoms in the era of AIDS. "If I was a little kid sitting there that day, my whole life would be different," he says. He was in seventh grade, he explains, when he noticed that he was attracted to women, and that he wasn't quite a woman himself. He was convinced that he was an abomination, a notion reinforced from the pulpit on Sundays and again on Halloween by Mount Hope's peculiar haunted house—in place of ghouls and headless horsemen, the faithful scared children with "abortionists" and "sodomites."