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Disney Protests

On April 6 2022, a small but loud group of people showed up at Disney headquarters in Burbank, California to protest a vague swath of claims about the theme park “grooming” children.

Local news station KTTV attempted to interpret the Disney protesters’ grievances, attributing them to Disney’s revised stance on Florida’s controversial “Parental Rights in Education (or “Don’t Say Gay”) bill:

The demonstration was organized by a group, Hold The Line.

The protest was tied to Disney’s response to Florida’s Parental Right’s Education Bill which is also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by its critics.

The bill which became a law in March [2022] prohibits teachers from addressing gender identity and sexual orientation in certain classrooms.

Disney’s CEO denounced the bill and employees walked out in protest in Burbank just a few weeks [prior] because they felt the CEO didn’t do enough from stopping the bill from becoming a law.

Although Disney’s reversal of their position on the Florida bill was largely cited as the reason for the protests, quoted protesters described vague, disorganized, and ultimately nebulous objections to Disney in general. LAMag.com reported that protesters carried signs reading “‘Defund Disney,’ ‘Disney, Stop Sexualizing Our Kids,’  and ‘Disney is Demonic,'” adding:

Although Disney initially disappointed its legions of LGBTQ fans by failing to address the Florida bill, the company eventually said in a statement that it “should never have passed and should never have been signed into law” and promised to establish a task force to ensure that Disney is “a force for good” for the LGBTQ community.

Disney Protests
Disney Protests

At Wednesday [April 6 2022]’s protest, attendee Marcos Zelada Rosas told Fox, “I just want to protect children. I don’t think that Disney promoting these task forces that are trying to include the LGBTQ agenda on them at such a young age is a good idea.”

Another protestor, who said she is a cast member at Anaheim’s Disneyland, took to the stage to tell the crowd, “I’ve worked for Disney for quite a long time and it has gotten very political and it’s gotten very hard to be who you are and it’s gotten very hard to be someone who has conservative values,” Daily Mail reports.

There were a lot of faces at the event to anyone familiar with the southern California inauthentic organization circuit, such as Shiva Bagheri, a far-right antivaxxer and anti-masker career activist with a history of activities such as going to schools to tell children that vaccines are tantamount to rape and physically attacking cancer patients in front of medical centers:

A group of militant anti-vaccine activists protested children walking to school in Beverly Hills on Wednesday, with one notorious anti-vaxxer screaming, “They’re trying to rape our children with this poison.”

The protester in question was Shiva Bagheri, a dog walker, dancer, and founder of the protest group Beverly Hills Freedom Rally, which has held numerous anti-mask and anti-vaccine events in recent months.

She was also recently caught on camera punching a cancer survivor while protesting a mask mandate at a cancer clinic.

On Wednesday morning Bagheri joined a larger group of protesters who confronted parents and children from Hawthorne Elementary School as they took part in National Walk to School Day.

Another protester, often described as “Taylor Lautner’s former co-star,” was quoted accusing Disney of “sexualiz[ing] and indoctrinat[ing] four-year-old children” in an Instagram post about the protests. It was not clear what the former actor referenced:

[Lautner’s former co-star] herself echoed such claims. In an Instagram story, [Taylor] Dooley included a screenshot of protest organizer Sean Feucht’s post claiming, “The sexualization and indoctrination of 4-year-old children SHOULD BE a line in the sand for every sane person.”

The dubious, far-right website The Post Millennial blogged about the protests, describing them as being against “grooming and pedophilia.” But in the post, they conceded the issue was Disney’s stance on the Florida bill:

According to Travis Rice of Fox LA, a group called ‘Hold The Line’ organized the protest and said that Disney is leaning too far left. The group is calling for a Disney boycott in order to “keep their children innocent,” and described the protest as a church in front of the Walt Disney studios. The organization began advertising the protest on April 4 [2022].

[…]

Families across the US have been cancelling their vacation plans to the theme parks and their subscriptions to Disney Plus after Disney’s CEO, Bob Chapek, has opposed a Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill and after it was revealed that Disney recently hosted an all-hands meeting about the bill, in which executives bragged about their “not-at-all-secret gay agenda” and “adding queerness” to children’s programming.

On April 1 2022, the LGBTQ news source the Los Angeles Blade reported coordinated disinformation attacks aimed at Disney. An April 5 2022 editorial published by the New York Times and Baltimore Sun addressed the protests from a higher vantage point, pinpointing disinformation purveyor Christopher Rufo as the primary architect of the backlash.

Rufo acknowledged his motive in ginning up outrage against Disney:

“This isn’t programming, this is propaganda for grooming,” hissed Fox’s Laura Ingraham. “Disney isn’t just grooming children with radical sexual propaganda — now they’re bragging about it,” said a writer for The Federalist. [Disney Executive Producer Latoya] Raveneau has landed in the middle of a renascent moral panic, one that combines elements of QAnon with old tropes about gay predators.

When I spoke to Mr. Rufo [on March 31 2022], he was frank about wanting to punish Disney for giving in to employee pressure to oppose the Florida law. “Perhaps the lesson that they’re learning — and certainly the lesson that they should be learning — is that they should stay out of politics,” he said.

Until recently, Mr. Rufo was best known for his work mobilizing the right against critical race theory. But lately, both he and the movement he helped catalyze have turned their attention to gender and sexual identity. He believes there’s a lot of latent alarm among parents over changing ideas about gender, and he intends to tap into it. “I think there’s an opportunity to do the reporting, to build the narrative, much in the same way as critical race theory,” he said.

Mr. Rufo’s work helped inspire a wave of state legislation limiting the way teachers can talk about race, history and current events, under the guise of banning critical race theory. Now, a new wave of legislation is targeting what teachers can say about LGBTQ issues … Companies’ most valuable asset is their brand, said Mr. Rufo, “and we’re going to start to erode that.” In the video of the Disney meeting that Mr. Rufo released, Ms. Raveneau enthused about how much freedom she’s been given to depict queer characters. But the price of that freedom just went up, and it remains to be seen if Disney will be willing to pay it.

In a lengthy Twitter thread on April 1 2022, Disney heiress Abigail Disney also addressed Rufo’s campaign against Disney. She tweeted:

Rufo seemed to have set his sights on Disney well before leaking internal video in March 2022. In May 2021, The Independent reported his earlier attempts to organize outrage aimed at Disney — in that instance, Rufo’s focus was racial sensitivity-related internal documents.

That story included a statement from Disney on the attempt to manufacture outrage out of thin air:

In a statement, a Walt Disney Company spokesperson said: “These internal documents are being deliberately distorted as reflective of company policy, when in fact their purpose was to allow diversity of thought and discussion on the incredibly complex and challenging issues of race and discrimination that we as a society and companies nationwide are facing.”

On April 6 2022, The Atlantic covered a novel and inaccurate usage of the word “grooming,” in an article aptly titled “That’s Not What Grooming Means.” It noted Disney was almost guaranteed to be targeted to amplify a narrative, explaining:

Due to Disney’s stature in both the state of Florida and the children’s-entertainment industry, the company has been drawn into the controversy over the Florida bill, angering people on both sides of the matter. Democrats sometimes express concern about the idea of corporations using their clout to intervene in politics, but in this controversy they had the opposite complaint[.]

With respect to improperly labeling things as “grooming,” The Atlantic referenced ongoing QAnon-related conspiracies, adding:

Despite deploying the word groomer in his own coverage, [conservative writer] Rod Dreher acknowledges that the term is being used in a new way, not in accordance with the definition that has long been known to Americans:

About the term “groomers”: it’s usually used to describe pedophiles who are preparing innocent kids for sexual exploitation. I think it is coming to have a somewhat broader meaning: an adult who wants to separate children from a normative sexual and gender identity, to inspire confusion in them, and to turn them against their parents and all the normative traditions and institutions in society. It may not specifically be to groom them for sexual activity, but it is certainly to groom them to take on a sexual/gender identity at odds with the norm.

Even if we were to accept Dreher’s highly idiosyncratic definition of “grooming,” looking past the fact that most invocations of the term make no mention of a new meaning, the notion that all or most people opposed to the Florida bill want to “inspire confusion” in kids or intend to “turn them against their parents and all the normative traditions and institutions in society” is absurd.

On April 6 2022, Disney protests in Burbank, California generated headlines (along with some insufficiently critical reporting) concerning their focus and purpose. Protesters ostensibly gathered to object to Disney’s revised position on Florida’s controversial “Parental Rights in Education” bill, with many ranting about the company “sexualizing” and “grooming” children. Credible analysis noted that the term “grooming” had a specific meaning, and that Disney in no way exhibited any behavior that could constitute it. The protests followed a strategic “leak” from disinformation purveyor Chris Rufo, who had long been attempting to target Disney using partisan outrage. A May 2021 attempt of his to castigate Disney’s internal racial sensitivity documents was less successful, but the April 6 2022 protests garnered some media attention.