Navy vet who claims to have killed Bin Laden is the right’s new anti-drag poster child

Side by side images of Yeoman 2nd Class Joshua Kelley in a US Navy uniform and Kelley's drag queen persona Harpy Daniels in a pink outfit

A Navy SEAL vet who claims to have killed Osama Bin Laden is the new poster child for the right-wing anti-drag movement.

It has been widely reported by conservative news outlets that a decorated Navy SEAL veteran, who claimed to be the person who shot dead the Al-Qaeda leader, has been criticising a US Navy recruitment campaign that features a drag queen. 

Former SEAL team six member Robert O’Neill wrote on Twitter on 3 May: “All right. The US Navy is now using an enlisted sailor drag queen as a recruiter. I’m done. China is going to destroy us. You got this, navy. I can’t believe I fought for this b******t.”

O’Neill’s tweet has been viewed more than three million times, with 40,000 likes and more than 7,000 retweets.

His tweet was a reference to Joshua Kelley, a yeoman second class who also performs as a drag queen under the name Harpy Daniels. 

Kelley, who is non-binary, served as one of five ambassadors in the navy’s digital ambassador pilot programme between October and March. The scheme was pat of an effort to encourage people to enlist and to recruit from a more-diverse pool of people. 

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Despite the fact O’Neill expressed outrage about the ambassador scheme two months after its six-month run, his ire has now been picked up by the New York Post, the Daily Mail and Fox News, who used it as a stick with which to once more beat drag queens. 

The right-wing news outlets shared condemnations from other military personnel who described the navy as a “disgrace” and an “insult”.

Attacks on drag are sweeping the US

In the US, drag queens and the wider LGBTQ+ community face increasing legislative attacks from conservatives, with hundreds of anti-queer bills being introduced across the nation.

The laws seek to ban drag performances, restrict access to gender-affirming care for adults and minors, ban trans people from using toilets that matches their gender, and to roll back anti-discrimination protections.

The drag bans are part of a wider conspiracy theory that claims drag queens are “groomers” out to harm children, with far right and white supremacist groups protesting against drag shows and doxxing drag stars.

O’Neill went on to criticise Kelley and the navy on the Fox Business networ, telling talk show Varney & Co that the “military needs to be ferocious [not] fabulous”. 

Now an author and motivational speaker, O’Neill said: “We don’t join the military to express ourselves.

“All we have in common is that we’re afraid that we get our heads shaved. Then we’re part of a team, and our job as a military is alliance, solidarity, forward defence and deterrence.”

Dear America podcast host Graham Allen also weighed in, saying on Twitter that America’s enemies laugh at the navy and it is not the same organisation he served in. 

However, in response to the backlash, Kelley told their 8,000 Instagram followers: “Haters only hate when we’re winning. Queer people were oppressed in the military for years until 2011 and trans people since 2021. 

“You only want to support the military when it benefits you and doesn’t involve queer people. Yet the military is the [most] diverse and adaptable organisation in the US.

Kelley also said that being a “service member, a queen and an open queer person” means that Allen does not scare them. “You won’t stop the LGBTQ+ community thriving,” they concluded.

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