Pro-Kremlin groups mobilize online supporters to attack Tbilisi Pride Festival

Pro-Kremlin actors stormed the Tbilisi Pride Festival in July 2023, burning rainbow and Ukrainian flags

Pro-Kremlin groups mobilize online supporters to attack Tbilisi Pride Festival

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BANNER: Anti-LGBTQ+ protesters make a bonfire in the area designated for the Tbilisi Pride Festival on July 8, 2023. (Source: Reuters/Irakli Gedenidze)

Note: This article includes anti-LGBTQ+ epithets

On July 8, violent pro-Kremlin protesters stormed the venue of the Tbilisi Pride Festival hours before the event was scheduled to begin. The intrusion forced festival organizers to evacuate as a mob destroyed infrastructure, burned LGBTQ+ flags, and looted the venue. Tbilisi Pride canceled the festival and issued a statement claiming, “The attack on LGBTQ+ activists and Pride Fest was a well-planned operation orchestrated jointly by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and ‘Alt-Info’ against human rights and democracy.”

Alt-Info is a violent far-right group that holds a national broadcast license. The group and its affiliated political party, the Conservative Movement, have a documented history of organizing violent actions and mobilizing followers via online platforms such as Facebook, Telegram, and TikTok.

The Georgian Orthodox Church has also played a crucial role in mobilizing against Tbilisi Pride events, claiming that the West imposes LGBTQ+ rights to fight against the church and family values. Georgian civil society organizations have published a list documenting the representatives from the Georgian Orthodox Church who have participated in violent actions.

The attack on the Tbilisi Pride Festival was organized openly online, making it likely that police would have been aware of it. A video published by the Georgian online media outlet Publika appeared to show police officers escorting Zura Makharadze, an Alt-Info leader, and Vato Shakarashvili, leader of the newly established government-backed anti-Western movement Georgia First, inside the festival grounds.

At a press briefing on July 8, Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili said that law enforcement failed to protect the Pride event. “In reality, by inciting these counter-rallies and not condemning these actions or hate speech, the ruling party, the majority of parliament, supports violence and takes responsibility for all the consequences,” she said. The US Embassy in Tbilisi and the European Union delegation in Georgia called on the authorities to bring the perpetrators of the attack to justice.

In addition, Georgian civil society issued a joint statement assessing the July 8 attack as a “continuation of July 5, 2021.” This is in reference to a previous incident when a mob organized by the Georgian Orthodox Church and Alt-Info attacked journalists and activists in the streets of Tbilisi; cameraman Lekso Lashkarava later died as a result of injuries he sustained in the attack. None of the perpetrators was arrested; instead, Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili blamed the LGBTQ+ community for attempting to organize the parade in the first place. In 2021, the DFRLab reported on how Alt-Info’s online calls for attacks against the LGBTQ+ community resulted in real-world violence. Two years later, these groups continue to target the LGBTQ+ community with violence and hateful rhetoric.

The government’s escalating attacks on the LGBTQ+ community

Tbilisi Pride occurred amid a backdrop of escalating homophobic rhetoric emanating from the Georgian government. The government justifies its attacks on the LGBTQ+ community by claiming to protect conservative values and traditions. The Georgian Dream-led administration intensified its crackdown after it failed to pass the Russian-inspired “foreign agents bill” in March 2023. In the aftermath of the failed law, Georgian Dream Chairperson Irakli Kobakhidze blamed Georgian civil society and NGOs for attacking the Orthodox Church and promoting “LGBT propaganda.” Anti-LGBTQ+ narratives are part of the anti-West rhetoric exploited by the Georgian government, which intensified after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

In April 2023, the pro-Kremlin Conservative Movement launched a campaign to adopt a law that would ban “LGBT propaganda.” The proposed law was announced during a pro-government, anti-West demonstration. The draft aims to prohibit the promotion of “non-traditional sexual orientation.” The following month, Prime Minister Garibashvili attended a conference in Budapest where he asserted that “forces that oppose freedom” seek to dismantle traditional family values by promoting LGBTQ+ propaganda and advocating for legislation on “gender-affirming procedures for children.” In June, Georgian Dream leaders claimed the McDonald’s restaurant chain was “promoting LGBT propaganda” and “depriving children” because it included in Happy Meals a booklet that featured the openly gay musician Sir Elton John.

On June 30, 2023, a few days before Tbilisi Pride Week, Garibashvili delivered his annual address to parliament. During the speech, he claimed that “LGBT propaganda had infiltrated kindergartens in the EU and US.”

Alt-Info and Conservative Movement mobilize online supporters

Alt-Info and Conservative Movement began organizing their supporters on Telegram and TikTok weeks before the Tbilisi Pride Festival. Alt-Info migrated its activity to messing apps after Meta de-platformed them from Facebook on several occasions for multiple violations of platform policies.

On June 28, a Telegram channel named Alt-Info • ალტ-ინფო shared a video in which Makharadze announced the location and time for supporters to gather on July 8, with the explicit intention of disrupting the Tbilisi Pride Festival. In the following days, other Telegram channels associated with Alt-Info, as well as Facebook pages and profiles, shared a banner containing information about the July 8 gathering, urging people to “prevent” the Tbilisi Pride Festival from taking place.

Query results from the Meta-owned tool CrowdTangle reveal several Facebook pages shared a banner advertising the July 8 gathering. (Source: DFRLab via Crowdtangle)

The DFRLab identified fourteen TikTok channels using variations of the name “Alt-Info,” such as @altinfo8, @alt_info_news, @alt-infoeli, and others. These channels had a combined total of 58,600 followers. Six of the fourteen identified channels actively promoted the July 8 mobilization and disseminated footage of the ensuing attack.

Composite image of the fourteen identified TikTok channels associated with Alt-Info. Only six (purple box) were engaged in mobilizing supporters against the Tbilisi Pride Festival. (Source: DFRLab via TikTok)

The six TikTok channels also promoted the video of Makharadze urging supporters to disrupt the Pride festival. In the video, Makharadze shares his bank account information to apparently crowdfund the attack. On July 7, Georgian media claimed that TBC Bank and Bank of Georgia, the two largest banks in the country, had blocked the accounts of Alt-Info leaders. The banks have not confirmed this claim.

Screenshots of Alt-Info-affiliated TikTok channels disseminating Makharadze’s June 28 call for supporters to “prevent” the Tbilisi Pride Festival. (Source: @alt_info.konservatori/archive, left; @altinfo1/archive, center left; @altinfo8/archive, center right; @alt_info2000/archive, right)

On July 7, the Telegram channel Alt-Info News posted an interview with Konstantine Morgoshia, a founder of Alt-Info and Conservative Movement, claiming that July 8 would be “a final nail in the coffin of July 5,” referring to the 2021 attack on the festival, which led to the death of cameraman Lashkarava. Two channels, მსოფლიო პოლიტიკა (“World News”) and BeqaNews, forwarded the video.

Screenshots of Telegram channels associated with Alt-Info disseminating a video of Morgoshia threatening Tbilisi Pride Festival participants. (Source:BeqaNews/archive, left; მსოფლიო პოლიტიკა (“World News”)/archive, center;  Alt-Info News/archive, right)

News of the action targeting the Tbilisi Pride Festival spread online alongside anti-LGBTQ+ disinformation. Alt-Info and other groups disseminated false information that suggested Tbilisi Pride intended to organize a “gay parade” involving children in the streets of Tbilisi. Tbilisi Pride strongly refuted these claims, emphasizing that the festival was a closed event on private property exclusively for adults. It also stated that the purpose of such disinformation was to “incite hatred within a particular segment of society.”

Further, several Facebook pages and Alt-Info’s official Telegram channel circulated a video from the March 2023 New York City Drag March. At the beginning of the video, an unidentified voice chants, “We’re here, we’re queer, we’re coming for your children.” The video was disseminated out of context and was exploited by far-right and religious Facebook pages to falsely claim that the Tbilisi Pride Festival targeted children. In reality, the intention behind the chant was not to promote harm against children, but rather to challenge and ridicule prejudices against the LGBTQ+ community.

Screenshots of social media posts sharing a video from New York Pride week with out-of-context comments to falsely claim that Tbilisi Pride targets children. (Source: მართლმადიდებლური გვერდი/archive, top left; საქართველო უპირველეს ყოვლისა • Georgia First/archive, top right; Alternative World • ალტერნატიული სამყარო/archive, bottom left; Alt-Info News/archive, bottom right)

Online footage of the attack on the Tbilisi Pride Festival revealed that Alt-Info also targeted Georgia’s pro-Western aspirations. As an example, footage published by the Georgian online media outlet Netgazeti showed a mob on the festival grounds burning LGBTQ+ flags and Ukraine flags. In the video, a man can be seen throwing a Ukrainian flag while mocking the “Slava Ukraini” (“Glory to Ukraine”) salute.

Video frame shows individuals at the Tbilisi Pride Festival collecting different items in a box with the intention of burning them. Among the items is a Ukraine flag. (Source: Netgazeti).


Following the attack on the Tbilisi Pride Festival venue, Alt-Info and its supporters gathered in front of parliament, where Alt-Info leader Makharadze addressed the group. He declared that the gathering had become the basis for establishing the “Anti-Maidan” movement, stating that they would prevent liberals from carrying out a coup and that there would be no second front in Georgia. The term “Anti-Maidan” refers to the pro-Russia demonstrations that took place in Ukraine and Russia between 2013 and 2015 targeting the pro-West Euromaidan civil uprising in Ukraine, which resulted in the ousting of Kremlin-backed president Viktor Yanukovych. Another Alt-Info leader, Irakli Martnineko, also spoke in front of parliament, referring to protests in March against the Russian foreign agents bill as an “attempt of Maidan” and an “attempt of the West, the US, the European Union, and their puppets and agents to demonstrate power.”

Furthermore, in a July 10 interview, Alt-Info founder Morgoshia also suggested the establishment of a new “Anti-Maidan” movement. He expressed Alt-Info’s determination to prevent the organization of a Maidan-like movement, vowing to counteract any such attempts. He claimed Alt-Info already has thousands of people in a database who would organize into battalions, companies, and platoons.

The alignment between Alt-Info and the Georgian Dream-led government is apparent in the anti-LGBTQ and anti-West narratives shared by these groups, which frequently align with the Kremlin’s agenda. During the March protests, when Georgian protesters took a pro-West and anti-Russia stance, the Twitter account of Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Crimea compared the Tbilisi protests to the 2014 Ukraine protests and threatened Georgia with the possibility of a “re-invasion.” Further, Prime Minister Garibashvili labeled the March protesters as “servants of foreign countries,” referring to the West. Meanwhile, Georgian Dream Chairperson Kobakhidze described the protesters as “foreign agents” aiming to overthrow the government.

Alt-Info leaders also manipulated public opinion by claiming that the majority of the Georgian population is against LGBTQ+ rights and using the disruption of the festival as an opportunity to push for the adoption of an anti-LGBTQ+ law. During the gathering in front of parliament, Martnineko argued that passing such a law would be a significant strategic step towards gaining sovereignty and dealing a blow to the influence of Western powers in Georgia. However, public opinion polls demonstrate that the LGBTQ+ community has never been a major concern for Georgian citizens. Instead, poverty, inflation, Russian occupation, and healthcare remain the most pressing issues for the population.

Cite this case study:

Sopo Gelava, “Pro-Kremlin groups mobilize online supporters to attack Tbilisi Pride Festival,” Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab), September 19, 2023,