Proud Boys and other far-right groups showed up to intimidate a Drag Queen Story Hour in Columbus, Ohio, this weekend. (Screenshot via Brendan Gutenschwager via Storyful)
Neo-Nazis, Proud Boys, militiamen, Christian nationalists, and culture warriors in at least four states mobilized to shut down and intimidate events involving drag queens over the weekend. In Columbus, Ohio, a Unitarian Church was forced to cancel a planned Drag Queen Story Hour event when Proud Boys and a coalition of other far-right groups showed up to intimidate it. At least 50 Proud Boys showed up in their “colors,” some of whom wore tactical vests and covered their faces with masks and ski goggles, according to videos posted to social media by videographer Brendan Gutenschwager.
About 30 members of the white nationalist group Patriot Front also joined the fray, as well as a group of armed men in camouflage. About 15 others affiliated with the network “White Lives Matter” showed up waving their flag—a white square with a cross in the corner—and performed Hitler salutes. Some members of that group also held a large homemade banner that read “Groomers Not Welcome.” A group of counterprotesters also showed up; at one point police had to intervene in some heated verbal exchanges between Proud Boys and counterprotesters, according to Gutenschwager.
It’s been two weeks since a 22-year-old gunman’s deadly attack on a drag queen’s birthday celebration at an LGBTQ club in Colorado Springs left five dead, but family-friendly drag queen events have been targeted by far-right extremists for years. This year in particular, those attacks have become more persistent and sinister in nature, as the entire Right—fringe militants, to Fox News, to “Libs of TikTok,” and the GOP—coalesced around anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. These groups have seized on not just drag queen story hours but also LGBTQ characters in Disney movies and even LGBTQ teachers wearing Pride badges to school, to push baseless claims about “grooming” children. These narratives have even influenced legislation. State and federal lawmakers have filed record numbers of bills taking aim at LGBTQ rights this year. Recent bills filed in Tennessee and Idaho explicitly seek to ban public drag shows.
All this has created ripe conditions for emboldened fringe groups to put boots on the ground and take matters into their own hands—and in the case of the shooting at Club Q, with potentially deadly consequences. Meanwhile, protests against drag events have been an almost weekly occurrence this year. This weekend was no different. If you have any information about far-right groups or individuals targeting the LGBTQ community, please contact Tess Owen on Wire at @testess or by email at Tess.Owen@VICE.com.In Lakeland, Florida, members of NatSoc Florida, a new white supremacist group, dressed in their red and black uniform, gathered outside a venue where a family-friend music, art and drag show was taking place and waved swastika flags and a white Lives Matter flag. Also in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, uniformed Proud Boys joined forces with the local “Moms for Liberty” chapter for an “anti-grooming rally.” Moms for Liberty is part of a national right-wing network that takes aim at things like “critical race theory,” exposure to LGBTQ education, and COVID-19 restrictions in schools. Also present were a right-wing group “Gays Against Groomers.”
Far-right activists also targeted three separate drag queen events in New York over the weekend. Members of an anti-semitic, Holocaust-denying group called the Goyim Defence League tried to disrupt a Drag Story Hour event at the Lincoln Center in Manhattan and ended up facing off with about a dozen counterprotesters, according to freelance videographer Oliya Scootercaster.
About 20 far-right activists also protested a Drag Queen story hour event in Staten Island, and a smaller group showed up to a similar event at the Jewish Children’s Museum in Oceanside in Long Island, New York, where they were outnumbered by counterprotesters. Proud Boys in the Chicago area menaced the organizers of a slated drag show in the suburb of Aurora by posting information about the event and threatening to dox performers. Members of the group never showed, but about 50 antifascists and other community organizers did.Plans for this year’s annual Christmas parade in Taylor, Texas, which took place this weekend, were thrown into disarray when religious leaders complained about the involvement of drag queens in last year’s event. The city ultimately had to come up with a compromise: religious leaders, who wanted all parade floats to reflect “traditional and biblical family values,” according to The Washington Post, would hold their own parade, and the city would sponsor a separate parade.And in Southern Pines, North Carolina, far-right protesters secured a permit to protest outside a theater ahead of a drag show called “Downtown Divas” on Saturday night. Police erected barricades and put up signs saying that weapons were banned from the vicinity of the event. About 50 protesters showed up. They prayed and held signs saying things like “this is porn not female impersonators,” according to The Pilot. Drag queen Naomi Dix told The Washington Post that she’d received threats leading up to the event. So when the power went out at the venue—and across Moore County—organizers and performers immediately feared that they were under attack. Investigators say that the power outage was due to an individual or individuals shooting deliberately into two substations, and that it appears “targeted.” The sheriff says that they’re exploring the possibility that the drag show was the intended target but haven’t identified any clear links yet. The FBI have also joined the investigation.(Disclosure: Gavin McInnes, who founded the Proud Boys in 2016, was a co-founder of VICE in 1994. He left the company in 2008 and has had no involvement since then.)Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.