BRIGHTON, England – The drag queen behind a drag story time tour of UK children's libraries was ambushed by a group of radical COVID “truthers” on Thursday.
Sab Samuel said he was unintimidated and determined to continue his performances of children's book reading sessions under his drag persona Aida H Dee, in a tour that has attracted controversy.
On Thursday, Samuel was blocked from driving out of a car park following a story hour session at Brighton’s Jubilee library. The protesters, prominent COVID “truther” influencers who subscribe to a bogus sovereign citizen ideology – which they mistakenly believe places them above the law – blocked his exit with their vehicles, while calling him a “paedophile” and yelling: “Why are you grooming children?”
During the confrontation, which the aggressors filmed and posted to COVID conspiracist channels on Telegram, Samuel’s driver repeatedly beeped the horn, before a member of the public came out of a nearby building and the protesters eventually retreated. One of the COVID truther activists confronting Samuel was a conspiracist influencer known as “Danny” who runs the Telegram channel “Truth Pills.” He posted videos of the confrontation to the channel calling on his 32,000 followers to run a check on Samuel’s licence plate, before posting a video of what he claimed showed himself delivering “evidence of child grooming and paedophilia” to police in Brighton.
The confrontation, and the aggressive protests that took place outside the venue, resulted in two subsequent “drag queen story hour” performances in the area being cancelled on Thursday. The altercation was the most significant flashpoint so far amid a series of protests targeting the drag queen story hour tour since it began last month, instigated by COVID conspiracists and far-right groups such as Patriotic Alternative which have mobilised heavily over the issue.
Speaking to VICE World News exclusively in the nearby Hove library, following the postponement of the event in the venue, Samuel said he believed he would have been kidnapped if he had been alone. He said he would now reappraise his security arrangements.
“I've had threats of being kidnapped by these people, and it is extremely clear to me that if I had been available to throw into one of those big cars, I probably wouldn't be seen again,” he said.
Samuel said he had received death threats over the tour, been threatened with bleach attacks, and seen opponents boast that they were prepared to go to jail to stop him. On Telegram channels, militant COVID conspiracists have threatened to “arrest” him – a tactic favoured by sovereign citizens against their perceived enemies, and which he had previously been threatened with at a story hour event in Reading, a town in southeast England.
“They said they would ‘arrest’ me, bind me, put me in the back of a car,” said Samuel.
But the harassment from “dickhead hate protesters” had only made him more resolved to continue with the tour.
“Do I think any of those people would have had knives on them? Absolutely. Do I think I just came close to somebody who might have had acid on them? Yeah, I do. Am I going to do all the events going forward? Absolutely,” he said.”
“The show will go on.”
Sussex Police, which policed the events, told VICE World News that inquiries were ongoing into the incident in which Samuel was confronted. Two people were arrested at Hove library – a 64-year-old on suspicion of assault for allegedly spitting at a member of the public, and a 28-year-old on suspicion of criminal damage.
Samuel’s only performance that was able to take place on Thursday – at the Jubilee library in Brighton, largely regarded as the unofficial LGBTQ capital of the UK – was held amid tight security, as a group of committed but heavily outnumbered protesters gathered outside. They squared off against a group of counterprotesters who had come to show their support for the event.
The protesters were heavily drawn from the COVID conspiracist scene, which has seized on the drag story hour issue as a major culture war battle – mirroring US culture war battles which have seen far-right groups such as the Proud Boys storm drag story hour events.
Prominent COVID conspiracist activist Piers Corbyn, the brother of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, was a leading figure in the protests, telling VICE World News that event was inappropriate, and a deliberate provocation by who he said were the architects of the supposed New World Order, designed to foment social division.
“If everyone was straight, the human race would end,” he yelled through a megaphone to jeers from the much larger crowd of counterprotesters, before attempting to begin a chant of: “Your parents were straight.”
Other protesters hurled slurs that the event was designed to “groom” children, and slanderously labelled Samuel a “paedophile.”
Meanwhile, in the Jubilee library event, attended by VICE World News, parents were bemused by the commotion outside, as their children attended a reading that bore close resemblance to a performance by a pantomime dame, with no references to themes of gender or sexuality.
“It’s just silly,” was the reaction to the protests from Caroline Ackley, who had brought her 17–month-old son Patrick along. “He loved it.’
The protests meant that security for the event was tight. One woman who had previously disrupted a story hour event in Reading was spotted inside the library – although she did not enter the children’s zone and cause problems – and entry was strictly vetted.
Samuel said that despite the protestations of his opponents, his performances contained no sexual themes, and it was the protesters, if anyone, who introduced that element to his performances.
“They are the ones who are using the words sex and gender more than I have, because I've never used it,” he said.
“In Reading, you had the protesters get in and shout ‘1,000 genders, only 2 sexes.’ If anyone's sexualising children, it's them, according to their logic.”
He added: “They're hateful people. They're victims of misinformation campaigns.”