December 7, 2022

Last month’s mass shooting at a Colorado Springs LGBTQ club—or more precisely, the mainstream right’s “they had it coming” response—seems to have spurred far-right extremists to a higher level of action. Since those murders, groups like the Proud Boys, armed militiamen, and various neofascist groups that have been turning out to harass LGBTQ communities under the rubric of labeling them “groomers” since this summer have begun ratcheting up their politics of menace.

This past weekend alone, as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reports, neofascist thugs showed up to menace planned LGBTQ events—all of them drag shows—in Columbus, Ohio; in Lakeland and Fort Lauderdale, Florida; and in New York City. Additionally, there are suspicions that the gun attacks on two electrical substations resulting in a massive power outage in Moore County, North Carolina, may have been targeted at a drag show there.

The largest and most concerning of these occurred in Columbus, where a school operated by the First Unitarian Universalist Church had planned to hold a “Holi-drag” storytime event on Saturday. A group of Ohio-based Proud Boys announced that it planned to show up to protest. Their post warned: “It’s gonna be wild!”

On Saturday morning, officials at the school announced they were canceling the planned 10 AM event, claiming Columbus police officials “offered nothing” to provide security, describing their response to their concerns as only a "casual, distant acknowledgement" of the event.

"I spent a week calling our police department and leaving voicemails about the reports we had seen," said Cheryl Ryan, Red Oak Community School Manager, in a YouTube video posted Saturday. "After a week, I was told we could hire a special duty officer, who may or may not show up because they're understaffed."

The cancellation, however, did not affect the far-right extremists who came marching to protest across the street from the church: not just Proud Boys, but also masked neofascist Patriot Front marchers, armed Oath Keepers and other militiamen, and neo-Nazi White Lives Matter activists.

The various factions marched to the church site from different directions, and mostly appeared to remain clustered within their respective organizations once they got lined up on the street in downtown Columbus across from which they protested. They numbered in between 70 and 80.

Dozens of counterprotesters showed up on the church campus bearing Pride flags, but kept their distance. The Proud Boys at one point were seen dancing to the Village People hit, “Y.M.C.A.,” and some of the militiamen seemed eager to brandish their semiautomatic rifles, but for the most part the two factions spent the day simply shouting at each other across West Weisheimer Road in the Clintonville neighborhood where the church and school are located.

Among the bad actors who showed up with the Proud Boys was American Guard founder Brien James, a onetime skinhead organizer who now specializes in far-right street thuggery. Daryle Lamont Jenkins observed the presence of a White Lives Matter group.

Columbus police officers were recorded chatting amiably with the marchers, but told people recording them that they were just trying to keep things even-keeled. Eventually, the protests petered out and the men went home.

Columbus Division of Police and city officials insisted they had been in regular communication with organizers for weeks, ever since they'd learned about the event. The storytime event was scheduled to feature local drag performers reading to children and performing holiday numbers.

In Florida, a group of neo-Nazis wearing masks and waving swastika-adorned banners showed up to protest outside of a Lakeland event featuring drag performers on Saturday. The same day in Fort Lauderdale, a collection of Proud Boys and antisemitic Goyim Defense League members showed up to add an element of menace to an anti-LGBTQ "Protect the Children" rally.

The Lakeland marchers, nearly all of them masked, performed Hitler salutes and marches outside the Lakeland venue, some of them shouting, “Heil Hitler!” The men wore black pants and red shirts, and carried a banner proclaiming: “Drag queens are pedophiles with AIDS.” They also displayed a sign equating Jewishness with communism, as well as a Christian nationalist banner with a Crusader-style red cross.

The masked Nazis frightened the children and their families inside the event. They remained sheltered in place until after police arrived.

"The moment I was informed, we immediately took action on how to keep everyone safe," event organizer Jason DeShazo wrote. "Lakeland Police Department showed up quickly to ensure the safety of our venue. They had several officers visibly patrolling the perimeter, making sure that our doors were locked and secured. The protesters, while holding Nazi flags, were yelling slurs at both adults and children while video recording, holding offensive signs and projecting inappropriate content onto the side of the building all while concealing their faces. The police did their very best and kept them away from our community."

DeShazo added: "This is an example of how the climate that we are in today has pushed extremists and given them a voice. Rose Dynasty Foundation will continue to provide a safe space for all people — it's just a shame that these are the type of things we have to worry about."

The Fort Lauderdale rally was organized by the right-wing Gays Against Groomers (whose spokesperson recently told Tucker Carlson that more mass killings were likely to continue so long as the LGBTQ community was “grooming” children) and groups like "Moms for Liberty Miami" and "Florida Fathers for Freedom." This protest, which was not in response to a specific LGBTQ+ event, was widely promoted on social media, by right-wing outlets including Breitbart and One America News Network.

A large contingent of counter-protesters, estimated to significantly outnumber the right wing crowd, showed up across the street.

In New York, a smaller group of neo-Nazis led by a notorious ex-Proud Boy attempted to make a scene at the Lincoln Center, which was also hosting a draq-queen storytime event, and met even stiffer resistance.

The group was led by notorious New York neo-Nazi Jovanni Valle, aka Jovi Val, a man best-known for his self-martyrdom when he was hit with a bottle while wearing a MAGA hat inside a Lower East Side bar—and also for throwing up Nazi salutes with a fascist banner outside the Jewish Museum. The group included members of the Goyim Defense League as well, and they were carrying signs.

At least a dozen counterprotesters were there to meet them outside the venue and chased them away unceremoniously by fighting them. The New York Post (which neglected to mention the would-be disruptors’ ideological backgrounds) reported that they were chased away by people wielding eggs and bricks before they could enter the venue. They also claimed they were robbed.

The ADL noted two other New York-area protests that encountered significant resistance:

  • Protesters also targeted a drag queen story time event at the Staten Island Children’s Museum in Snug Harbor. Scott LoBaido, who is described by a local news outlet as a “controversial artist/activist,” led around 60 protesters, including at least three Proud Boys, in shouting anti-LGBTQ+ comments and accusing event organizers of child abuse. Witnesses describe the protesters as lacking cohesion, with anti-vaccine conspiracists also on the scene.
  • On December 4, 2022, approximately 10 protesters showed up outside of a drag queen story hour at the Jewish Community Center in Oceanside, NY, accusing event participants of “grooming” children. According to social media accounts, they were met by 15 counter-protesters who were defending the story hour.

“The goals are clear,” tweeted author Andy Campbell: “Cancel community events by mobilizing violent bigoted gangs, and ultimately, flood the narrative with ‘groomer’ until all drag/LGBTQ is accepted as inherently threatening.”

"The world is getting more and more unsafe for the LGBTQ community,” Cheryl Ryan of the Red Oak Community School told NBC News. “We have to do better."

Republished with permission from Daily Kos.

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