Extremists seem emboldened to show up armed at LGBTQ events across the country

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

Saturday morning, school officials announced they were canceling the scheduled 10 a.m. event, saying Columbus police officials “offered nothing” to provide security, describing their response to their concerns as merely a “casual and distant acknowledgment” of the ‘event.

“I spent a week calling our police department and leaving voicemails about reports we had seen,” Cheryl Ryan, principal of Red Oak Community School, said in a YouTube video posted Saturday. “After a week, I was told we could hire a special duty officer, who might or might not show up because he’s understaffed.”

The cancellation, however, did not affect the far-right extremists who came to demonstrate in front of the church: not only the Proud Boys, but also the masked neo-fascist marchers of the Patriot Front, the armed Oath Keepers and d other militiamen, and neo-Nazi White Lives Matter activists.

The various factions marched towards the church site from different directions and mostly appeared to remain united within their respective organizations once they lined up on the downtown Columbus street in front of which they protested. They were between 70 and 80.

Dozens of counter-protesters showed up on the church campus carrying pride flags, but kept their distance. At one point, the Proud Boys were seen dancing to the Village People’s hit, “YMCA,” and some of the militiamen looked eager to brandish their semi-automatic rifles, but for the most part both factions spent the day at yelling at each other across the 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 were Brien James, founder of the American Guarda former skinhead organizer who now specializes in far-right street violence. Daryle Lamont Jenkins observed the presence of a white lives matter band.

Columbus Policemen were recorded chatting friendly with the walkers, but told the people recording them that they were just trying to keep things balanced. Eventually the protests died down and the men went home.

The Columbus Police Division and city officials insisted they had been in regular communication with organizers for weeks since hearing about the event. The story time event was to feature local drag performers reading to children and performing holiday numbers.

In Florida, a group of neo-Nazis wearing masks and waving banners adorned with swastikas showed up Saturday to protest outside a Lakeland event featuring drag performers. On the same day in Fort Lauderdale, a group of Proud Boys and anti-Semitic members of the Goyim Defense League showed up to add an element of threat to an anti-LGBTQ “Protect the Children” rally.

The Lakeland Walkers, nearly all in masks, performed Hitler salutes and marches outside the Lakeland site, some of them shouting “Heil Hitler!” The men wore black pants and red shirts, and carried a banner that read, “Drag queens are pedophiles with AIDS. They also displayed a sign equating Jewishness with Communism, as well as a Christian nationalist banner with a cross-style red cross.

The mask The Nazis scared the children and their families inside the event. They stayed in place until the police arrived.

“As soon as I was notified, we immediately took action to keep everyone safe,” event organizer Jason DeShazo wrote. “The Lakeland Police Department showed up quickly to secure our site. Several officers were visibly patrolling around the perimeter, making sure our gates were locked and secure. Protesters, while holding Nazi flags, shouted insults to adults and children during the video recording, holding offensive signs and projecting inappropriate content on the side of the building while hiding their faces. The police did their best and kept them away from our community.

DeShazo added: “This is an example of how the climate we find ourselves in today has empowered extremists and given them a voice. The Rose Dynasty Foundation will continue to provide a safe space for everyone – it’s just a shame that this is the type of thing 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 massacres were likely to continue as long as the LGBTQ community “prepared” the children) and groups like “Moms for Liberty Miami” and “Florida Fathers for Freedom”. This demonstration, which did not respond to a specific LGBTQ+ event, was widely promoted on social media, by right-wing outlets like Breitbart and One America News Network.

A large contingent of counter-protesters, whose numbers are estimated to be significantly larger than the right-wing crowd, showed up across the street.

In New York, a small group of neo-Nazis led by a notorious ex-Proud Boy attempted to make a scene at Lincoln Center, which was also hosting a draq-queen storytime event, and met with 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 in a bar in the Lower East Side – and also for give nazi salutes with a fascist banner outside the Jewish Museum. The group also included members of the Goyim Defense League, and they carried signs.

At least a dozen counter-protesters were there to meet them outside the room and ruthlessly chased them away fighting them. The New York Post (who failed to mention the ideological backgrounds of the would-be disruptors) reported that they were chased away by people wielding eggs and bricks before they could enter the room. They also claimed to have been robbed.

The ADL noted two other protests in the New York area that were met with significant resistance:

  • Protesters also targeted a drag queen storytime event at the Staten Island Children’s Museum in Snug Harbor. Scott LoBaido, who is described by local media 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 abuse of children. Witnesses describe the protesters as lacking cohesion, with anti-vaccine conspirators also at the scene.
  • On December 4, 2022, approximately 10 protesters showed up outside of a drag queen storytime at the Jewish Community Center in Oceanside, NY, accusing event attendees of “grooming” children. According to social media accounts, they were met by 15 counter-protesters who were defending story time.

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

“The world is becoming increasingly dangerous for the LGBTQ community,” Cheryl Ryan of Red Oak Community School told NBC News. “We have to do better.”

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