Proud Boys Plan to Disrupt Drag Story Event in Columbus, Ohio

Proud Boys at Raleigh rally, November 2020 (Credit: Wikicommons)

A local chapter of the far-right Proud Boys plans to disrupt a Dec. 3 drag story event in Columbus, Ohio, just two weeks after the killings at a LGBTQ night club in Colorado Springs.  

The Columbus Proud Boys announced their plans to disrupt the kids story time event held at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus on Telegram last Tuesday. Advance Democracy, Inc., a non-partisan, non-profit research organization, first flagged the post. The post read:    

The Columbus Proud Boys would like to announce that we will be attending the Holi-drag Storytime being held at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus on December 3rd! We look forward to meeting all of the attendees and welcome Americans from all over to join us. It’s gonna be wild! Stand by for details…  

The emphasis of a “wild” protest is likely a reference to Jan. 6. Former President Donald Trump had called on his supporters to attend a rally on Jan. 6, 2021, promising that it would “be wild!” Many of attendees of that rally, including members of the Proud Boys, later marched on the U.S. Capitol, attacking police officers and storming the building.   

While the Proud Boys is probably best known for its role in the attack on the U.S. Capitol—for which several members face seditious conspiracy charges—the far-right, neo-fascist group is also known for its members’ presence at the 2017 white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where one counterprotester was murdered. Since the failed insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Proud Boys members have focused their efforts locally, disrupting school board meetings over mask mandates and LGBTQ-inclusive policies, and harassing attendees of drag story events, fearmongering that trans people are “grooming” children.

Already this year, the Proud Boys have disrupted drag events in Texas, Nevada, North Carolina, and California. In Idaho, the right-wing extremist group Patriot Front took it a step further; 31 people associated with the organization were arrested after they were found in a trailer full of weapons next to a Pride event.  

The post by the Columbus Proud Boys announcing its plans to disrupt the Columbus event has been viewed more than 1,600 times. Just 45 minutes after posting, the post was further promoted by the Official Cape Fear Proud Boys, a North Carolina-based chapter that coordinated multiple efforts to disrupt drag events in the past six months. It was also shared by an Ohio Proud Boys channel and “the Infamous Legend Valley Proud Boys” channel, which shared an image the following day promising “Ohio Proud Boys Season Beatings.” On Monday, the Legend Valley Proud Boys shared a meme calling for violence against perceived perpetrators of pedophilia. 

A meme posted on the Legend Valley Proud Boys channel. The image depicts a character in the “Walking Dead” who randomly choses a victim and kills him with a baseball bat wrapped in barbed-wire.

The Dec. 3 event is sponsored by Red Oak Community School, a school dedicated to fostering “students’ sense of their place and power in the natural world and in their communities.” A Facebook page promoting the event describes “Holi-drag Storytime” as “a new family-friendly, LGBTQ+ holiday tradition” in which local drag queens “will read stories for children of ALL ages and perform a few holiday numbers!”  

Of course, the Proud Boys have alleged that the event amounts to “grooming”—the rhetoric at the heart of recent political attacks on LGBTQ people. A video posted the Columbus Proud Boys channel last Thursday called on members to “stand against grooming” and provided the address of the church. “All I want for Christmas is an end to child grooming. Help Saint Nicolas scold the Naughty groomers,” text in the video reads, calling on members to arrive before 10 a.m. Another image shows a picture of Santa Claus giving the middle fingers. “Its rally time boys!” a final message reads.  

Right Wing Watch reached out to Red Oak Community School and the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus. Red Oak Community School replied after the publication of this story with a statement that read in part: “Our ROCS community hosts this drag story time event for the LGBTQ+ community in Columbus because it promotes values in young children that we hold dear to our hearts- love, kindness, inclusivity and understanding. When young children are raised with these values, it prevents bullying, hate and fear of ‘others’ later in life. It also helps normalize and celebrate the beautiful diversity of the gender spectrum that is now and has always been, a natural part of the human experience.” Federal and local officials are monitoring threats to disrupt the event, the school said, adding, “we have a security plan in place with ample, appropriate security measures.”

The statement also said that the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus, “buoyed by their long history of radical acceptance,” stands with the school. The church’s website describes it as a place to “come together to grow in religious depth, valuing freedom, reason, tolerance, love.” Shortly after the Proud Boys’ announcement, Red Oak Community School said they meet hate with love and invited donations, posting on Facebook, “For every nasty comment, dislike, negative email, phone call, etc. we receive about our upcoming FABULOUS fundraiser, we’re collecting donation pledges for a local LGBTQ+ organization.” They repeated that call for contributions in their statement.

The Proud Boys’ announced plan to disrupt the event came just days before a lone gunman targeted patrons of a gay night club in Colorado, killing five people and injuring 25 others. LGBTQ leaders have noted that this attack follows years of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and an increasing number of Republican politicians characterizing trans people as “groomers.” Religious-right groups have drafted anti-trans legislation, encouraged lawmakers to sponsor such legislation, and laid the groundwork for their passage through disinformation and pressure campaigns, a Right Wing Watch investigation found last year.  

On the Sunday morning following the attack on Club Q, Democratic Colorado state Rep. Brianna Titone said such rhetoric was to blame. “When politicians and pundits keep perpetuating tropes, insults, and misinformation about the trans and LGBTQ+ community, this is a result,” she wrote.

Update 11/28/22: This story has been updated with comment from Red Oak Community School. 

We need your help. Every day, Right Wing Watch exposes extremism to help the public, activists, and journalists understand the strategies and tactics of anti-democratic forces—and respond to an increasingly aggressive and authoritarian far-right movement. The threat is growing, but our resources are not. Any size contribution—or a small monthly donation—will help us continue our work and become more effective at disrupting the ideologies, people, and organizations that threaten our freedom and democracy. Please make an investment in Right Wing Watch’s defense of the values we share.