The right-wing panic equating the LGBTQ community with pedophilic “groomers” was tailor-made for neofascist attack dogs like the Proud Boys: eliminationist rhetoric, left-leaning targets, and ripe opportunities for threats, intimidation, and violence. It checks all the boxes.
So it’s hardly surprising that after an initial wave of attacks on Pride events led by white nationalists and Christian nationalists, the Proud Boys are swinging into action. The most recent incident occurred on Tuesday in Wilmington, North Carolina, when a gang of polo-clad Proud Boys spearheaded a protest at the local library during a Pride reading hour, shouting obscenities, threatening library patrons, and frightening children.
Proud Boys have been involved in attacks on Pride events elsewhere, particularly those that are drag queen-related:
- On June 11 in San Lorenzo, California—a Bay Area suburb—Proud Boys arrived at the local library during a drag queen story hour to shout homophobic slurs and threaten both the audience (which included children) and the person doing the reading. Police are investigating the incident as a potential hate crime.
- On June 12 in Arlington, Texas, a cluster of Proud Boys wearing polos and face masks from the Buc-ees rest stop franchise (which have become the unofficial facial coverings of choice for Texas Proud Boys) showed up outside the Rangers stadium to protest a scheduled Pride Week brunch for drag queens—which was in fact a ticketed event exclusively for people 21 and older, so no children were nearby. Nonetheless, the Proud Boys and their “Christian fascist” cohorts not only continued to protest, but some invaded the event anyway and harassed patrons, while others loudly threatened antifascists who had shown up.
The incident in Wilmington occurred when a group of Proud Boys showed up outside the library to support protesters who were decrying a Pride story hour reading going on inside. The men trooped into the building, flashing white nationalist “OK” signs and heading down the hallways to the meeting room where the reading was being held.
Sheriff’s deputies who showed up did not permit the protesters inside, so they stood just outside the door and shouted “Groomers!” and homophobic slogans as well as obscenities. Eventually, the remaining families inside the event were escorted out a side door. The Proud Boys then reportedly began harassing ordinary library patrons. One of them scuffled with a patron outside who threatened to mace him, but police intervened and the fight was broken up.
A flyer advertising the event at the library described it as an "inclusive story time featuring LGBTQIA+ stories to celebrate all families," and was geared toward children under 7 years old accompanied by adults.
It appeared to a number of observers that deputies from the sheriff’s office appeared to escort the protesters into the library and permitted them to shout threats at the attendees inside the room.
The sheriff’s office promptly issued a statement denying this:
A Sheriff’s Office supervisor entered the library and positioned himself between the private room holding the reading and the demonstrators. The supervisor instructed the demonstrators that they were not allowed to enter the room. At no time did Sheriff Deputies witness nor did any library staff report any of the demonstrators causing a disturbance within the library or try to enter the private room that was holding the reading. After the reading, all the participants left the library with no incident.
Sheriff McMahon stated, “I took an oath not to uphold opinions, but to uphold the law. Which is exactly what my supervisor and Deputies did.”
However, people who were present at the library claimed this characterization of the events was false:
This is an absolute lie and you know it. I'd encourage the public to wait for the real story on WHQR and PCD. Many of us witnessed with our own eyes the NHCSO escort the Proud Boys (bc let's call them who they are) and their klan into the building straight to the room where children as young as 1 were with their parents, while they shouted obscenities and threats. Only library staff and a handful of child advocates were able to intervene. This group, along with the officers who appear in photos and on camera, were with them as they taunted parents and children both in the library in their personal tour with NHCSO and outside. Children and parents were ushered out through a side door after the event was disrupted and they were traumatized by this gang with the support of law enforcement. I'd hardly call it "without incident." Sheriff McMahon...it's no wonder that this community does not trust you. Your actions are abhorrent, your words are blatant lies and your ability to "protect and serve" is non existent.
I was there. This is definitely not how it happened. And they didn’t limit themselves to harassing who they thought may be in the storytime. It was all library patrons I saw.
Between School Board meetings and this, I don’t see where casual conversation and fist bumps between the PB group and deputies as being a positive thing. Why did this group need more protecting than little kids?
Linda Thompson, the chief diversity and equity officer for the county, said the protesters did not enter the building until after the Storytime program ended. “The library director came inside with them and deputies quickly made their way to the door of Storytime, to ensure safety for library patrons and staff who were still in the room,” her statement read. “The members of the protesting group were not allowed in the closed room where the event had been held and families were still in, and there was no disturbance inside the building. Sheriff’s deputies and library staff also provided help to parents and kids who were still in attendance (some had left already) on where to exit the library following the event. Parents and children were not in danger at any time.”
Far-right groups with a broad range of ideological focuses, including neofascist white power groups like Patriot Front—which just had 31 members arrested in Idaho while attempting to create a riot at a Pride event—and Christian nationalists, including fundamentalist preachers demanding that gay people be lined up and shot in the head—have been targeting Pride events around the nation this year. The ADL reported that it monitored seven in-person extremist activities targeting the LGBTQ community on one weekend alone, that of June 11 and 12.
While they all seem to have a variety of pseudo-rationales for their irrational hatreds, the one thing they share in common in these attacks is the vicious eliminationist demonization using rhetoric—such as labeling every LGBTQ person and their defenders “groomers”—identifying them as predatory pedophiles, either actual or potential. For the Proud Boys—who have been developing an antidemocratic strategy of deploying their thuggery at primarily local events organized by others—it’s an ideal fit.
As Media Matters’ John Kneffel observes, much of this hateful narrative is being generated in ostensibly mainstream conservative quarters by such social media influencers as @LibsOfTikTok. One of the primary generators of the hate campaign in Texas and elsewhere is a woman named Kelly Neidert, the founder of Protect Texas Kids, which has been organizing a number of the protests outside Pride events, including one in Dallas that drew a crowd of white nationalist Groypers to harass parents and kids.
Neidert—who has described herself online as a “Christian fascist”—earned a permanent suspension from Twitter last weekend after she posted: "Let's start rounding up people who participate in Pride events."
It was Neidert who organized the failed protest in Arlington, apparently targeted because she and others mistakenly believed the event involved children’s story hours. Despite the blunder, the Proud Boys in Buc-ee’s masks, as Kathryn Joyce reported at Salon, went inside the event anyway to harass attendees.
She notes that “several men wearing the same Buc-ee's masks, one also clad in a military-style tactical vest, walked into the back rooms where people had gathered, glaring at them until other diners grew alarmed enough to call the police. The men left without incident, flashing the ‘OK’ hand gesture that's become associated with white supremacists. But as the reception wound down, organizers warned attendees to leave in pairs.”
The same men, Joyce reports, showed up at a city council meeting in Frisco, Texas, where Neidert was testifying against the local Pride Week proclamation. Seated in front of them was a local justice of the peace candidate named Steph Gardella.
She told Joyce that she heard them call the LGBTQ community "disgusting" "pedophiles" while implying that they would like to take parents who brought their children to the event outside to beat them up.
"Bluster doesn't bother me. People being incredibly mouthy and saying hateful things doesn't bother me. But there was something about the energy of these guys that had the hackles on the back of my neck standing up," said Gardella. "What I saw in Frisco made me scared to open my door at home."
The incident in San Lorenzo was similarly frightening to local residents. Five Proud Boys disrupted the event, with children, parents, and other members of the community present.
They “began to shout homophobic and transphobic slurs” and were described as “extremely aggressive,” deputies said, adding that they had a “threatening violent demeanor causing people to fear for their safety.”
Drag queen Panda Dulce, who hosted the event, told Buzzfeed News that the attendees were singing a welcome song together—“as wholesome as you can imagine”—when the Proud Boys showed up.
She warned that the LGBTQ community won’t be backing down: “They want us to disappear. They want us to not exist so they don’t have to confront their own discomfort with the idea that there are people different from them in the world,” Dulce said. “But guess what? There are people different from you in the world. And we’re going to stay here. And we’re going to continue doing what we’re doing. And we’re going to be visible about it.”