Watch: Tennessee cops let violent neo-Nazis off with warnings after they menaced a charity drag show
Sean Kauffmann, an unidentified League of the South member, William Beals and an unidentified biker outside a drag show in Chattanooga, Tenn., in November 2022. Chattanooga Police Department

Sean Kauffmann gave a stiff-arm Nazi salute as he arrived at a protest outside a drag show at a local brewpub in Cookeville, a small city about 75 miles east of Nashville, Tenn., in late January.

“Kill all the n—ers and the Jews!” shouted a 15-year-old boy who had come with Kauffmann to protest the “Celebrity Drag Brunch,” an event benefiting a local LGBTQ advocacy organization.

An array of fascist and far-right groups flanked Kauffmann and the boy, chanting homophobic slurs at the several dozen people across the street who had arrived to serve as informal protectors for the drag show performers and patrons, according to police body-camera footage exclusively obtained by Raw Story through a state open records request.

Kauffmann, the 15-year-old boy and a third friend — former Proud Boy and Army military veteran Robert Bray — left the protest in a black Honda Civic around 1:30 p.m. As the three were driving past the brewpub, the protectors saw them throw some type of projectile out of the car.

William Beals, a 15-year-old boy and Sean Kauffmann (l-r) outside a drag show in Cookeville, Tenn. on Jan. 22. Robert Bray is in the background at left. Courtesy Josh Brandon

But they had company. A Cookeville Police Department officer tailed the car as it passed the brewpub and turned right at a stop sign. The officer activated his blue emergency lights about 30 seconds later. Kauffmann pulled his Honda over. Three additional police units fell in behind.

Exclusive video obtained by Raw Story shows the local Tennessee police officers letting neo-Nazis off with a warning after menacing the drag show brunch that was supporting charity. The police’s encounter highlights a broader pattern of law enforcement missing the warning signs about extremist violence.

The lead officer, who identified himself as “Officer Smith,” first greeted Kauffmann, while another officer, Caleb Rubel, approached the passenger side.

“The reason I stopped you is throwing stuff at people. You can’t be doing that, okay?” Smith said, after collecting driver’s licenses from Kauffmann and Bray, who was seated in the front passenger seat, the police body cam footage showed.

“What’d y’all throw out over there?” Smith asked.

“A stink bomb,” one of the occupants of the vehicle replied.

While Smith was running the men’s driver’s licenses, Rubel alerted him: “Hey Smith, front guy’s got a firearm on his right hip.”

Rubel approached the Honda Civic’s passenger side again.

“So, which one of you all threw it?” Rubel asked.

Bray raised his hand, and chuckled.

“So, why?” Rubel asked.

“Control,” Bray replied.

“Trying to use that gun on your hip?” Rubel asked, referring to Bray’s pistol.

“No, that’s for my personal protection.” Bray replied.

“It’s not real smart to go provoking people and then trying to find some lousy excuse to use it, right?” Rubel asked.

“Those aren’t people,” Bray responded.

Rubel continued standing at the front passenger window, as Smith meanwhile learned from dispatch that the occupants of the vehicle were part of a “terroristic group.” Smith informed Kauffmann, Bray and the 15-year-old that they could be charged with aggravated assault. An arrest seemed likely, even imminent.

But it wasn’t: Smith ultimately let Kauffmann, Bray and the 15-year-old juvenile go with a mild warning.

“Don’t throw something at someone, OK? You guys are free to go,” the officer said.

After the traffic stop, the Tennessee Active Club, a neo-Nazi crew led by Kauffmann, celebrated the protest as a victory.

Noting the participation of two other neo-Nazi groups in a post on its Telegram channel, he declared: “Hail victory, hail group unity and networking.”

'Law enforcement is unprepared'

The Cookeville police’s encounter with Kauffmann and his crew highlights a broader pattern of law enforcement missing the warning signs about extremist violence.

From the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va. in 2017 to the attack on the U.S. Capitol in 2021, and now a groundswell of attacks against LGBTQ Americans, police have repeatedly found themselves overmatched or under-informed relative to the potential threat.

And the failure to enforce the law and accurately identify known extremist groups points to an apparent bias that makes it difficult for law enforcement to recognize threats from far-right actors, and predisposes them to view community members who mobilize to protect drag shows and LGBTQ-friendly spaces as equal offenders.

Kauffmann and his Tennessee Active Club’s effort to provoke violence in Cookeville came amid the group’s participation in a sustained run of vitriolic protests against drag shows across the state from November 2022 through February 2023.

Since a new law went into effect on April 1 banning drag shows in the presence of anyone under the age of 18 in Tennessee, the Tennessee Active Club’s campaign of provocation has fed into a wider national pattern of violence against the LGBTQ community. This includes a Molotov cocktail attack last month by a neo-Nazi against a church hosting a drag event in Ohio.

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Meanwhile, the campaign to curb if not shut down drag shows has united a coalition of far-right factions — from neo-Nazis to the Proud Boys and QAnon followers — to a degree not seen since the Jan. 6 insurrection. The intimidation campaign against LGBTQ-friendly spaces unfolded alongside a flurry of legislative proposals in dozens of states targeting transgender people, whether following Tennessee’s lead to ban drag performances or restricting gender-affirming care and blocking access to collegiate and school sports.

In concert with the harassment of drag shows and legislative efforts, anti-trans talking points by conservative media figures such as Tucker Carlson and Matt Walsh have created a feedback loop that lends mainstream legitimacy to vigilante violence.

Gwen Snyder, an anti-fascist researcher and veteran community organizer in Philadelphia, told Raw Story that the fact that Kauffmann “is so engaged in anti-trans terrorism now is telling in terms of what the terrorist far-right agenda is, and really goes to show how both this terrorist far right has laid the groundwork for the assault on trans people by the mainstream right and what the mainstream right is giving cover to. This stuff bubbled up on Terrorgram and Nazi right spaces. It was taken on by the mainstream right, and the mainstream right is now giving cover to Nazis like Sean” Kauffmann.

The mainstreaming of anti-trans hate dovetails with a continuous failure by law enforcement to interdict extremist violence over the decade.

“Law enforcement is unprepared, despite public statements that they’re planning to commit violence,” Michael German, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty & National Security Program, told Raw Story. “And too often, they don’t follow up after the violence occurs, which tends to condition the militants to believe they’re allowed to commit violence.

“Law enforcement has been reluctant to respond to far-right violence in a manner that would address its organized activity,” said German, who infiltrated neo-Nazi groups in the 1990s as an undercover FBI agent. “Unite the Right is an example of national groups that included individuals who had committed violence elsewhere coming to an event that was publicly advertised. That shouldn’t be a hard problem to recognize.”

Raw Story left 10 voicemails over the course of a week for the Cookeville police chief and the department’s public information in an attempt to obtain comment from them. Cookeville officials did not respond to these messages.

'All the red flags are there'

Kauffmann’s violent ideations reached a fever pitch in 2019, when he founded a neo-Nazi group called Panzer Strike Force in Tucson, Ariz.

During that period, he communicated with an enlisted soldier named Jarrett William Smith, who was later convicted for distributing bomb-making instructions to an FBI informant while suggesting former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) as an assassination target. Shortly before Smith’s arrest in September 2019, he counseled Kauffmann to “hide your guns” after Kauffmann expressed the fear that federal authorities would seize his firearms because of his history of violence and Nazi beliefs.

Snyder uncovered communications on Telegram, an encrypted messaging app favored by white supremacists, between Smith — handle: “Anti-Kosmik 2182,” according to federal court documents — and Kauffmann, who posted under the handle “Boog Führer.” Raw Story has independently reviewed the material.

Posting under the “Boog Führer” moniker, Kauffmann inadvertently disclosed his identity by sharing clippings from what appear to be confidential documents referencing his history with the Arizona Department of Child Safety to illustrate why he was at risk of losing his guns. The clippings shared by Kauffmann, posting as “Boog Führer, included his first and last name.

Snyder discovered Kauffmann when she was monitoring the emergence of “Terrorgram” — a term researchers use to describe an online network of neo-Nazis who share violent propaganda on the social media app Telegram, including posts valorizing white supremacist mass shooters as “saints.”

“He was very noticeably one of the most active users in those spaces,” Snyder told Raw Story. “He has been in conversation with people including Jarrett William Smith.…. He has obviously a prolonged interest in committing acts of terror. He has a violent history. All the red flags are there.”

Kauffmann declined to comment when reached by Raw Story.

In June 2020, when Nick Martin — another anti-fascist researcher — posted a photo of four men throwing up stiff-arm, Nazi-style salutes at a Black Lives Matter rally in Tucson. Snyder said in a Twitter thread two days later that until that point she had been reluctant to reveal Kauffmann’s identity, but his appearance at a protest prodded her into action.

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“I am truly worried about the dangers this man poses, and if I weren’t actively afraid he’d try to murder people at a protest, I wouldn’t be chancing provoking him with an ID,” Snyder wrote at the time.

A month later, Kauffmann traveled to east Tennessee and showed up at a Black Lives Matter protest in Rogersville, a small town of about 4,700 people. Kauffmann and three other neo-Nazis were charged with disorderly conduct. A local news station cited police reports that said the men “became violent and started trying to assault people in the crowd.”

It’s hard to imagine that the FBI wasn’t tracking Kauffmann by the summer of 2020. Jarrett William Smith had been arrested by the FBI in September 2019, after speaking with an undercover informant who purported to be interested in traveling from Oklahoma to Texas to carry out an assassination against an unnamed politician. In the Telegram chats that Snyder uncovered, prior to his arrest, Smith expressed interest in driving to the Dallas/Fort Worth area to meet one of Kauffmann’s associates.

“I sent a DM,” Kauffmann said in the chat. Smith replied: “If you need help or knowledge I have contacts in the aforementioned orgs that can supply me with the stuff you may want/need.”

Darrell DeBusk, a spokesperson for the FBI’s Knoxville Field Office, declined to comment on whether the agency is tracking Kauffmann.

The Telegram chats that Snyder culled in 2019 and 2020 show that Kauffmann's appetite for violence was nearly boundless. There was a suggestion to “make it a Saint Day September” — a term indicating a month of mass murder. He shared a GIF of the Norwegian white supremacist and mass murderer Anders Breivik. He made comments promoting rape as weapon of dominance and others expressing a desire to “rape and kill antifa.” He denied that the Holocaust occurred, while arguing, “it should of happened.”

The Anti-Defamation League, which tracks extremism, sent out a law enforcement alert on the Tennessee Active Club and Kauffmann specifically to the FBI in November 2022. But it’s unclear how much of this information, if any, reached the Cookeville police officers when they surrounded Kauffmann’s Honda Civic on Jan. 22.

“Did they say who they’re with?” an officer identified as “Young” who responded to support the traffic stop, asked Smith, his fellow officer.

“They got American flags in the back,” Smith replied.

Gesturing towards Bray, the neo-Nazi who could not be reached for comment for this story, he added, “Got a veteran.”

It’s unclear what Smith saw that looked like an American flag, but the men had been openly displaying a flag with a swastika encircled by a field of red less than an hour before.

After confirming Kauffmann’s insurance, Smith told him: “The only issue is that if you’re throwing something at a protest or whatever … still that can cause bodily injury, you can still be charged with aggravated assault by throwing something like that at somebody. Do you understand that?”

“Yeah,” Kauffmann said.

“That’s a Class D felony in the state of Tennessee,” Smith continued. “Don’t want to see anybody get charged with anything today. It’s a protest. We want to see everybody protest however they feel. Just don’t throw stuff, okay?”

“Right, yeah,” Kauffmann said. “We were making sure to [remain] nonviolent.”

“I got you,” Smith replied.

“I can see the way it would be construed that way,” Kauffmann said.

Conferring with Young a couple feet away from the vehicle, Smith said, “They’re definitely affiliated with the Proud Boys, that’s what dispatch said. Terroristic….”

The group’s links to the Proud Boys was grounded in personal history and association: A YouTube interview from 2019 that was reviewed by Raw Story shows Bray wearing a Proud Boys shirt, and photos published by the Philadelphia Inquirer and a local blog show that he attended rallies with the Proud Boys in Philadelphia in September 2020 and then, in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, the following month. Video from the Jan. 22 rally also shows Kauffmann and Bray shaking hands with two Proud Boys when they arrived at the Cookeville protest.

Robert Bray, a passenger in Sean Kauffmann's car, admitted to throwing a stink bomb at drag-show supporters.Courtesy Cookeville Police Department

The police body-camera video from the traffic stop also shows Sgt. Zach Gilpin, who was on the scene, advising Smith to police the situation with a light hand. Any further enforcement, he told Smith would just make them “hostile” and “make them want to retaliate and make it even bigger.”

“Oh yeah,” Smith agreed.

While conferring with Gilpin, Smith characterized Kauffmann’s statement about his intentions in a way that was imprecise at best and took his assurance at face value.

“He said, ‘We don’t want violence; we just want to protest,’” Smith told Gilpin. “I said, ‘You have every right to do that.’”

Michael German, the Brennan Center fellow, told Raw Story he finds the sergeant’s rationale to be astonishing.

“Wow,” he said. “I would think that would have the opposite effect. If this individual in the group thinks the police are not going to enforce the law, then they might think they can get away with even more aggressive actions to instigate violence.

“I’m not sure how that would escalate things unless the police thought the militants were going to escalate violence towards them,” German added. “And that would point to a bigger problem if the police are more concerned about protecting themselves than protecting the community. Either they know that this is a group that is prone to violence that is coming into their town, or they don’t. If they think this is a group that is prone to violence, they should probably be doing more to police that group.”

Cookeville police traffic stop, Jan. 22, 2023Police body cam footage shows how officers let violent neo-Nazis off with warnings after they menaced a Tennessee drag show

German said the hands-off approach taken by many law enforcement agencies toward far-right extremists stands in stark contrast to the approach commonly taken toward non-violent left-wing protesters, who are often subject to mass arrest just for marching.

“It’s hard for me to see it any differently than it’s a demonstration of bias on the part of the police that they view a non-violent environmental protest as a national-security threat, and deadly violence by white supremacists as not that big of a deal,” German said.

Smith and Gilpin could not be reached for this story, either directly or through the Cookeville Police Department.

See no hate

The absence of any apparent recognition on the part of the officers that the driver of the vehicle was a prominent white supremacist who leads the Tennessee Active Club, or even that he and his passengers were neo-Nazis is striking, considering that reforms two decades ago were intended to address this very gap, German told Raw Story.

German told Raw Story that after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, “law enforcement established numerous intelligence-sharing vehicles” that include FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces, along with state and local fusion centers that are intended to disseminate intelligence among agencies “about the kinds of groups that are engaged in organized criminal acts.”

Many of the fusion centers “spread misinformation and unfortunately don’t accurately portray violent groups in a way that allows law enforcement to understand how to react,” German added.

“It seems that this information-sharing network is not sharing the accurate information correctly,” he said.

By the time of the Jan. 22 traffic stop in Cookeville, there was ample public documentation of Kauffmann’s presence at protests outside drag shows across Tennessee, including Chattanooga on Nov. 13 and Maryville on Nov. 25.

Following a period of relative dormancy, Kauffmann had moved from Arizona to rural Perry County in Tennessee in October 2022.

With the launch of the Tennessee Active Club the same month, Kauffmann grafted his organizing efforts onto a national network of so-called “active clubs” that typically distribute white supremacist propaganda, join small-scale demonstrations and gather for private training events. The network was inspired by Robert Rundo, the founder of the Rise Above Movement, who is currently under indictment for conspiracy to riot.

Since founding the Tennessee Active Club, Kauffmann has made it into one of the most robust crews in the country, putting a particular emphasis on anti-LGBTQ activism while aggressively deploying white supremacist symbols and rhetoric, according to Morgan Moon, an investigative researcher with the Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism, a nonprofit dedicated to monitoring, exposing and disrupting extremist threats.

“A lot of that has to do with the fact that Sean Kauffmann is running this organization,” Moon told Raw Story. “He’s been on our radar for some time. Kauffmann has advocated for violence online. He’s advocated for rape. … He has a history not only of white supremacy, but also aggression and violence.”

Moon spotted a Nov. 20, 2022, post on the Tennessee Active Club’s Telegram channel flagging an upcoming drag show in Maryville and calling on supporters to “shutdown [sic] the grooming, sexualization and exploitation of children.”

The Anti-Defamation League issued a law enforcement alert the following week.

Prior to the Maryville protest, a similar protest outside a community theater hosting a drag show in Chattanooga on Nov. 13, 2022 provided an intelligence-gathering bonanza for law enforcement.

After speaking with the owner of a tattoo shop next door to the theater who called in a complaint about threats from the anti-drag protesters, the responding officer crossed the street and approached Kauffmann, according to police body camera video reviewed by Raw Story.

“Hey guys, who’s in charge of this group right here?” asked the law enforcement official identified as “Officer Hauge.”

“We’re just independent,” Kauffmann responded. “We’re not with a group.”

Standing to Kauffmann’s right was the 15-year-old juvenile who the police in Cookeville later encountered in the back seat of the Honda Civic. Standing to his left was an unidentified man wearing a shirt and hat identifying him as a member of the League of the South, a group that advocates for the secession of the original states of the Confederacy to create a homeland for white Christians. The League of the South was among dozens of white supremacist groups and individuals found liable for conspiracy to commit racially motivated violence during the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville and ordered to pay more than $25 million to plaintiffs injured in the attack.

Belying his claim that he was an independent participant, Kauffman was wearing the Tennessee Active Club’s official T-shirt and ballcap. The ballcap was turned backward, and there was no lettering on the front of the T-shirt. But later Hauge walked up behind Kauffmann, and the video shows the distinctive Tennessee Active Club logo, with the sonnenrad — a symbol commonly embraced by neo-Nazis — encircling the three stars of the Tennessee state flag, on the back of his shirt.

Later, Hauge’s video shows that he watched members of Patriot Front, a fascist group accused of vandalizing a monument to the African-American tennis legend Arthur Ashe and defacing an LGBTQ pride mural. Patriot Front splintered from Vanguard America following Unite the Right. Vanguard America collapsed amidst a storm of bad publicity after James Fields Jr. rallied with the group before accelerating his car into an anti-racist march, murdering Heather Heyer in Charlottesville.

Despite ample documentation of Patriot Front’s background by groups that monitor extremism, the officers give no indication in the video that they were familiar with the extremist group in their midst. The video shows Davis, the police sergeant, bringing back a flier to show the other officers, including Executive Chief Glenn Scruggs.

“So, the weird-looking flag thing, that’s what they are,” Davis said, referring to Patriot Front’s distinctive flag featuring the fasces encircled by 13 stars.

Scruggs took a quick look at the flier and responded: “Yeah.”

Davis noted that the name of the group was “Patriot Font,” and another sergeant, George Forbes, muttered something that is hard to discern in the video.

Whatever he said, it ended the discussion.

As the event was winding down, Hauge instructed a rookie officer named Shackleford on how to write a report.

“Did somebody have a card on what that flag meant?” Shackleford asked Hauge.

“Yeah, I think Davis got one that was like …” Hauge responded, his words trailing off.

There was no further discussion between the two officers about the group with the strange flag, but Hauge gave Shackleford a rambling and fine-grained tutorial on when officers should and should not name specific groups. The discussion illuminates the political sensitivity surrounding policing protests against drag shows and the pressure on officers to take a “both sides” approach toward those harassing drag shows and those seeking to protect LGBTQ-friendly spaces.

“Now, say you had a Blood or Crip shoots a Ghostface, Aryan Nation, Latin King, whatever,” Hauge said. “Putting it in that kind of report where there has been a physical assault on somebody and saying that this set attacked this set — all that does in that report — that’s not Crips attacked this Aryan guy and it’s Black on white; it has to do with gang affiliation, right? So, there’s no problem with associating a specific set with that because that helps us track what’s going on there.”

But documenting groups involved with drag show protests required more delicate treatment, Hauge suggested.

“When it comes to a political view where it’s two parties that are going to sit there and cuss and yell and scream at each other, don’t put yourself in that hole,” Hauge counseled. “Because what’s ultimately gonna happen is ultimately in some way, shape or form, the media’s gonna get a hold of this. I guarantee they’re probably going to pull it up. And the last thing we want to put in there is that us as police who are neutral to this situation — all we’re here for is to make sure the public is safe — is to sit here and say, ‘Oh, well, LGBTQ was harassed by Republicans, or Democrats were harassed by Republicans, or left wing was harassed by right wing,’ and we put a stigma that they can use as flak against us or anything else. So, don’t put yourself in that situation.”

Hauge’s final point to his law enforcement colleague: “We’re not gonna establish groups, or whether or not it’s a hate group, unless there’s physical violence.”

Chattanooga drag show protest: extremistsPolice body cam footage shows how officers let violent neo-Nazis off with warnings after they menaced a Tennessee drag show

Jerri Sutton, an assistant chief with the Chattanooga Police Department, defended the decision to exclude information about specific extremist groups in the report, adding that it doesn’t reflect officers’ awareness of intelligence.

“That incident report was written up and gave an account of the event,” Sutton told Raw Story. “It was documented on video, as you have pointed out. The report’s not written to slight any group. The information was part of the intelligence gathering. We were aware of who we were dealing with.”

William Beals, a 51-year-old construction worker who attended the Chattanooga protest and two months later walked up on the Cookeville police officers as they were conducting the traffic stop involving Kauffmann, told Raw Story that he has been tailed in Chattanooga by an “FBI member that is chosen to be on the side of antifa.”

“I am on the terrorist watch list because of the FBI,” he said. “I don’t give a s—. I’m not an actual terrorist. I’m a Three Percenter.” Three Percenters are an authoritarian movement whose adherents view themselves as latter-day equivalents of the original American patriots who are guarding against supposed government tyranny.

Beals has been publicly identified by online researchers, who nicknamed him #TowerPup, as being present at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and going inside the building. He told Raw Story that at least one of the videos cited by researchers as evidence that he was at the Capitol was fabricated from a photo of him on his motorcycle that was grafted onto another person’s body at the Capitol. But he has publicly stated he was involved in an altercation with left-wing counter-protesters during the same time period.

In an interview with a right-wing podcaster last month, Beals said his own mother asked him if he was at the Capitol.

“I said, ‘Nope,’” Beals recounted. “I’m one of those Three Percenters that was whupping the s— out of antifa and BLM down BLM Plaza road. I definitely take accountability for that one.”

During the Nov. 13, 2022 protest at the drag show in Chattanooga, Forbes, the police sergeant, noted that Beals was walking around with a “Bowie knife on his damn hip” and singled him out as one two “instigators” in the crowd.

When Forbes arrived on the scene, Beals approached him — and asked him to investigate the venue hosting the drag show.

“See, the reason I’m asking — if they’re giving children alcohol or in any form grooming those children, okay, that’s what we need to know,” Beals told Forbes. “Because this ain’t OK.”

William Beals (left), a self-identified Three Percenter, addresses Sgt. George Forbes at a drag show protest in Chattanooga, Tenn.Courtesy Chattanooga Police Department

Forbes heeded Beals’ request. The venue owner informed Forbes that they were not serving alcohol because they submitted their application for an alcohol permit too late. With her permission, Forbes and two other officers conducted a walkthrough of the venue, where they inspected a drink menu and looked behind the bar.

Video from the protest shows Beals walking into the middle of the street and daring a drag supporter to fight.

“I’m right f—ing here, boy,” he said. “I’m right here, pussy.”

It’s unclear whether officers observed the incident, but police body-camera video shows that Hauge told another man that Forbes also identified as an “instigator” to get out of the street. Later, as the man walked through a grassy strip occupied by drag show supporters, Forbes told him: “Sir, right now, you’re causing a disorder.” Around the same time, drag show supporters accused the man, in the presence of officers, of assaulting a woman by bumping her with his shoulder, but Forbes brushed them off.

German said provocation is a time-worn tactic of white supremacists and far-right groups, going back to Nazi Germany.

“When I was working undercover in the 1990s in neo-Nazi groups, law enforcement understood the tactics that they used,” he said. One of those tactics, he said, was to show up at rallies where they knew they would face opposition, and then provoke a fight.

“Law enforcement has forgotten those lessons since 2015, and they have tried to present these events as mutual combat,” German said.

Sutton, the assistant police chief in Chattanooga, noted to Raw Story that Executive Chief Glenn Scruggs responded in person to monitor the scene.

“Any situation where the officers deem it necessary to make an arrest, they have the discretion to do so,” she said. “In this case, they made the decision to keep the parties separate, so that the patrons going to the business could do so safely, and those who were protesting could do so from a distance that allowed them to exercise their freedom of speech.”

Chattanooga drag show protest: instigatorsPolice body cam footage shows how officers let violent neo-Nazis off with warnings after they menaced a Tennessee drag show

German also said that law enforcement responses often reflect a false equivalency between extremists and the communities they are sworn to protect.

“What’s frustrating to me and what’s frustrating to many others is that the far-right militants are coming from outside the community, and law enforcement doesn’t protect them, and treats them as mutual antagonists rather than understanding that this is an outside force coming in with the purpose of instigating violence. There’s a fallacy that mutual combat means there’s no crime, and we don’t have to intervene.

“If someone wants to have a drag show and far-right militants are coming to menace and prevent them from exercising their rights,” German added, “law enforcement needs to understand that this isn’t a both-sides issue.”

Since the Nov. 13 standoff, Chief Celeste Murphy has met with the owner of the community theater.

“Chief Murphy has been in contact with several interested parties in this whole situation,” Sutton told Raw Story. “We have a relationship with the LGBT community. We are well aware of their ability to exercise their rights. We are working with the district attorney’s office to ensure that everybody’s rights are secured.”

Within a week of the Chattanooga drag show, the Tennessee Active Club mobilized again to harass a drag show in Maryville, a small city outside of Knoxville. The LGBTQ community and anti-fascists also mobilized to protect the bookstore hosting the drag show and toy drive.

Josh Brandon, a voice actor and former country radio programmer who hosts the “Overthinking Everything” podcast, had planned to travel to Virginia that day to visit a friend who was having gender-affirming surgery. But on Thanksgiving he found himself in the emergency room. With his travel plans disrupted, Brandon decided he might as well go to help out at the drag show.

A self-described “lifelong shamed and closeted bisexual,” Brandon handed off a metal detector used to check patrons for weapons when Sean Kauffmann and his crew arrived at the bookstore, instantly finding a new calling as an anti-Nazi antagonist.

“Look me in the eye,” Brandon told Kauffmann, with a big smile spreading across his face. “I’m not afraid of you, you piece of s—.”

Shortly after the encounter, Brandon said Kauffmann shared his personal information on Telegram. Around the same time, he also received a phone call from Beals, who was not present at the Maryville protest, but indicated he had seen footage of Brandon there.

“He made threats,” Brandon recalled. “He said, ‘I’m going to come find you. I’m going to beat the s— out of you.’”

Brandon told Raw Story he reported Kauffmann’s Telegram post and Beals’ phone call to the FBI. He said he also called the Knox County Sheriff’s Office to tell them to expect Beals at a drag protest in Knoxville on Dec. 22.

As a precaution, Brandon said, he continued to alert the FBI when he planned to attend a drag event in which he expected to face Beals and Kauffmann across the street.

It remains unclear whether the implementation of the new Tennessee state law banning drag performance for audiences under 18 will aggravate or ameliorate far-right violence against LGBTQ-friendly venues in Tennessee, or whether the neo-Nazi groups will be able to capitalize a recent right-wing effort to leverage rage against trans people in response to as a school shooting in Nashville that was carried out by a person who identifies as trans.

The Tennessee Active Club has recently shown signs of looking beyond Tennessee. Kauffmann and three of his associates traveled to Lexington, Ky., last month to protest the prosecution of a University of Kentucky student accused of assaulting another student while berating her with racist slurs. Meanwhile, protests at drag shows, often marred by violence and displays of overt support for white supremacy, continue to be a nearly weekly occurrence in communities across the country.

Moon, of the Anti-Defamation League, noted that Kauffmann has shown a motivation to travel, including a trip to San Diego, Calif., in August for a mixed-martial arts competition and to Washington state in December to network with other active clubs.

Moon noted that the active clubs place a strong emphasis on physical fitness, and the Tennessee Active Club recently held a joint fight training with the Vinland Rebels, another neo-Nazi group that was also in Cookeville. Law enforcement should pay attention to Kauffmann for a number of reasons, Moon told Raw Story.

“I think what’s most important is that the Tennessee Active Club and Sean Kauffmann have put a particular focus on LGBTQ events,” she said. “They keep coming out to these drag events. Sean Kauffmann has a history of violent criminal activity. He shares his extreme and violent beliefs online. This shows this potential for a future powder keg at an event with counter-protesters.”

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Editor's note: Raw Story obtained more than two hours of body worn- and dash-camera video from the Cookeville Police Department after requesting the video through the Tennessee Public Records Act. Raw Story edited down the video to produce a compilation video presenting a chronological narrative of a Jan. 22, 2023 traffic stop. The Cookeville Police Department blurred footage that shows a 15-year-old juvenile and one of the officers’ laptop computers, and redacted a conversation between the officer and dispatch.

Raw Story also reviewed more than three hours of police body-camera video from the Chattanooga Police Department capturing officers’ response to a Nov. 13, 2022 drag show protest. The first video compilation shows officers’ encounters with known extremist groups and the lead officer coaching a rookie on how to file a report. The visuals were blurred inside the police unit in the original video as provided by the Chattanooga Police Department. A second compilation video has been edited to produce a chronological narrative of the Chattanooga officers’ encounters with two men described as “instigators” and discussion among officers about how to handle the situation. Raw Story did not include footage showing individuals at the scene whose presence is incidental. Portions of the video that include a letter reviewed by one of the officers was visually redacted by the Chattanooga Police Department.