Proud Boys whip up vitriol against a drag brunch in a small North Carolina town
Photo by Jordan Green

SANFORD, N.C. — More than a dozen Proud Boys in tactical gear and gang colors harassed patrons attending a drag show in this small town straddling the Piedmont and the state's eastern plain on Sunday by calling them “groomers” and “pedophiles” as they filed into a local brewpub for the brunch event.

The 16 Proud Boys, mainly from the Cape Fear chapter and almost entirely wearing masks, massed outside the front entrance of Hugger Mugger Brewing in downtown Sanford at around 11:30 a.m. The group ballooned to about 35, including people holding signs with Bible verses. Later, a small group of men showed and started reading scripture to three people holding a banner to promote LGBTQ rights and Black Lives Matter. The protest also attracted local racists who have been fixtures at rallies in central North Carolina to defend Confederate monuments since 2018, one of whom used an anti-Asian epithet against an ally supporting the drag event.

As patrons entered the venue through an alleyway guarded by a handful of police officers, the Proud Boys repeatedly called them “groomers” and “pedophiles,” while loudly claiming without evidence that allies supporting the event were registered sex offenders.

“You might think we’re here for hate,” one Proud Boy said. “We’re here for love…. We love our country. We love being Americans. We love God…. We’re retaking America, folks.”

Another Proud Boy stalked up and down the sidewalk, repeatedly saying, “Kill yourself. It’s encouraged.” Another man, dressed in the Proud Boys' traditional colors of yellow and black, wore a hat that said, "Shoot your local pedophile."

Lindsey Knapp, a local attorney who heads a nonprofit that advocates for survivors of sexual trauma in the military, organized the drag show. A previous drag event she organized drew about three people standing outside handing out religious tracts, she said. The level of vitriol this time was new.

As an Army veteran, Knapp said she considers support for peaceful protest to be bound up with her oath of enlistment.

“I wouldn’t consider this peaceful,” Knapp said, observing the protest from the alleyway. “They’re trying to elicit violence against the LGBTQ community by calling us pedophiles. If they felt that way, they should report us to the legal authorities. I’m an attorney. I would be disbarred if that were the case.”

Parrish Holmes with the Cape Fear Proud Boys chapter told reporters outside the venue that the protesters’ only objection was children being exposed to drag performances.

The “grooming” conspiracy theory is a decades-old slander against LGBTQ people that has been resurrected in the past two years and refashioned to specifically target transgender people.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, “The result of this widespread hateful rhetoric has been a spike in harassment, threats and violence targeting the LGBTQ+ community. This dangerous development increases the risks facing an already marginalized group by falsely accusing them of one of the vilest behaviors imaginable, in a way that implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) condones violence.”

The Anti-Defamation League notes that extremists have misappropriated a legitimate term for “manipulative behaviors” used by sexual abusers “to gain access to a potential victim, coerce them to agree to abuse, and reduce the risk of being caught” as a way to demonize LGBTQ and trans people.

Similar to accusing attendees at the drag brunch of being groomers, the Proud Boys deployed a familiar argument that exposing children to drag increases the likelihood that they will become transgender.

There is no single explanation for why some people are transgender, according to the American Psychological Association.

“The diversity of transgender expression and experiences argues against any simple or unitary explanation,” the association’s website says. “Many experts believe that biological factors such as genetic influences and prenatal hormone levels, early experiences, and experiences later in adolescence or adulthood may all contribute to the development of transgender identities.”

Holmes, who described himself to reporters as a “constitutionalist,” claimed that exposing children to drag is a form of “abuse.”

“Children that are being targeted, children that are being trans-ed, [with adults] saying that this kind of lifestyle is okay, that is this kind of lifestyle for someone under twenty-one that you should be able to live like this, you should be able to put on woman face as a boy and be a caricature as a woman and pretend like women who have lived their whole lives as women, that you can just adopt that by putting makeup on your face, a wig on your head,” he said.

Knapp said the children who came to the drag show in Sanford with their parents found a supportive setting to explore their gender identities.

“They’re likely in the LGBTQ community and looking for a safety net,” Knapp told Raw Story. “This was an opportunity for them to see what it’s like to dress in a different way or express your gender in a different way than maybe it was assigned at birth. This was a safe setting for children who are trying to figure out how can I be my truest self.”

Without having seen the performance, Holmes said he believed it was “sexual in nature,” because “that’s the definition of a drag show.”

Knapp said that was not the case in the show that patrons attended at Hugger Mugger on Sunday. While some drag performances do incorporate stripping off garments of clothing, she said, this one did not.

Biding their time outside the venue over the course of the four-hour event, some of the Proud Boys attempted to recruit the police officers stationed outside the front entrance.

“We’ve got all kinds — retired cops, retired military,” one of them told the officers. “We’re the full spectrum of Americana.”

Another Proud Boy, wearing a tactical vest with a patches displaying a skull and bones, Christian cross and American flag across his black tactical vest, later warned one of the officers: “People get hurt.”

“It’s a big concern,” the officer replied.

“I don’t want to get hurt, nor have to hurt nobody,” the Proud Boy continued. “But I got to be able to defend myself.”

Later, when Holmes announced that the rally was over, the same Proud Boy led them in prayer, incorporating the Proud Boys' goofy catchphrase “Uhuru” as he talked to God.

“These group of men, we come against things that we see that your word is against, we come against them,” the man said as the Proud Boys bowed their heads. “Father God, we’re gonna call this a victory. We’re gonna say that 'Uhuru' in the name of Jesus.”

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