White supremacists among the protesters at the drag event in Wadsworth, Ohio
Hundreds of protesters, including armed white supremacists, and supporters of the LGBT community descended on Wadsworth Memorial Park on Saturday as a humanist group attempted to host a drag queen storytelling event for children.
Towards the end of the four-hour event, two people were arrested after a series of scuffles with pepper spray, the violent use of a flagpole as a weapon and a protester who allegedly pulled a gun and tried to fire the gun, according to a witness and video.
Wadsworth Police Chief Dan Chafin said Sunday he was aware of footage of the alleged handgun but could not comment further pending an investigation. The man who carried the metal object was jailed along with another who supported the event.
Because vehicles with out-of-state license plates were on display at the event, Chafin said police lost track of the number of crowds of about 200 people, according to Chafin. Medina City and County Police, Brunswick, Brunswick Hills, Hinkley, Seville, Montville Police, County Drug Task Force and Ohio State Highway Patrol assisted Wadsworth Police in patrolling and securing the event. Paramedics from all over the region were on duty.
Chafin said the Rock-n-Roll Humanist Drag Queen Story Hour event went as planned and approved by the city, but the situation remained volatile from start to finish as neo-Nazis shouted racial slurs from behind metal barricades and attendees, including parents and children being pursued by protesters in and out of the event.
The protesters far outnumbered the supporters.
White racist and white nationalist groups, including at least one attendee wearing a Proud Boys hoodie, shouted racial and homophobic slurs at viewers and others, including “Heil Hitler” and a man over a loudspeaker chanting “Sieg” as the Demonstrators replied: “Hail!”
One person who attended the event to protest the age appropriateness of people reading children’s drag reading said he was “shocked” to see and hear what white supremacists were saying.
Some demonstrators shouted: “Nazis, go home.”
A black reporter from the Beacon Journal tasked with covering the event left the country for his own safety after protesters repeatedly called it a racial slur. A video of the event, posted by attendees and a documentary filmmaker, shows a bald white man waving a black flag with a white swastika. Members of the neo-Nazi group point out the few black people at the event.
“How does it feel to be a pedophile?” says a man in the white supremacist group.
“There’s a gay (racist) swear word,” replies another man.
The protesters carried signs that read “White Lives Matter” and “Mothers Against Grooming,” which refers to the alleged process of building trust with children or families with the ultimate goal of sexually abusing children.
A supporter who attended the event said the goal was “not to make kids gay, but to keep gay kids alive.”
Although the drag show organizer had obtained permission to host the show, it had been controversial from the start, with Wadsworth City Council President Bob Thurber saying in a statement on Sunday that it was being carried out in a harmful way for the city way had been advertised.
A Wadsworth resident, Aaron Reed, promoted the event in public spaces after a private venue in the city refused to host it.
Drag Queen Story Hour:Controversy over child resilience simmers at Wadsworth City Council meeting
Initially, the event was criticized on Facebook and in media reports, mainly because it was advertised for children. Others supported the idea of an event for children and parents. Reed has said the planned clothing and music would be appropriate for children, with some songs edited with profanity.
The City of Wadsworth said in a public statement ahead of the event that “after much discussion and legal review, we have no choice but to let the event go ahead”. In a letter to residents, Wadsworth Public Safety Director Matt Hiscock and Chief Chafin advised that “you, your family and those you know avoid being in the park at the time of the event if possible.” .
White supremacists disrupt drag storytelling nationwide; Group shields families
White supremacists and white nationalist groups have raided and disrupted Drag Queen Story Hour events from Boston to Colorado. In December, outside a public library where a show in eclectic, north-central Columbus neighborhood Clintonville was canceled, White Lives Matter Ohio and others celebrated the cancellation with neo-Nazi slogans and gestures.
Parasol Patrol, a nonprofit organization that travels to support progressive events, came from Colorado with their rainbow umbrellas to protect parents and children from protesters.
Co-founder Pasha Ripley said live on Facebook on Sunday: “Honestly, this should be a national story. It really should.”
Parasol Patrol co-founder Eli Bazan, who said he is a firearms instructor in the Marines, claimed someone drew a small .22 caliber handgun and pulled the trigger twice, but the gun didn’t fire.
“It looked like he shot someone right past me. But it would have pierced my umbrella,” Bazan said.
The man was later arrested for fighting with a supporter.
2 arrests at drag storytelling event, no violent injuries reported
No one was injured as a result of the violence at the event, Chafin said. One person twisted his knee and another had a seizure. Paramedics treated both.
Chafin said two people were arrested, one in support of the event and another who was there to protest. Footage of the arrests was posted by a on social media documentary filmmaker after a series of hand-to-hand combat.
The first standoff appears to have started when a protester wearing medieval body armor resembling a crusader approached a crowd of Parasol Patrol participants and escorts. As the protester breaks through the crowd, an escort unleashes maces on the armored man, who takes a step back and cups his face in his hands, complaining to police that the man with the mace should be arrested.
During this episode, a man in tan overalls pulls something metallic from his pocket that Bazan later identified as a .22 caliber handgun and uses the object to identify the escort who just used his mace on the armored protester. A policeman is only a few meters away, but his eyes are fixed on the crowd of participants.
The police pull the man aside with the club and then let him go.
The man in overalls is later seen face to face with a woman. The two scream. A man in a rainbow suit comes out from behind the woman and places his retracted rainbow umbrella between the two to protect the woman.
When the umbrella touches the man in the overalls, the man in the overalls hits the man in the rainbow suit with a flagpole.
Kristopher Anderson, an Akron Republican who has run for local and state office, said the man in the overalls was part of his group. In the three weeks leading up to the drag queen story hour, Anderson said he and others organized a protest at the event that would urge that the drag queen’s storytelling be restricted to adults only. About 90 people said they would join Anderson’s group.
“By midday, out of complete shock, we had the white supremacists and white Nazi groups emerge,” Anderson said. He said his group has not contacted anyone who holds racist views.
“We sang ‘Don’t Nurture Your Children,’ and all these other things,” said Anderson, who described some groups’ overtly racist messages as “a distraction more than anything.”
“We weren’t all on one side,” Anderson said of the many groups protesting the event. “They were like factions against a problem.”