In a scene that is becoming all too common around the U.S., white supremacist and far-right anti-LGBTQ+ protesters descended on an Ohio park where a drag queen story hour event was taking place over the weekend, clashing with supporters and descending into chaos and violence.
According to documentarian Ford Fischer, who attended the event and posted video online, extremist groups including Proud Boys, Patriot Front, III Percenters, White Lives Matter of Ohio, and Neo-Nazi group Blood Tribe joined local conservatives to protest a family-friendly “Rock-n-Roll Humanist Drag Queen Story Hour” at Wadsworth Memorial Park in Wadsworth, Ohio on Saturday. The groups clashed with supporters of the event, including Parasol Patrol, a Colorado-based group that uses rainbow umbrellas to shield children from anti-LGBTQ+ protesters at similar events.
Protesters shouted neo-Nazi slogans as well as racial and anti-LGBTQ+ slurs. One man with a megaphone led the crowd in a call-and-response chant of “Sieg heil,” and another waved a flag bearing a swastika. At least one man, later identified as Blood Tribe founder Chris Pohlhaus, was armed.
According to the Akron Beacon Journal, protesters followed parents and children who attended into and out of the event. Police said that the crowd included at least 200 people, with protesters outnumbering supporters and many vehicles bearing out-of-state license plates.
A Black journalist with the Beacon Journal left the scene after being targeted with racist slurs.
Kristopher Anderson, a local Republican who helped organize about 90 people to protest the event, claimed that the white supremacist and white nationalist groups were not affiliated with his group’s protest. Anderson said his group was there to protest the supposed “grooming” of children and called the racist messaging a “distraction.” Another protester said he was shocked by what the white supremacist groups were saying.
According to local newspaper The Gazette, Christian conservative protesters chanted “18-plus gets rid of us.” Some claimed they were not anti-LGBTQ+ but merely wanted to ban children from drag events.
At one point, a protester with Anderson’s group pulled what appeared to be a gun and pointed it at counter-protesters. The same man was later arrested for hitting a counter-protester with a flagpole, and police later confirmed that the object was not a firearm, but a device designed to deploy pepper spray.
A counter-protester was also arrested and charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct.
While no one was injured, paramedics treated one person for a seizure and another for a twisted knee.
Organizers of the “Rock-n-Roll Humanist Drag Queen Story Hour” obtained a permit from the city to host the event in the park earlier this month. But the event was controversial. A private venue previously declined to host it, and Wadsworth City Council President Bob Thurber promised to ask the city council to “consider legislation that would ban adult-oriented performances held on city property with minors in attendance.” Tennessee recently became the first state in the nation to pass similar legislation.
Despite the chaos surrounding the picnic shelter where the event took place on Saturday, the “Rock-n-Roll Humanist Drag Queen Story Hour” proceeded as planned. According to The Gazette, drag performer River Rose read to about 15 children and later sang and danced. Aaron Reed, a Wadsworth resident who promoted the event, said that the attire and music were appropriate for children.