The Columbus Dispatch

Protesters disrupt drag storytelli­ng event

2 people arrested, 1 alleged to have gun

- Doug Livingston Akron Beacon Journal USA TODAY NETWORK

Hundreds of protesters, including armed white supremacis­ts, and Lgbtcommun­ity supporters descended on Wadsworth’s Memorial Park on Saturday as a humanist group tried to put on a drag queen storytelli­ng event for children.

Toward the end of the four-hour event, two people were arrested after a series of melees involving pepper spray, the violent use of a flag pole as a weapon and a protester who, according to a witness and video, allegedly pulled a gun and tried to fire the weapon.

Wadsworth Police Chief Dan Chafin said Sunday that he’s aware of the footage of the alleged handgun but couldn’t comment further pending an investigat­ion. The man wielding the metallic object, along with another who supported the event, were jailed.

With vehicles at the event bearing out-of-state license plates, according to some who attended, Chafin said police lost track of the crowd count at around 200 people. Police from Medina city and county, Brunswick, Brunswick Hills, Hinkley, Seville, Montville, the county drug task force and the Ohio State Highway Patrol assisted Wadsworth police in patrolling and securing the event. Paramedics from across the region were on hand.

Chafin said the “Rock-n-roll Humanist Drag Queen Story Hour” event did proceed as planned and permitted by the city, but the situation remained volatile from start to finish with neo-nazis yelling racial slurs from behind metal barricades and attendees, including parents and children, being followed by protesters into and out of the event.

Protesters vastly outnumbere­d supporters.

White supremacis­t and white nationalis­t groups, including at least one participan­t wearing a Proud Boys hoodie, shouted racist and homophobic slurs at onlookers and others, including “Heil Hitler” and a man on a loudspeake­r who chanted “Sieg” as protesters responded: “Heil!”

One person who attended the event to protest the age appropriat­eness of people in drag reading to children said he was “shocked” to see and hear what white supremacis­ts were saying.

A few demonstrat­ors yelled, “Nazis, go home.”

A Black reporter from the Beacon Journal assigned to cover the event left, for his own safety, after being called a racial slur several times by protesters. Video of the event posted by attendees and a documentar­y filmmaker shows a bald, white man swinging a black flag with a white swastika. Members of the neo-nazi’s group point out the few Black people at the event.

“How does it feel being a pedophile?” one man in the white supremacis­t group says.

“There’s a gay (racial profanity) right there,” another man replies.

Protesters carried signs for “White lives matter” and “Mothers against grooming,” which refers to the alleged process of building trust with children or families with the ultimate aim of child sexual abuse.

One supporter who attended the event said the goal was “not to turn children gay but to keep gay children alive.”

Although the organizer of the drag show obtained a permit to present the show, it had been controvers­ial from the start, with Wadsworth City Council President Bob Thurber saying in a statement Sunday that it had been promoted in a manner harmful to the city.

A Wadsworth resident, Aaron Reed, promoted the event in the public space after a private venue in the city declined to host it.

Initially the event had been criticized on Facebook and in media accounts largely because it had been promoted for children. Others supported the idea of an event designed for children and parents. Reed has said the planned attire and music was appropriat­e for kids, with profanity edited from some songs.

The city of Wadsworth in a public statement prior to the event said that “after much discussion and legal review, we have no choice but to let the event take place.” In a letter sent 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 if at all possible during the time of the event.”

White supremacis­ts disrupt drag storytelli­ng nationwide; group shields families

White supremacis­ts and white nationalis­t groups have descended on and disrupted Drag Queen Story Hour events from Boston to Colorado. In December outside a public library where a show was canceled in the eclectic, north-central Columbus neighborho­od of Clintonvil­le, 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 shield parents and children from protesters.

Co-founder Pasha Ripley, speaking on Facebook live Sunday, said: “Honestly, this should be a national story. It really should.”

Parasol Patrol co-founder Eli Bazan, who said he was a firearms trainer in the Marines, alleged that someone pulled a small .22 caliber pistol and pulled the trigger twice, but the gun did not fire.

“It appeared that he was shooting at somebody right past me. But it would have went through my umbrella,” said Bazan.

The man was later arrested for fighting with a supporter.

2 arrests at drag storytelli­ng event, no violence-related injuries reported

No one was injured as a result of violence at the event, Chafin said. One person twisted a knee and another had a seizure. Paramedics treated them 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 on social media by a documentar­ian following a series of melees.

The first altercatio­n appears to have started when a protester wearing medieval body armor to resemble a crusader approached a crowd of attendees and Parasol Patrol escorts. As the protester breaches the crowd, an escort unleashes mace on the armored man, who steps away and holds his face in his hands, complainin­g to the police that the man with the mace should be arrested.

During this episode, a man in tan overalls pulls something metallic from his pocket, which Bazan later identified as a .22 caliber pistol, and uses the object to identify the escort who just used his mace on the armored protester. A police officer is only feet away but his eyes are trained on the crowd of attendees.

Police pull the man with the mace aside and then let him go.

The man in overalls is later seen face to face with a woman. The two are yelling. A man in a rainbow suit comes up from behind the woman and puts his retracted rainbow umbrella between the two to protect the woman.

When the umbrella touches the man in overalls, the man in overalls hits the man in the rainbow suit with a flagpole.

Kristopher Anderson, a Republican from Akron who has run for local and state office, said the man in overalls was part of his group.

In the three weeks before the drag queen story hour, Anderson said he and others had organized a protest at the event that would push for drag queen storytelli­ng to be limited to adults only. About 90 people said they would join Anderson’s group.

“Around noon, out of our complete shock, we had the white supremacis­t and white Nazi groups show up,” said Anderson.

He said his group did not make contact with anyone espousing racist views.

“We were chanting ‘don’t groom your kids’ and all those other things,” said Anderson, who described the overt racist messaging of some groups as a “distractio­n more than anything.”

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