With pistols on their hips and swastika flags in hand, Nazis, Proud Boys, and other white supremacists invaded a Drag Story Hour in Wadsworth, Ohio, to stir up hatred. | Photos via Twitter
Originally published in the People’s World on March, 17, 2023
WADSWORTH, Ohio—The playground equipment stood empty at a public park here on Saturday, March 11, as more than a dozen Nazis stood at attention and bellowed in unison multiple rounds of full-throated “Sieg heil!” salutes, aping Hitler’s legions of 80 years ago.
They were part of a large crowd that had gathered ostensibly for the “protection” of children who were there to participate in a reading group. The supposed threat endangering the kids of Wadsworth? Drag queens armed with children’s storybooks.
Approximately 50 participants gathered for the “Rock and Roll Drag Queen Story Hour,” which included a group reading of a children’s novel, “Elle the Humanist,” followed by “a Rock-n-Roll celebration of drag and life’s beautiful diversity,” according to the event’s organizers. The event was planned as a fundraiser for a local LGBTQ charity in remembrance of the victims of the Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs last November.
Wadsworth City Council had granted a permit for the event earlier in the week, although the council president subsequently suggested that legislation would soon be introduced to prohibit “adult-type entertainment that involves children” in the future.
Wadsworth Brewing Company had withdrawn its commitment to host the event after receiving multiple threats, leading the organizers to apply for a permit to gather at Wadsworth Memorial Park.
The reading group and drag event was met by the organized vitriol of at least 200 fascists, Christian fundamentalists, Proud Boys, Patriot Front, White Lives Matter, and various unaffiliated opponents of LGBTQ rights. Attendees reported a large number of cars with out-of-state license plates in the parking lot.
Both local and national right-wing groups had planned the coordinated intimidation of participants in the Rock and Roll Humanist Drag Queen Story Hour for weeks leading up to the event.
Prominent right-wing organizers included Republican politicians such as Kristopher Anderson, candidate for the Ohio State House of Representatives in 2022. Anderson and his supporters shouted slogans against so-called “grooming” alongside proponents of overt Nazi imagery, open racism, and homophobia. At least one member of Anderson’s group was detained by police after assaulting an LGBTQ rights supporter.
Placed alongside his current work organizing mob intimidation of LGBTQ people, Anderson’s previously stated political positions plainly illustrate the alliance between fascist violence and pro-business policymaking: “Tax climate, regulatory environment, labor laws, and workforce development are all issues for businesses that Kristopher can help address at the State House.”
Video captured at the event circulated widely on social media throughout the weekend. Most striking were images of local police standing in defense of a large contingent of white men in red and black outfits carrying a large banner stating “There Will Be Blood” in an elaborate gothic font. The men chanted Nazi slogans and generally displayed belligerent and intimidating behavior for a contingent of cameras.
Other prominent imagery referred to the right-wing mythology of “grooming,” using a variety of homophobic and racist slurs. Before conservatives engineered their fake anti-drag queen hysteria, the term “grooming” was typically only used to refer to the practice of predators who prepared children and other vulnerable people for sexual abuse.
Men in tactical gear circulated throughout the large crowd. Ohio allows the open carry of firearms in many public places; it was unclear how many opponents of the Drag Story Hour may have been armed.
The four-hour demonstration came amidst a coordinated national right-wing campaign targeting the LGBTQ community with intimidation and violence under the auspices of concern for child welfare. Recent survey data suggests that sympathy for these ideas has permeated a large proportion of the Republican voter base, with as many as 45% of Republican voters agreeing with the statement that discussions on sexual orientation and gender identity represent “grooming” behavior.
The violent persecution of homosexuality was one of the first campaigns of the Nazi Party and its supporters after their ascension to power with the support of finance capital in Germany in the 1930s. In addition to the near total destruction of the German LGBTQ community, the Hitler movement galvanized and normalized the use of state violence to dispossess vulnerable individuals and was subsequently extended to an even wider population.
David Hill is a member of the Mike Gold Collective in Columbus. He follows labor, housing, policing, and workers’ issues in central Ohio.