Photos by Anthony Crider, acrider.photos
About 16 members of the far-right, neo-fascist, white nationalist group the Proud Boys marched and protested today outside of Hugger Mugger Brewing in downtown Sanford, site of a Halloween Drag Brunch event benefiting Sanford Yoga Community Center’s LFGTQ+ Resource Center.
The masked protesters — many bearing the name and symbols representing the group — shouted “groomers” and other remarks at attendees as they entered the event. Others not publicly affiliated with the group held protest signs decrying “state-sponsored pedophilia.” Several protesters blocked the entrance of the brewery before being asked to clear the way by local police.
Despite the intimidating scene — several masked men wore bullet-proof vests and other combat gear — no incidents of violence were reported Sunday. Leading up to the show, organizers had received numerous threats of violence (even death threats) online from right-wing social media accounts with a nationwide reach.
Sunday’s private, ticketed event featured a brunch at noon and performances from “drag queens and kings” from Greenville-based Underground Presents. Organizer and SYCC owner Lindsey Knapp, an attorney and U.S. Army veteran who has works as an advocate for victims of sexual violence, said she started receiving threats of violence and death over the event from strangers after the event was featured this week by “Libs of TikTok,” a Twitter account with 1.4 million followers that “reposts a steady stream of TikTok videos and social media posts, primarily from LGBTQ+ people, often including incendiary framing designed to generate outrage,” according to a story from earlier this year in the Washington Post.
Libs of TikTok’s tweet indicated that one of the drag performers was “inspired by Satanism,” although Knapp says she doesn’t know that performer, and they were not on Sunday’s bill.
“I’m not so concerned about the people who are just mad at me or who may show up to protest,” Knapp said Friday. “On the back end, there are people posting threats, saying to show up with guns and ‘shoot your local pedophile,’ and that’s what has me concerned.”
One protester showed up Sunday wearing a hat that read, “Shoot Your Local Pedophile.”
Knapp reported three separate death threats to local authorities, and she hired private security for the event. She says accusations of “grooming” and pedophilia have nothing to do with the event.
“This is about showing the LGBTQ community that they are loved and supported, and that their freedom of expression is supported,” she said. “I’m the parent of a trans youth, and I want him to know that he can be himself. I wholeheartedly believe that children should be protected from sexual assault – I own an organization called Combat Sexual Violence and I’m an attorney, and I literally represent survivors every day.”
Sanford Mayor Rebecca Wyhoff released a statement on Facebook after the event on Sunday, calling Sanford a “vibrant, caring and strong community … that will not be intimidated or torn apart by outside forces.”
“It is clear from the national news and being in our own downtown today that extremism is dangerous, and it is a growing problem in our country,” Wyhoff said. “We cannot dehumanize people we don’t agree with. We cannot and should not imagine a country where we all think alike. And we should never wish for a government that acts as the morality police. Illegal acts will be handled by the legal system — but differences of opinions and ways of thinking are part of what it means to live in a free society.”
“We can be civil. We can disagree without intimidation and threats. We can judge less, listen more and love one other. We are one community. We are neighbors. We must lean into what makes Sanford such a wonderful place to live.”
Sanford Police Department Major Vinnie Frazer said law enforcement is aware of the threats and is investigating them. SPD and private security were on hand Sunday to prevent any escalation between attendees and protesters.
This isn’t the first time controversy has surrounded a drag show hosted by SYCC and Hugger Mugger. In June, both the yoga center and the brewery faced calls to cancel the event and subsequent criticism when they declined. But that event didn’t draw any threats of violence, and although a handful of protesters showed up outside, no incidents were reported.
“(Threats of violence are) taking up a lot of my time,” Knapp said. “I’ve reported them, and I had to go sit in front of the magistrate, and all that takes away from what should be a really positive thing. If people want to protest, that’s fine. As a veteran, I swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution, and that includes freedom of speech. But you have to take threats seriously.”