SANFORD, N.C. (WGHP) — A drag event in North Carolina was disrupted by the appearance of the extremist group the Proud Boys.

The event, held at Hugger Mugger Brewery in Sanford, was organized by Lindsey Knapp, who operates Sanford Yoga and Community Center. Knapp is an attorney and an army veteran who is the executive director of Combat Sexual Assault, which helps service members and veterans who have experienced retaliation for reporting assaults.

The drag brunch was raising money for the LGBTQ Resource Center that her yoga center runs.

Knapp says that she believes the event got onto the radar of the Proud Boys because it was posted on LibsOfTikTok. She says it seems like it went viral after that, and Knapp and other organizers began receiving aggressive messages and death threats.

“LibsOfTikTok” is a social media account with hundreds of thousands of followers. It often reposts videos and pictures of LGBTQ+ people, often with an “incendiary framework” and the goal of outraging the viewer. 

Knapp had hosted drag brunch events at Hugger Mugger in the past without any issues. In June, the event was so well-received that they added a second show. Both shows were sold out. There was pushback, with two or three protestors outside of the venue. Knapp says these protestors were peaceful, simply handing out Bible literature for about 30 minutes before leaving.

“The event on Oct 30 was chaotic,” said Knapp. “The Proud Boys were very hostile and openly harassing patrons as they entered and exited the brewery. They were calling them groomers and pedophiles and trying to intimidate everyone. The Proud Boys came to fight, wore masks, and flack vests.”

(Courtesy of Lindsey Knapp)

The Proud Boys were so hostile that Knapp says they ended up calling the Sanford Police Department and several uniformed officers stayed for the event.

Photographer Anthony Crider documented the protest, sharing pictures and video on his Flickr and on Twitter. The photographs show around 16 men in full gear in the black and yellow of the Proud Boys.

“We are everywhere,” a flag reads.

One man flashed what appeared to be a ‘white power’ hand sign at the camera. The hand signal was seen in several photographs.

Join your local Proud Boys. Be a man among men,” a small flyer read.

Inside was another story, though.

Knapp called the atmosphere “joyful” and said people were happy to be in a safe space to express themselves. The performers were dressed like Beetlejuice and Bette Midler’s character from “Hocus Pocus,” while lip-syncing to fun songs with the crowd.

“What I want our LGBTQ community to know is that they are loved and supported. We have gotten quite a bit of “love notes” after this event, and many have donated to our Resource Center to show support. I am very proud of our LGBTQ community. They are loved and supported by so many. And we will not back down in our support for them,” said Knapp. “We will continue to advocate for them and ensure that they can live their lives freely with love and dignity.”

She described the Proud Boys and other groups, some of them with religious signs and some of them in Confederate T-shirts, as “ridiculous.”

This is not the first time a drag event has been at the center of protests in North Carolina, but it is one of the first times that Proud Boys have been highly visible; they also appeared at an event in Wilmington in June.

There have been issues in Apex, Charlotte, and Raleigh. Drag events have been canceled due to concerns about safety. Winston-Salem’s bookstore Bookmarks attracted protestors for a Drag Queen Story Time in June.

In other states, Proud Boys and similar extremist groups have been also visible at protests against family-friendly drag events at libraries. Over two dozen people associated with Patriot Front were arrested outside a Pride event in Idaho with a trailer full of weapons.

Who are the Proud Boys?

The Proud Boys are a self-described “Western chauvinist” organization founded by former VICE Media co-founder Gavin McInnes. They claim to stand for “anti-white guilt” and “anti-political correctness,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which designates them as a hate group associated with white nationalism.

They have been visible at events like the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017, organized by then-Proud Boy Jason Kessler. People affiliated with the Proud Boys have also been charged and convicted in connection to the January 6 insurrection, including a Kernersville native described as a “high-ranking” Proud Boy, Charles Donohoe, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy.

The group in Sanford wore patches and waved flags reading “Cape Fear Proud Boys” on them.