By Bentley Freeman and Jake Moore
“Let kids be kids,” said Allison Black, a security guard and bartender for Old Nick’s Pub, “A little girl wanted to read stories to other kids. And these people decided to come out here, threaten her life and threaten our lives.”
A group of 40 to 50 right-wing protesters who gathered across the street from Old Nick’s to vulgarly protest the 11-year-old girl participating in a drag storytime event inside were met by an even larger crowd of around 250 counter-protesters on Sunday, Oct. 23.
The protest, which was announced on Facebook days after Old Nick’s Pub promoted its monthly drag storytime, was dwarfed by the counter-protesters carrying pro-trans and LGBTQ+ signs and banners, and even a few weapons. Right-wing troll Andy Ngo amplified the event with a a nationwide anti-gay narrative of “pedophiles” and “groomers.”
At first, the two groups stayed across the street from one another, only launching verbal insults and quips — but eventually, the harsh words turned into even sharper rocks.
Counter-protesters arrived in droves to defend the pub and voice their support for the little girl. Members from both groups arrived around 9:45 am with several being armed with AR-15-style rifles on both sides of the street.
Most right-wing protesters at the event said they found the drag storytime event to be child sexualization and exploitation. “I think it’s irresponsible to treat kids like this… We need boundaries,” said one right-wing protester who gave his name only as David.
“This is not a sexual drag event,” Emily Chappell of Old Nick’s told Eugene Weekly in a previous interview about the storytime event. “Drag is an art form. There’s nothing sexual about drag inherently.” The event continued successfully inside the pub, according to Chappell.
Around 11 am, the two blocks between 1st and 3rd avenues were blocked off by Eugene Police Department due to the number of people crowding the area.
The right-wing protesters stood directly across the street from Old Nick’s Pub at Washington Jefferson Park. Many held homemade signs espousing “Christian values” and claimed those involved in the event were responsible for child abuse. Among the protesters was Lane County Commissioner-elect David Loveall of Springfield, according to James Croxton of Double Sided Media.
Loveall reached out to EW to deny that he affiliated with the protesters.
“As a representative of the [c]ounty, I went to the protest briefly from 11 am to 11:30 am, hopefully to learn, listen and have some dialogue with both sides to better understand the issue,” he says via email. “I was greeted coolly and aggressively by those defending the position of the drag show when I asked to hear their concerns and subsequently escorted off that side of the street by a handful of masked patrons. I then walked 50 yards to the south and observed the event for another 15 minutes, never carrying a sign, not having any exchange of words concerning a position, nothing to indicate my ‘side’ or feeling about the matter in any way.”
Counter-protesters positioned themselves in front of Old Nick’s Pub standing between the right-wing protesters and the event. The counter-protesters outnumbered the opposition and came sporting a variety of Pride flags and large canvas signs with slogans like “Protect Trans Kids” and “Don’t support Trans Rights? Kill Yourself.”
Both sides spilled into the street coming face-to-face as many hurled insults and expletives at the other side. At one point a counter-protester threatened to make a “home visit” to a protester in Lincoln City who then responded by saying he’ll “fucking kill him” if he shows his face near his home.
The event grew more and more confrontational even after a counter-protester, Kristine Chadwick, was punched in the face by a protester. “He thought I was trying to tear down his sign so he hit me in the face,” Chadwick said. She said was there to show her support for Vanellope as well as the rest of the drag community.
The counter-protest organizer, Felix Raisner, who was armed with a handgun during the protest, said they were really thankful for the community support, noting how there were many people who don’t even normally associate with the drag community showing up and protecting the pub.
However, Raisner said they wanted the focus to be on Dupont, “Kids need to be able to express themselves creatively.” Drag storytime, they said, “is safer than pageants anyways.”
They said they found it disappointing that so many would show up to protest a little girl expressing herself in an unfamiliar way. “They can’t see what real love and support is. They don’t know what true acceptance is, I don’t believe they will ever know what true acceptance is,” Raisner said, “They say they’re here protecting or want to protect the children. What are they protecting the children from?”
Slowly, the left-wing counter-protesters pushed the Save The Children protesters out of the park around 12:30 pm and onto Washington and 2nd. After being forced out from the area surrounding the pub, several righ-twing protesters began shooting paintball guns, throwing rocks and lobbing yellow smoke canisters at the pro-drag and LGBTQIA counter-protesters.
It was reminiscent of the 2020 Black Lives Matter-related protests in Portland and Eugene. Left-wing anti-fascists began to rush to the front with umbrellas and tactical gear to protect the rest of the counter-protesters from the assault.
While the chaos was unfolding outside, Vanellope was reading storytime books to listeners within the pub. Earlier in the week right-wing extremist released her personal information online after it was discovered that Vanellope had interacted with someone currently under investigation for child pornography charges in a professional setting.
In a statement, Vanellope’s family had voiced their disappointment that someone would release a child’s personal information (also known as “doxxing”) to millions of people online. The family pulled her out of school for a week out of fear for her safety.
“My goal was to give Vanellope a voice when she is afraid to have her own right now,” Raisner said.
One woman was pepper-sprayed and another man was transported to the hospital after being injured according to a press release from the Eugene Police Department, which did not report any arrests. Washington Street reopened by 1:30 pm.
Chappell posted on Facebook that the venue continued to defend the space throughout the day. She tells EW, “We did it. We stood up and we didn’t let them win.”
This article has been updated.