On an overcast Saturday in the small North Texas suburb of Princeton, a tiny church-turned-community center became one of the latest fronts in the far right’s ongoing culture crusade against drag shows and the broader LGBTQ community.
Masked members of the left-wing community defense group Elm Fork John Brown Gun Club, clad in black and toting handguns and radios, had already staked out positions around the perimeter of the Steve and Judy Deffibaugh Community Center before self-described “Christian fascist” Kelly Neidert pulled up with her own armed private security. About a half-dozen Princeton police officers stood watch. Neidert is the head of the so-called Protect Texas Kids (PTK) group, which baselessly claims to be defending children from “grooming.” In reality, advocates point out, the group is using false narratives to stoke hatred and violence against the LGBTQ community.
Other local protesters aligned with PTK, including far right influencers with right-wing video streaming service BlazeTV and the “KGB Show” soon joined. Posting themselves up on one corner of the community center, the group held signs with messages perpetuating the far right’s false “child groomer” narrative about the queens arriving there to perform for a Princeton Texas Diverse-sponsored drag bingo event that afternoon. The event, like other drag shows targeted by PTK, didn’t market itself as “kid friendly,” but didn’t restrict families from bringing their kids.
The scene, while definitely far from the norm for this suburban town of just more than 17,000, has been standard fare for drag events throughout Texas for months now since PTK and the Elm Fork John Brown Gun Club faced off at a drag brunch event in Roanoke, Texas, in August 2022. That confrontation sparked a wave of far right drag protests across the United States in the run up to the fatal mass shooting at a drag show in Colorado Springs that claimed five lives in November.
In Texas, Neidert’s far right coalition has targeted drag events at a church in Katy as well as theaters, venues, and restaurants in San Antonio, Grand Prairie and Dallas, as this reporter has documented. Her protest coalition has included neo-Nazi, neofascist, extremist militia, and Christian nationalist groups like the Aryan Freedom Network, the American Nationalist Initiative, North and Central Texas Proud Boys, This Is Texas Freedom Force, Patriot Front, and the New Columbia Movement — some armed with nothing more than rosaries, some with assault rifles and swastikas.
Neidert claims PTK doesn’t endorse the presence of neo-Nazi groups like the Aryan Freedom Network (AFN) at her protests. The group threw up Nazi salutes and bore a flag depicting a swastika as they left a protest in Katy in September. In Grand Prairie, an AFN neo-Nazi wearing a swastika patch grabbed at a handgun in his pants pocket in a threatening manner.
But Neidert has failed to condemn other far right groups who frequent her protests, such as the FBI-designated extremist militia This Is Texas Freedom Force or the Proud Boys, whose leaders are currently standing trial on January 6-related seditious conspiracy charges. She previously received support from former Proud Boys lawyer Jason Lee Van Dyke after posting a viral TikTok video showing a student at the University of North Texas (UNT) rebuking her for printing flyers reading, “Criminalize Child Transitions,” according to reporting by Steven Monacelli.
During a protest of a drag brunch event at BuzzBrews Kitchen in Dallas’s Lakewood neighborhood last month, Neidert told Truthout that she “had just learned” about the neofascist American Nationalist Initiative, for instance, and has yet to make a determination about the group. ANI supports the same kind of corporative model of state-controlled worker federations adopted by Benito Mussolini’s fascist Italy. The group also supports ending birthright citizenship, repatriation of citizens “who refuse to accept the American identity,” and the active suppression of “anti-American sentiment.”
Moreover, Neidert has been spotted chatting casually with at least one apparent member of Patriot Front and has called for people who attend Pride events to be rounded up. While she claims PTK is a nonprofit, neither a federal 990 form nor Internal Revenue Service letter granting tax exemption could be found under variations of the PTK name in online databases. It remains unclear exactly where the group’s funding comes from.
In November, Republican State Rep. Tony Tinderholt hired Neidert’s twin brother, Jake Neidert, as his office’s legislative director. Jake Neidert has called for the public execution of those who take their children to drag shows and has been funded by Defend Texas Liberty PAC, a fundraising group tied to West Texas oil billionaires Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks that has poured millions into far right causes across the state. Prior to their PTK and Tinderholt gigs, the twins managed communications for Young Conservatives of Texas chapters at UNT and Baylor, using the student group to push anti-trans campaigns at their respective campuses.
Outside BuzzBrews in Dallas, Kelly Neidert told Truthout she was being facetious when she referred to herself on Twitter as a “Christian fascist,” but then later said she was part of the New Columbia Movement’s “Women’s League.” It’s as good an admission of Christian fascism as anything: The extreme Catholic traditionalist New Columbians want to refound the U.S. as a Christian theocracy, according to their manifesto, which calls “unnatural equality” “evil” and describes democracy as a “failed experiment.”
“I’ve read their online manifesto. I’ve talked to them extensively. They’re a good group that believes in the same values I do,” Neidert told Truthout. “I think that they’re very good people.”
A venue in Austin canceled a scheduled drag event under threat of protest from New Columbians a day after the group joined Neidert in demonstrating against “A Drag Queen Christmas,” which featured performances by two winners of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” outside the Texas Trust CU Theater in Grand Prairie in December. The group also had a presence outside BuzzBrews last month.
Less than a week prior to the December Grand Prairie protest, the This Is Texas Freedom Force militia joined members of Patriot Front, the Log Cabin Republicans and the anti-contraception San Antonio Family Association in protesting an earlier “Drag Queen Christmas” tour stop in San Antonio. This time, Elm Fork was joined by other John Brown Gun Club chapters in San Antonio and Austin.
According to a November report by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, there were at least 193 anti-LGTBQ protests in the U.S. in 2022, including 17 in Texas. That number doesn’t include the December Christmas drag show protests in San Antonio and Grand Prairie called by Neidert, or pro-LGBTQ events like the one in Austin that were canceled after being targeted by anti-LGBTQ extremists. Police attempts to separate far right and pro-LGBTQ activists have been inconsistent at best, and have led to scuffles and assaults, including the assault of reporter Monacelli. The Armed Conflict Project reports that demonstrations are more than four times more likely to turn violent when militant far right groups participate.
LGBTQ organizers and drag performers in Texas and across the U.S. are quickly adapting to this new reality, upping their operational security and forming new coalitions with armed community defense groups. Princeton Texas Diverse President John Kusterbeck, who organized the drag bingo event at the community center last month, told Truthout he and other Princeton Diverse organizers vetted every name who bought a ticket to their event. He turned away two far right influencers affiliated with BlazeTV and the “KGB Show” who attempted to gain entry.
One of those turned away at the door was Sara Gonzales, who hosts a show on BlazeTV and has partnered with the Texas Family Project to start her own PTK-like group, which she has dubbed “Defend Our Kids: Texas.” Gonzales and Tayler Hansen, another influencer who was present at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, have employed deceptive tactics in order to gain trust and access to drag shows and spaces. At the First Christian Church of Katy in September, for instance, Hansen disingenuously presented himself as a trans woman to portray the church’s “Transparent Closet” project, which provides clothes for at-risk transgender teens, as something insidious.
Hansen has since started relying on others to do his dirty work for him. After the drag show at BuzzBrews, Hansen posted video gathered from inside the event by a go-between on his behalf. In Princeton, a “KGB Show” host who Hansen arrived with was turned away at the door. Both Gonzales and the show host presented Princeton Texas Diverse organizers with a fake Eventbrite ticket they claimed to have bought off someone else, according to Kusterbeck. A Blaze Media article inaccurately reported that Gonzales had gained entry to the event and recorded video inside, when in reality she simply repurposed video organizers themselves livestreamed on Facebook.
Gonzales, Hansen and the Neidert twins are using anti-drag propaganda to push Republican state lawmakers to pass draconian anti-LGBTQ legislation. Texas lawmakers have already filed at least 72 bills targeting LGTBQ rights this session, according to Equality Texas. The bills seek to limit or ban gender-affirming health care, prohibit classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity, and restrict drag shows and performers. Nationally, the American Civil Liberties Union is tracking at least 310 anti-LGBTQ bills filed at the state level by Republican legislators across the U.S. — a record number.
In addition to introducing legislation that would expand the state’s definition of child abuse to include providing gender-affirming health care, Republican State Rep. Bryan Slaton has also promised to introduce a bill this session that would ban children from attending drag shows. Three other Republican state representatives have already filed bills that would make it illegal for a bar or restaurant to host a drag show unless it’s classified as a “sexually oriented business.”
Neidert’s twin brother Jake previously worked as a legislative intern for State Representative Slaton, who, along with the Texas GOP as a whole, has openly endorsed the Neiderts’ dangerous “groomer” rhetoric and has been photographed with a Texas Freedom Force militia member who wielded a barbed wire-wrapped bat outside the Roanoke drag brunch event in August. Jake Neidert’s new job as a legislative director for State Rep. Tinderholt allows him broad influence over what bills Tinderholt supports. Kelly Neidert, for her part, told Truthout she was planning to head to Austin to lobby lawmakers on anti-LGBTQ bills this session. Neidert’s PTK has also advocated the banning of books about LGBTQ people and well as the teaching of Black history and the racial justice movement, dubbed “critical race theory,” in schools.
But drag performers and the broader LGBTQ community are pushing back, with many advocates vowing to spend the 88th legislative session testifying at committee hearings and lobbying lawmakers. According to Equality Texas, at least 63 bills supporting LGBT rights by Democratic lawmakers have already been filed. Others are fighting for LGBTQ rights on the streets, forming new coalitions with armed community defense groups beyond John Brown Gun Clubs.
Armed members of Veterans for Equality showed up to defend “A Drag Queen Christmas” outside the Aztec Theater in San Antonio in December, for instance, some open carrying and others concealing their firearms. “When we first came in [to the military], we swore an oath to fight enemies foreign and domestic, and right now we feel like the domestic part is really having an effect on us and trying to strip away our rights,” Veterans for Equality Cofounder Gen Peña told Truthout during the protest.
Moreover, venues hosting drag shows targeted by far right militants are increasingly hiring professional private security in advance of protests. Drag performers who can’t afford pricey private security services, however, are finding they can rely directly on the community itself.
Drag performer and show coordinator Daphne Rio recalls how LGBTQ-aligned community defense groups showed up to defend her drag brunch event last month. “It’s often that drag is the first go-to when anything is needed, whether it’s help in situations or charities and benefits, we’re usually at the forefront and the first to be asked to help out with that, and that I think is part of our responsibility in taking on a public [persona]. So to have a community stand behind us now when we’re the target and we need the help, it’s pretty incredible, and it makes me feel very loved. It makes me thankful and also hopeful for our community and drag going forward,” Rio told Truthout.
Moreover, the energy among Neidert’s protest coalition appears to be waning. Their showing at drag events in Dallas and Princeton in January was significantly fewer than what this reporter witnessed of the coalition’s protests of drag events in Katy, San Antonio and Grand Prairie.
Despite the far right protesters’ relatively small presence outside the Princeton community center, Princeton Texas Diverse’s Kusterbeck said he was similarly grateful for the attendance of armed Elm Fork John Brown Gun Club members, despite negative comments on his group’s social media pages. Many attendees of the drag bingo event later told him they felt safer with Elm Fork there, even though Princeton police were also monitoring the scene. “They said they felt it added an extra layer of safety,” he told Truthout.
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