The “faithful” and neo-Nazis alike gathered outside of the Sanford Yoga and Community Center on October 15 to protest a Halloween-themed drag queen story hour. Former infantry soldier, now convicted felon Jarrett William Smith was one of the several protestors outside of the event.
As protestors used megaphones and microphones to broadcast their message, drag queens read stories to families dressed as beloved characters including Ahsoka from “Star Wars” and Ursula from “The Little Mermaid.”
The convicted neo-Nazi was identified at the Sanford demonstration wearing a shirt with Nazi symbolism and a skull mask. Smith has an extensive history of violent tendencies — from advocating for arson against an anti-facist podcaster to encouraging another individual to kill then-presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke.
Smith was convicted in 2019 of distribution of information related to explosives, destructive devices and weapons of mass destruction after he used his Facebook account to talk to an undercover FBI agent about how to make explosive devices. According to a case study created by the Center for Development of Security Excellence, Smith communicated “extremist” neo-Nazi views through his social media profiles, including his statements showing he wanted to “actively support and fight with an extremist group.” He was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison, which would be followed up by three years of supervised release.
According to a blog post on the website Church Leaders, the protest was led by Heritage Reformed Presbyterian Church and its pastor, Thomas F. Booher. While Booher and other church members said not everyone who was at the protest was a part of their church, a video posted to the church’s YouTube channel showed the Presbyterian pastor standing next to masked men wearing Confederate Flags and Nazi references.
“I want to share some Scriptures with you to rebuke what you are doing here in this building to harm precious children,” he shouted from the sidewalk. “When we have men dressed up as women, with children, in the attire of depravity and wickedness and confusion, this is not honoring the image of God in which each one of us have been made in.”
While Christian history may have depictions of gender-nonconforming individuals, Booher made it clear his interpretation of the Gospels don’t include acceptance of drag queens or anything related to LGBTQ+ issues.
“Are we going to permit these things going on in our town?…There’s no ordinance in place to shut it down,” he said to Lee County Commissioners in a meeting after the event. “As a minister, I will say that God will hold us accountable.”