Parents who attended an LGBTQ-themed story time at a Wilmington, North Carolina public library say members of the Proud Boys protested outside and entered the building during the event to antagonize them.  

At around 5:30 p.m. June 21, around 10 parents and children gathered at the New Hanover County Public Library Pine Valley Branch to hear a reading of two LGBTQ children’s books ⁠— “Heather has Two Mommies” and “Daddy and Dada” ⁠— and make crafts for Pride Month, Emily Jones, who attended the event with her 1-year-old daughter, told McClatchy News. “I was really excited to see a Pride-themed story time,” she said.

But that excitement soon turned to fear when demonstrators entered the library and intimidated the attendees, she said. The New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement on Facebook that a group of demonstrators assembled in the parking lot of the library during the event. 

“Sheriff Deputies responded to a call of disturbance,” the statement says. “After a period of time a small group of the demonstrators entered the library which is open to the public.” Lt. Jerry Brewer, with the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, told McClatchy News that many of the protesters were wearing clothing with black and yellow insignia that members of the Proud Boys traditionally wear. 

The Southern Poverty Law Center categorizes the Proud Boys as an extremist hate group that espouses white nationalism. A supervisor with the sheriff’s office went into the library and stood between the door to the room where the event was being held and the demonstrators and told them that they could not enter the room, according to the post. “At no time did Sheriff Deputies witness nor did any library staff report any of the demonstrators causing a disturbance within the library or try to enter the private room that was holding the reading,” says the post, which has more than 1,000 comments. “After the reading, all the participants left the library with no incident.”

But parents said they felt the protesters should not have been allowed into the library at all. “I was starkly nervous that they were in the building,” Jones said. “I definitely felt unsafe at that point. I never imagined that the police would allow them to go into the library.” 

Brewer said that legally, law enforcement could not stop the demonstrators from entering the library because it is a public building. Other Pride-themed storytelling events around the country have been disrupted by protesters or canceled completely. One drag queen story time in Galveston, Texas, was canceled this month due to safety concerns, according to The Daily News. Proud Boys members also stormed a reading hosted by a drag queen in California. 

Before the Wilmington event began, around 15 people were gathered outside the library with signs that had messages like “stop supplying pornography to our students” and “pedophiles r using LGBTQ to groom kidz,” according to parent accounts and photos from the scene.

During the event, around six people went into the library, many of whom had their faces covered with black and gold scarves, and walked past the room where the reading was taking place, making derogatory comments, Jones said. “They kind of paraded down the hall yelling,” she said.

Brewer said the protesters did not yell inside the library. Jones said that at one point, a man came up to the door of the room, which had a long window, “pressed his face against the glass and glared at us,” she said. After the demonstrators left the building, Jones said the event attendees were asked to stay inside the room for a few minutes while library staff determined it was safe to leave.“It was very terrifying,” Jones said. 

Sandra Dawn, who wrote in a Facebook message that she got to the event as many of the parents and children were leaving, said she saw protesters confront attendees as they left. She said she was disappointed in law enforcement for not doing more to separate the protesters and the attendees. “I was shocked that the sheriffs were allowing these protesters to be within an arms length of these families as they left the building,” she wrote. “I didn’t understand why they were allowed to be so close to them. It felt really unsafe and I was very worried for the families.” 

But Brewer said the group had a right to protest in a public place. “Do we agree with a lot of it? No,” he said. “But we have to enforce the law.”

Jones said the whole event has made her feel less safe in her community. “I’m almost having trouble finding words because I feel so disturbed by it and uncomfortable and just shocked that I live in a society where people parade around saying they care so much about kids and then they turn around and antagonize us,” she said. “It makes me really uncomfortable knowing I live in a community like that.”

Madeleine List is a McClatchy National Real-Time reporter. Her articles have appeared in the Cape Cod Times, the Providence Journal and The Charlotte Observer. This article appears courtesy of our media partner, The Charlotte Observer.