Proud Boys Disrupt South Bend Public Library LGBTQ Event
SOUTH BEND — Minutes before a scheduled “Rainbow Storytime” program, about half a dozen men walked into a reading room at the Tutt branch of the St. Joseph’s County Public Library and demanded that the event be stopped.
The men mostly wore black shirts and yellow-trimmed hats. At one point during the confrontation, a member unfurled a flag reading “Michiana Proud Boys,” appearing to identify the men as a local chapter of the white nationalist hate group.
In one video, the men harassed library staff and event attendees for about 45 minutes, calling the books that were to be read a “perversion” and aggressively asking “what gives you the right” to push sexuality on children.
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Eventually the men left after being questioned by South Bend police officers and library security staff, although the reading event was postponed after most families returned home.
“It is a shock and we are very disappointed that an event celebrating LGBTQ+ communities has been interrupted,” said Marissa Gebhard, communications manager for the library system. “Our staff are very affected by it.”
Gebhard added that the library will reschedule the an event, which was planned in partnership with the Tree House Gender Resource Centerand will continue to offer programs “to all members of our community”.
“The library will always be a welcoming place for all viewpoints, so the library will continue to offer programs like this, regardless of the response,” Gebhard said.
She added that the books to be read were “carefully selected” and aimed to promote gender inclusion in an age-appropriate way.
Although Monday’s clash ended without violence, similar clashes took place in libraries and schools across the county in recent months as members of the Proud Boys disrupted LGBTQ-themed events.
The Proud Boys have been designated a hate group by several advocacy groups and often engage in violence to advance its white extremist agenda, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Local activist Tonna Robinson, who works with the Indiana Mutual Aid Coalition and Black Lives Matter South Bend, said the local Proud Boys chapter had not been active to her knowledge, but said the group’s attempt to Targeting an LGBTQ-themed event at the library is part of the group’s national goal.
“This is an organized effort to disrupt and target LGBTQ people nationwide,” Robinson said.
Robinson reported altercations at the libraries of san franciscoWilmington, North Carolina, and dallas last month, as well as an incident in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where nearly three dozen members of the white supremacist group Patriot Front were arrested for planning a riot during a pride parade.
Earlier this month, federal prosecutors charged former Proud Boys national president Henry “Enrique” Tarrio and four other group leaders with seditious conspiracy as part of the January 6, 2021 attack on the United States Capitol.
Locally, Gebhard could not recall any other instances of library events being interrupted by white supremacists or any other group.
A video posted by the Proud Boys appears to depict the incident and begins by showing six men and their videographer entering the library and standing in the middle of a room where staff were preparing for the Rainbow Storytime event. The event was scheduled for Monday at 5 p.m.
The men then accost a librarian setting up a whiteboard with questions about why she indoctrinates children with “sexuality”.
“You prepare the minds of these children,” said one of the Proud Boys. “It’s our area and we won’t have that in our area.”
A patron of the library then enters and begins to argue with the group before a manager asks the group to leave. The group doesn’t and other staff and customers come to chat and chat with the group for 20-30 minutes. A woman enters, identifies herself as a mother and also criticizes the event. Eventually, the South Bend police show up and tell the group they can’t interfere with the event.
Members of the Proud Boys repeatedly deny disrupting the event, while repeating the contradictory statement that they will not allow the event to take place.
At some point near the end of the video, an unidentified South Bend policeman tells the group that they can only stay in the library if they quietly observe the event and do not disturb it. The members reiterate their intention to prevent the event, and the officer says, “You know the program is going to continue, don’t you?” Less than a minute after the police tell them they can’t stop the event, the video ends abruptly.
Rona Plummer, director of branch services at St. Joseph’s Public Library, arrived at the Tutt branch around 5:15 p.m. in a scene full of confusion as the Proud Boys clashed with library staff, curious patrons and the police. Plummer said library staff were concerned for her safety during the incident.
“The Proud Boys announced that the program was not going to happen, period. That’s where our concern was,” Plummer said. “It was very upsetting and changed what was supposed to be a pleasant and positive experience to a confusing and negative one.”
Gebhard and Plummer said they did not see any violence and did not believe the Proud Boys members were carrying weapons.
South Bend Police Department logs list the incident as a miscellaneous public report and show that no arrests were made. A department representative did not respond to a message from The Tribune requesting more information about the incident.
Gebhard said the library has two security officers stationed at the library’s main branch in downtown South Bend, along with a few other officers at different branches. After Monday, library management is considering security changes, Gebhard said, but nothing has been finalized.
Email Marek Mazurek at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @marek_mazurek