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The latest incidents in an Inland Empire battle over queer and, particularly, trans children’s rights unfolded last weekend as a bookstore was vandalized and hate groups left hate-filled signage targeting a Redlands activist and her group.
It started at 5am Saturday in front of Cellar Door Books in Riverside, according to an account a local antifascist provided to LCRW. Employees of nearby shops noticed a masked man putting up stickers and posters around the bookstore and shopping center in the early morning hours.
The propaganda littered around the area made little sense unless you spend a lot of time imbibing hyperlocal right wing paranoia. LCRW reviewed one sticker making fun of “SoCal Antifa” which showed two silhouetted people having fun rubbing their penises on each other. Flyers spread queerphobic “groomer” panic about a Drag Story Hour event at Cellar Door Books set to take place that day.
Other stickers found on an overpass were more explicitly bigoted and bloodthirsty. One said “BLM–Burn, Loot Murder” and “Pinochet’s Helicopter Tours”–a reference to the former dictator of Chile who’d have soldiers throw dissidents out of helicopters. Another sticker demanded that “LGBTQ stop grooming our children towards your degeneracy.” The stickers were next to a banner on a freeway overpass. Drivers could read the words “STOP GROOMING OUR CHILDREN DRAG ISN’T FOR KIDS’ on a white cloth. If they squinted hard enough, they could see the logos for the Proud Boys, including a rooster with an incongruous protruding human hand making an ‘ok’ gesture.
The actions took place on the same day that the neo-Nazi White Lives Matter (WLM) network planned one of their monthly “days of action,” which typically consist of putting up stickers and banners on overpasses. WLM recently started an “anti-groomer” spinoff activism campaign. However, LCRW can’t confirm if the Proud Boys were using this banner drop to participate in the WLM activity day.
The same day on an overpass near downtown Redlands, a city North-East of Riverside, Proud Boys hung another banner targeting a local activist group called Safe Redlands Schools (SRS.) Activists told LCRW there were more stickers and posters, also targeting SRS, in downtown Redlands and in the Citrus Plaza Shopping Center. The Proud Boys have targeted SRS before, most recently last month. Trisha Keeling, one of the organizers with SRS, said she was “disgusted and angry” while taking the signage down.
“They’re targeting my friends, my kid’s school district, my community,” Keeling said.
Amber Easley, one of the founding organizers of SRS and Keeling both told LCRW that parents like them formed the group after mostly out-of-town far-right figures showed up at their school board’s meetings.
“In the summer of 2021 a group of people started harassing Redlands school board meetings. Many were from out of town or didn’t have kids,” Keeling told LCRW.
“The anti-mask school board frenzy was just about to peak. A video had been circulating on Twitter of a man shouting “heil hitler” at my local school board meeting,” Easley recalled. She began connecting with other concerned parents. They’d coordinate online to avoid spreading COVID, research the bigots and far-right shit-stirrers and organize against them.
“We have continued to work towards keeping our school board free of right wing extremism,” Keeling said.
SRS say Redlands caught the far-right’s attention after a school board meeting on October 25th 2021. Erin Stepien, a failed candidate for Redlands’ school board who campaigned on being “anti-CRT” and “anti-gender ideology,” invited groups like the Proud Boys, Gays Against Groomers and Lexit (short for ‘Latino exit’ as in exit from the Democratic Party) to the meeting to stir up controversy.
Some of the groups that targeted Redlands have gained a lot of national reach within the right-wing media ecosystem. One of Gays Against Groomers’ founders went on Tucker Carlson’s show last month to claim gender-affirming healthcare caused the Club Q shooting. A Lexit member spoke on Fox’s Trace Gallagher show last month as well.
Far-right groups and networks, particularly the Proud Boys, have spent the last two years showing up at school board and other local government meetings. Their goal is typically to push for bigoted policies and intimidate anyone who opposes such policies. Groups like Gays Against Groomers and the Proud Boys have repeatedly shown up to such meetings across Southern California and beyond in the past few months and intimidated local parents while networking with local and regional far-right actors and minting content for right wing media.
In Redlands, far-right signage often zeroes in on Easley. One image they frequently use in their flyers overlays a Hitler mustache on her face and swastikas made of pride flags over her eyes and calls her a “Marxist [c-slur].” A local antifascist LCRW talked to said the stickering and postering on Saturday extended to downtown Redlands. They said because Redlands is a target for the far right, they typically put up propaganda there the same day even if an event is in another nearby town.
Despite the intimidation campaign, the Drag Story Hour event went off successfully, according to Cellar Door Books’s Instagram story. A group of parents from SRS showed up to support the event.
“My daughter (10) had a lot of fun and picked out a book afterwards to read at home. It was our first drag queen story hour,” Keeling said.
The only heckler was a man with a small megaphone sitting in a lifted white truck in the parking lot across from the bookstore. He kept yelling at people, calling them “groomers” and drove off when the event was over. Local activists claim to have identified him and said he’s someone who frequently attends Redlands local government meetings with the Proud Boys. LCRW couldn’t independently confirm this at press time, so we won’t name him in this article. A local antifascist also said that “a truck fitting that description was seen driving near the queer softball league practice some weeks ago shouting obscenities out the window.”
Aside from the heckler, Keeling said “there was just support and positivity. I really appreciate it; especially after the morning I had taking down hate signage in Redlands.”
After the Drag Story Hour event, a group of “parents and grandparents” with rainbow umbrellas stood outside the bookstore offering “free mom hugs” and “free dad hugs.”