Proud Boys pulled off a well-attended protest that got everyone's attention as they shouted nonsequiturs at an empty church building
Men talking with police on the street

Two pairs of CPD Dialogue Team members listen to protesters and counter-protesters positioned across High Street from each other outside the entrance to the Unitarian Universalist Church on 12/3/22. 
Photo: Edie Milligan Driskill


The Red Oak Community School, located in the Unitarian Universalist Church in Clintonville, was the site for both a huge success and a huge failure for the Columbus police on Saturday morning. The school had attempted to host an annual fundraiser featuring three local drag artists reading holiday stories to students.

The brand new, blue-vested, de-escalation focused, Columbus Police Dialogue Team was out with a stunning presence, standing two by two among the Proud Boys keeping the confrontation with counter-protesters to a mild roar. 

Eight specially trained officers and sergeants were on site to protect the protesters’ right to free speech while reducing the use of force, arrests, and injuries that protesters have experienced in the recent past.

Chief Elaine Bryant reported in a YouTube statement on Monday night that they had been successful in that goal. No use of force, arrests, or injuries were reported. 

Sergeant Steven Dyer said, “We’re here to facilitate a peaceful protest for anyone who protests….We’re going to do everything we can to work with the leaders of this group to communicate with us to maintain peace.  We’re going to use dialogue. Only dialogue.” 

After the protest, anger was spreading on social media as people watched Dyer’s friendly interactions with the Proud Boys, including a high-five that resulted from a discussion about his mustache. 

At least three people have filed complaints about the police response to this event with the Inspector General’s Office. Gambit Aragón, a member of the Citizen Police Review Board, attempted to have the board file a complaint of their own at their December meeting on Tuesday, but the citizen complaints were enough to prompt a full investigation.  

“It is no secret that extreme right-wing groups, including the Proud Boys, enjoy a cozy relationship with law enforcement,” Red Oak Director Cheryl Ryan said during her announcement on YouTube the morning of the canceled event. 

The overall efforts of the Columbus Division of Police (CPD) to communicate with the event organizers in the weeks leading up to the event were so botched, however, that Ryan felt the need to cancel the event the night before. 

She read from prepared notes, “I received hundreds of emails, calls, and messages [she paused to gain her composure] from folks in the community asking, ‘How can I help? What can I do? I’m ready to show up.’ I never heard this message from the city’s leadership and those whose job it is to protect us. In the end, our performers felt unsafe without a police presence, while our safety team felt unsafe with a police presence.” 

CPD continued their awkward communication after the cancellation with a statement saying that Ryan’s statement was incorrect. It said, “CPD pulled together resources from several units to make sure we were present, including officers from our bike patrol and Dialogue Team.”


Recall the violent attacks carried out by officers on bicycles on protesters during the summer of 2020? Their actions along with other police violence over the decades against marginalized populations including the LGBTQ+ community, caused the organizers to consider the concerns that the police could not be trusted to work alongside private security organized by community activists. Ryan referred to this history in her remarks.

“There is a long, documented, and lived history of law enforcement doing harm to the LGBTQ community among others that continues to this day—ignoring, defaming, abusing, and killing LGBTQ+ persons, most especially those who are Black and trans,” Ryan said

It was bike police who harmed, arrested, and detained four Black trans protesters for an unusually long time in a hot paddy wagon at the Pride parade in 2017. 

For the drag storytime last Saturday, the plan referenced by CPD included a few dozen officers two blocks northwest of the church, waiting to mount their bikes at any moment.


The CPD officers from the new Dialogue Team were there to keep the peace by opening communication with the leaders of the protesting factions. There were at least four: the Proud Boys, the Patriot Front, a group of LGBTQ activists, and a Christian church group in addition to the folks inside the perimeter fence from the school and church.  

Dyer said that keeping the peace included helping them understand their rights to protest, their responsibility to not break the law, and their obligation to keep him informed if they were changing their plans. 

When Dyer was asked why he was carrying a gun, he replied, “Well sure, I’m a police officer with the city of Columbus. I’m required to carry it. I mean, ideally, if it was up to me, you know, things might be different, but it’s in our rules. I cannot get away from this. 

One young activist reported that a Blue Vest officer had suggested they leave to reduce the number of people the Proud Boys would have available to yell at. When questioned, the officer clarified that he didn’t mean to suggest that they leave, only that if they did, the Proud Boys might be less agitated. 

From all observations, the Dialogue Team members stood at a reasonable distance, not creating any aggressive stances or approaches toward the various protesters. When they did see a one-on-one encounter begin to escalate they would approach with caution and suggest the two separate or take it down a notch–reminiscent of the playground monitors from elementary school. By only using words, they succeeded in not escalating the tension themselves.

One Dialogue Team member said they would even be happy to facilitate the protesters marching on High Street if they could agree on a way to do it safely. 


No member of the Proud Boy group would talk on the record. The rehearsed response was, “We don’t talk to the media. They lie.”  

The masked member holding a rainbow flag was the one exception. He explained that there are gay men in the Proud Boys and the group has no animosity toward the LGBTQ community. He is confused about why the public doesn’t understand that. “They are everywhere. Why wouldn’t they be in our group too?” he asked. 

The message of the day was not a broad sweeping anti-gay message and not even an anti-drag queen message. Instead, they made the quantum leap from drag entertainers reading books to children, to pedophiles grooming children for sexual exploitation. 

The protesters carried signs reading: Kids Can’t Consent; We Are Everywhere; Groomers Go Home; 18+ Gets Rid of Us; Drag Mom’s Suffer Munchausen by Proxy; Proud Boys are Pro-Gay and Anti-Groomers; Child Grooming Event Next Exit; Let Kids Be Kids

A like-minded group from a local Christian organization was convinced that the drag show would be exposing children to indecent sexual activity, something they pointed out is illegal under state law. They, too, were upset with the police, but for not arresting everyone connected with the event. 

More than one protester explained (off the record) that they would not have shown up if it were only adults enjoying the story hour. This was about the kids–specifically about the kids being “groomed.” 

Lexi, a young adult protester, held a sign saying, “Stop Sexualizing Children.”  She said, “[Grooming] is whenever adults are victimizing young children for the adult’s sexual pleasure. That’s exactly what drag queen story hour is all about.  It’s about adults victimizing, abusing young children with explicit things that nobody should be seeing.” 


A leader of the Proud Boys was overheard bragging to a new member about the turnout, saying that Ohio has a large membership because they throw great events like this one. This began to make more sense as the event lasted over three hours when there was no story hour happening and no perceived pedophiles to harass.

Mayoral candidate Joe Motil, who lives in the neighborhood, said, “I think all these people are out here just for exposure. Just out here to promote their hate and violence and they saw this as an excuse to do it.”

The event seemed like a victory party to celebrate the event's cancellation, with everyone enjoying the adrenaline rush until the bars opened and the football games started.

The victory enjoyed by the police, and by extension the community, was however a lot like a pre-conference game. We can cheer that there were no injuries and they kept their bike cops down the street. That was clearly a win. But it was against Toledo (sorry, Toledo). Their first string sat it out to prevent injuries before the big games still to come.

The police did not endure chanting directly against them, with the exception of the Christians yelling at them to arrest all the pedophiles. Few people at the protest were Black. The event was in a predominantly white neighborhood. Their job was a little like trying to keep OSU from scoring 100 points against Toledo in the Shoe.  

Columbus learned that their police department has a team that can de-escalate the Proud Boys, which is something. This is critical information that will be available for future events the group intends to disrupt. It isn't clear whether this team can be activated by a 911 operator, or is only available after weeks of begging. 

It’s also too soon to tell if this win will translate into a win against the real teams who aren’t their drinking buddies. Especially when they show up in their bright Blue team colors.  

For video from the event, visit