What it’s like Covering a Hate Group’s Protest

There was an all-ages show featuring a character in drag happening at a golf course in Florence. As part of the Siuslaw News, I was supposed to cover the early show and my editor was going to cover the later one.

The night before, I prepared by trying to figure out the appropriate way to get quotes from the people at the show without baiting them or being too leading. I figured it would be so easy to get quotes from the protestor’s side, there was no need to prepare.

That day, I arrived early at 12:20. The show starts at 1:00 on a golf course, but it’s private land, so they can’t protest at the entrance. They can only protest in public, which is down a long driveway to the road.

I wait out front of the golf course and don’t hear anything, so I think they haven’t shown up after all. At 12:55, after I’ve been welcomed by the drag performer who I interviewed the previous week, I decide not to attend the actual show because I’m not there to watch it, I’m there to cover the protesters. I walk by two officers and ask whether they know if anyone is going to show up to disrupt the show. They tell me they can’t comment to the media but there are officers out front who can. 

I drive down toward the entrance. There are 5 patrol cars parked on both sides of the street and police officers are lined up several feet behind a large group of protesters all dressed in black with khaki pants and their faces covered in black masks, hats and sunglasses. 

“Can I park here? I’m with the Siuslaw News,” I ask. One officer said he’d prefer it if I didn’t and another responded that it’s a public parking spot so sure, you can park. So I parked.

A third officer with a kind face greets me as I step out of my car, but I don’t know who he is – mostly because I’m oblivious to anyone important in town. I ask him a couple of questions before I ask his name to find out that he’s the police chief.

Did you know this protest was going to happen? Have they been compliant? I ask these questions – I’m just winging it. The stress in my stomach outweighs my thoughts at this point.

Then I say to him, “Well, I guess I’m just going to go over there.” 

Never have I felt more acutely aware of a row of policemen at my back. 

I head toward the group, and one of the protestors, clearly the leader, immediately walks over to intercept my path. He’s covered in tattoos up to his neck and his expression is grim, lips pursed. 

As I open my mouth to speak, one of them yells over a loudspeaker, “PEDOPHILES!” 

“HIT THE ROAD,” they all respond in unison. 

They repeat this chant twice – PEDOPHILES! HIT THE ROAD – before they allow me to speak.

“Hi, how are you?” I say, like it’s just some random Tuesday and I’m walking by a fellow dog walker instead of staring down a tunnel into the eyes of a Neo-Nazi. 

(For the record, their group is called Northwest Nationalist Network. Their mission statement and flag are pictured below)

I continue, “I’m here with the Siuslaw News and I just want to hear more about what we’re doing here today. What’s your perspective on this event?” 

3 of them step in toward me on my left and 2 others step in on my right. I must’ve looked the way I felt because the leader tells the others to step back because he doesn’t want me to feel cornered. 

I guess we’re off to a good start. 

“Thank you, I appreciate that,” I tell him. 

Several of them demand an answer to whether or not I would bring my children to an event like this.

“I’m not here to talk about my opinion, and I don’t actually have children,” I tell them. 

“It doesn’t matter if you don’t have children. You don’t need them to know right from wrong.”

The leader waves at them to stop talking. 

He tells me, “The whole community feels the way we do, we’re getting mass support by people driving by. It’s crazy they’d hold this at a golf course at a conservative type place…He’s embedded himself in the community and he has no place molding the minds of our children. It’s not a whole lot of gray area here. They have no business in our society. End of story.”

After several minutes, I can’t think of anything else to ask to keep the flow of “conversation” going. My brain is frozen. It doesn’t occur to me that I can stand there awkwardly and just get my shit together. So I look around for my next move.

I notice two women standing in the back and walk toward them thinking, They’re women like me. Surely we can just talk.

“Remember you can say no comment,” shouts the leader from behind me.

They are worse than the men. Tell me things like, the media has “no integrity…you liberals love to warp things in your favor…I stood on your side for years.” 

I reply, “I don’t have a side. You don’t have to go on record, but I just want a better understanding of what we’re doing here today.”


After that, I cross the street to the other group of masked males (about 10) and ask if any of them would be willing to talk to me. And one says, “Are you media? Then absolutely not, we don’t want to talk to you.”

I check with them 3 at a time to see if any of them are willing to talk. And I get to the end of the group and one guy answers me, “Yeah, what do you want?” 

We begin a conversation about how he thinks the drag performer is evil and needs to be stopped.

I don’t ask what he means by stopped. I just ask how he heard about this event.

“I don’t want to talk about that,” he says. 

He goes on to say:

“I don’t want people in school telling my kid they can be a boy or a girl. I think it’s evil, frankly. I think it’s demonic.

…He’s obviously very confused about who he is. 

…We’re wary of the media because they spin things against us. We know what we’re doing out here is right. 

…These people have an agenda, they want to groom kids. 

…The cops should be in there arresting every single person for exposing their kids to this.

…We live under an occupied system.

…We’re here exercising our 1st amendment rights.”

He tells me his name is Alfred but declines to give a last name. Not long after, the protester with the loudspeaker starts harassing a man walking up the hill toward us. At that point, I cross the street to talk to the lone counter-protester holding his sign that begins with, “In our America, all people are equal…” 

I ask him how he feels about being here and he answers, “I think it’s important people know there’s more than 1 point of view. I don’t know if you’ve ever taken logic, but if you start with a false premise, you can only end with a false conclusion.”

With some effort, I resist the urge to ask him if he feels scared. His face is beet red.

Then, I realize the man walking up the hill is my editor (Zac) and the protesters continue to taunt him all the way up. We both end up leaving for 10 minutes to take his son to a soccer game, have a quick cry, and regroup. 

We walk back to the protestors and head toward the leader and Alfred since we know they’ll talk. 

Zac opens with something but I’m too far away to hear it or record it. 

The leader responds to him, “I see you have some sort of lisp. Are you in support of this? Or you’re not going to comment?”

“Well, I’m obviously not going to comment. I’m a journalist [We all turn on our recorders]…What led you to believe I might be a supporter? You mentioned that I have some sort of lisp?” Zac says.

“I’m not saying I said that or didn’t.”

And the interview goes from there. 

Responses include: 

“We kind of come together from places all over the northwest.

…We would like him to be fired or his resignation. We want him ousted out of the community. We don’t believe this community supports this and we aren’t going to stand for it anymore.

…This is absolutely evil. They are taking kids into a space where a bunch of grown men are drinking alcohol and dancing and [illegible]. How is that appropriate for children to be around? It’s a sexual event.

…The homosexual agenda, because they can’t reproduce, is to groom kids into being gay.

…This is not the new norm, we’re not gonna accept that. This is not happening. 

…A lot of people are insulated and have no idea this is going on.

…These parents are bringing their kids to a strip club.

…I’m not out here pushing my heterosexuality on anyone. So why is this okay?

At one point, they say “We are just hard-working white Americans…” And Zac stops them and says, “Well, just to be clear, we have a non-white American right here who also works really hard” with his hand on my shoulder. 

I don’t know that my skin color has ever been so relevant. 

To be clear, I’ve had people yell CHINK across parking lots at me or tell me to go back where I came from (which ironically is America). But this reminder of color seems more significant.

However, they both acknowledge this is not about race. Instead, the leader says, “We are under attack in our own country. White people are less than 10% of the world’s population so we can call ourselves a minority.”

I don’t know where this statistic comes from. Nor any of their statistics on the flier they’re handing out. 

Eventually, Zac leaves to pick up his children and I walk up to check on the drag performer. He’s bubbling with excitement from his show’s energy and tells me he had to drop 2 parts of his act because it was getting too long. And then they all twirled their rainbow ribbons and practiced a moment of appreciation together.

The dichotomy is astounding.

I try hard not to bring him down with what’s going on outside and walk back down to the protestors.

As the final show approaches its last hour, the energy notably shifts. The demonstrators start trying to engage people more aggressively. They yell at a driver about body mass index. They yell at a middle-aged person for being a boomer and to go watch CNN. They especially lose it on any car that drives into the golf course with a kid in it. 

But as much as they try, nothing happens. We finally decide it’s time to leave. And as I drive away, one of them yells, “CUNT.”

Now why in the world would he think it was a good idea to leave me with that thought in my head after all the effort we put into keeping the dialogue open?

Unfortunately, I find that some people think they know how I feel about something simply because I am now “part of the media” and surely must think a certain way. 

But I just wrote 2000 words and if you’re still with me, I still haven’t told you what I think about any of the topics in this post. 

All I’ve described is the experience of covering the story.

And through that experience, there’s only one thing that has become obvious, loudly and clearly, about both the protestors and drag performer. 

Want to know what that is? 

Both of them just want answers to the question, “Why?”

When I asked each of them during their interviews, “If you could sit down with the opposing side and have a talk, would you? And what would you ask?” – here’s what they said: 

“I’d be nothing but questions. I’d want to know where they’re coming from, what they’re basing this in. I’m a person of the word why, so I’d want them to explain it to me,” said the drag performer. 

As for the leader of the protesters, he answered, “I’d ask him why do you think this is appropriate? That’s a major question. What makes you think you can be a teacher and adulterate these kids minds like this?”

So it seems there are a lot of questions and not a lot of listening. And as basic and generic of a statement that is, it’s the key to most problems. Just listen. 

I am so ready and willing to listen – to all sides – with an open heart so we can somehow find real solutions that aren’t just based in fear and anger. 

I’m willing to listen. What about you? 

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