The hate-filled comments began after June 8, when the owner of a Woodland, California, restaurant announced that she would be marking the end of Pride Month with a Drag Queen Happy Hour.
Christina Hayes was holding the June 30 event at Mojo’s Lounge & Kitchen428 Restaurant with the same spirit that had prompted her at other times to host school fundraisers and a car show.
“It’s all about the community,” the 39-year-old Air Force vet told The Daily Beast.
She was surprised to see that the first venomous comment concerning her local nod to Pride originated from the faraway Midwest.
“I was wondering, ‘Why is this person from middle America trolling an Instagram posting in little California?’” Hayes said.
A subsequent hateful remark was accompanied by a screenshot of her flyer and triggered hundreds of poisonous comments.
“So that’s when we started getting phone calls and Facebook interactions and Instagram interactions with all kinds of hateful people,” Hayes said. “We immediately got in contact with the Woodland police department to let ’em know about the threat and to kind of formulate how do we move forward to make sure everyone’s safe?”
Hayes said the police department told her it would post a radio car in front of Mojo’s and assign two extra officers to the area.
“Then it kind of died down a little bit,” Hayes said. “And then as the event grew closer, the threat got a little more localized with what we think are the Proud Boys. I’m not really sure who they are, but a local hate group.”
Back on June 11, a group of self-proclaimed Proud Boys had disrupted a “Drag Queens Story Hour” at the public library in San Lorenzo, about 89 miles from Woodland. The menacing intruders shouted homophobic and transphobic slurs. One wore a black and yellow shirt stenciled with an AR-15 rifle and the words, “Kill Your Local Pedophile.”
Now on June 29, the left-wing norcal_resist Instagram page posted a copy of Mojo’s flyer along with a warning:
“COMMUNITY SAFETY ALERT; PROUD BOYS ARE PLANNING TO CRASH THIS EVENT.”
The norca_resist page added, “Telegram chat shows that Proud Boys are planning to crash this drag show in Woodland tomorrow night.”
Hayes contacted the police with an update.
“To let them know the new kind of threat,” she said. “They doubled the extra officers that were going to be on duty and notified other departments to be on standby. I think they also said that they forwarded the threats to the FBI.”
But, Hayes says, a number of the acts scheduled “didn’t feel comfortable performing that night.”
“And so they canceled,” Hayes said. “And so we canceled the show.”
But then the evil of a few was met by the good of many.
“A lot of people still wanted to come out in support of Pride,” Hayes said. “So we were basically opened for business still, like regular.”
Hayes decorated what she calls “an upscale casual neighborhood bar and restaurant” with Pride rainbow colors and flags.
“And we had a great crowd of people from like 4:30 on,” Hayes said. “The place was packed. People eating dinner, having drinks, appetizers, just having a good time.”
Around 7 p.m., three figures arrived to make a great evening even better.
“Two drag kings and a drag queen from the local area decided to do like an impromptu show,” Hayes recalled. “I had like maybe 20 minutes notice that this was happening. And so they showed up and just did like a little 30 minute lip sync, dance around, stand-up comedy routine.”
The show ended around 7:45 pm.
“Everyone was taking pictures with the drag queens, having a good time,” she said. “The night was winding down.”
A number of people were moving to leave when a half-dozen young men appeared outside.
“Just before 8:15 the Proud Boys, or whoever they were, started marching, walking up 1st Street,” Hayes said. “Everyone that was outside that was leaving, moved back inside.”
Hayes and her staff closed and locked the doors. Officers were standing on either side of the entrance.
For a short while there was a kind of stand-off. People inside then opened the doors and moved to leave. The police called for them to close the door as the young men tried to barge inside.
“They were trying to push their way in and someone from inside Mojo's pepper sprayed one of the aggressors directly in the face,” Hayes said.
Police body-cam footage shows young men immediately falling back along with several officers. Hate such as that first stirred in online comments was now taking the form of slurs and epithets from the young men, who called those inside “pedophile motherfuckers.” The restaurant door was locked again.
“Unfortunately with pepper spray, or bear spray or whatever it is, it doesn't just hit its target,” Hayes said. “So it created a pepper spray cloud inside Mojo’s. And so everyone evacuated out the back of the restaurant.”
One person suffered what appeared to be either an asthma or panic attack and was quickly treated by EMTs. The others were escorted to their cars as the young men milled across the street from the front of Mojo’s.
“The Proud Boys or whoever those guys were shouting at an empty building,” Hayes said. “Everyone was going home and leaving already, so they didn’t stop anything… But they did terrorize people. And that's kind of their main objective.”
The young men sought to terrorize her in particular.
“The Proud Boys were shouting my name and address,” she later said.
“I’m OK, but it was a little unnerving.”
The young men were allowed to disperse without being taken into custody, but the police department issued a statement making clear it wasn’t going to just drop the matter:
“Tonight, the Woodland Police Department assigned foot patrol officers downtown near Mojo’s Lounge & Kitchen428 Restaurant on 1st Street after the business received threats on social media in response to their planned drag show. Several people showed up and were disruptive while making derogatory comments about the event and the LGBTQIA+ community. At one point there was an altercation at the door of the establishment which Woodland PD officers de-escalated. No arrests have been made at this time.”
The police also pledged to go after those who had spread the hate.
“Right now, Woodland PD investigators are reviewing surveillance videos, following up on leads, and working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to determine who made the threats. We want to be clear that the Woodland Police Department does not tolerate threats or discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion.”
Several people sent Hayes photos of the young men.
“They’re not from the area,” she said. “They’re outsiders.”
On Friday, everything was almost back to normal.
“We got one drunken phone call this morning left on our voicemail with hate,” Hayes said.
She added that she still hopes to hold a Drag Happy Hour.
“We’re hoping to reschedule maybe at the end of summer,” she said. “But we’ll just kinda have to take the temperature of the room and see what happens.”
She could offer no immediate theories as to what fuels the hate.
“I have no idea where it comes from and why they’re so enraged,” she said. “All I know is in the end, love always wins.”