A neo-Nazi group in Florida says the right-wing hysteria about drag performances has been an effective recruitment tool.
“What we have seen is certain types of activism definitely gets interest and recruitment up. And that’s where like the drag queen shit — like everybody wants to be a part of the team shutting that down,” Josh Nunes, leader of National Socialist Florida, recently told NPR.
The NPR report describes the group laser-projecting an image of a swastika and a cross onto a high-rise building in Jacksonville, along with messages such as one to Florida’s governor reading, “Why are child friendly drag shows legal? @ Ron DeSantis.” Actually, DeSantis has been a proponent of restricting drag shows, but National Socialist Florida is trying to push him even farther.
While the far right has gotten riled up over school curricula about racial and LGBTQ+ issues, the anti-drag rhetoric has been the most effective, Nunes said. “We’ve just seen the largest upticks in recruitment from the drag stuff,” he noted.
Just a few people turned out to protest drag shows when the group first became active last year, but “it’s not uncommon to show up with 20 dudes now,” he said. “We’re hoping by the end of this year maybe we got 30 or 40 guys.”
There were at least 141 protests at drag performances in 2022, according to a report from GLAAD and Equality Texas. In some incidents, far-right groups such as the Proud Boys have shown up bearing arms, and a doughnut shop in Oklahoma was firebombed after a drag event. Several conservative states have been considering legislation classifying drag shows as “adult entertainment” and putting restrictions on them, and Tennessee recently became the first state where one of these bills was signed into law.
Along with its anti-drag messages, National Socialist Florida has embraced racism. Nunes described his group to NPR as “regular working-class white people that are racially aware.” The laser projections, he said, are “a good way to relate to normal people.”
Jacksonville has recently adopted an ordinance that makes it a misdemeanor to project an image or message onto a building if the owner doesn’t consent, NPR reports. But that may not hold up if challenged in court, as groups across the political spectrum have used these projections to protest, and courts have ruled that such actions are within the right to free speech under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.