COOKEVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A group carrying a flag with a swastika and signs accusing people of child abuse, while chanting a phrase used by hate groups in the past, protested a drag brunch in Cookeville Sunday.
The “Drag Me to Brunch” event, hosted by Upper Cumberland Pride, was discussed just a few days earlier at a Cookeville City Council meeting. A spokesperson for the group says there is a “direct correlation” between the rhetoric at that meeting and the protest that took place.
“This was an 18 and up event, with no children. The people of Cookeville invited these white power groups and Nazis into our community based on misinformation provided by people that don’t even live in the city of Cookeville,” the spokesperson said.
During the council meeting, citizens called drag “shameful,” said “this agenda is out to defile your grandkids” and that the event must be “stopped.”
In response, Cookeville city leaders said that despite the continued reference to a section of state law, there was nothing they could do to prevent the brunch from happening.
“We are trying. Trust us. We’re going to look at this we’re going to do something we’re going to we’re going to talk about it,” said Vice Mayor Luke Eldridge.
In a statement to News 2 about the protest, Cookeville Mayor Laurin Wheaton said, “This was not the Cookeville we know and love. We are hoping that we can come together and respect one another.”
At the meeting, council members also told citizens who were concerned about drag performance in their town to contact members of the Tennessee General Assembly because there are pieces of legislation being proposed that add restrictions to drag and “adult cabaret” shows.
But Rachel Carroll-Rivas, Deputy Director of Research at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), warned that often hate groups use these hot-button social issues to further their own agenda.
“Taking political issues, really controversial social issues in our community, going into those spaces and then inserting their opinions and their ideas and trying to test the waters with antisemitic, anti-Black, anti-LGBTQ sentiment,” Carroll-Rivas said of hate groups’ strategies.
And according to SPLC’s most recent data, there are 28 active hate groups in Tennessee, which puts Tennessee in the top five states with the most hate groups per person in the nation.