Masked Proud Boys clash with mother of school shooting survivor and interrupt prayer vigil

The extremist group arrived in masks and black shirts, and unfurled a banner near the capitol that said ‘Smashville’

Kelly Rissman
Tuesday 22 August 2023 00:25 BST
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Just before a Tennessee lawmakers’ special session was set to begin on Monday in order to address public safety in the wake of March’s Nashville school shooting, members of the Proud Boys interrupted a prayer vigil at the state capitol.

Gov. Bill Lee called the General Assembly back for a special session following the Covenant School massacre, which took the lives of six people, including three nine-year-old children. Before the session started, hundreds gathered outside the Capitol for the prayer vigil, The Tennessean reported.

“Remember for whom you came,” the Rev Francisco Garcia said, according to the outlet, adding “We won’t let ignorance prevail.” Similarly, the Rev Dahron Johnson denounced guns for taking lives “too often and too soon.”

While some members of the community and gun control supporters carried signs that read “lax laws lack sense,” “it’s the guns” and “love your neighbor regulate guns,” another group showed up: The Proud Boys. The extremist group arrived wearing masks and black shirts, and unfurled a yellow banner near the state house that said “Smashville” while they held up the offensive OK hand gesture.

State Representative Justin J Pearson tweeted about the scene: “While our supporters of clergy marched and prayed over our Capitol to end gun violence, the @tnhousegop and their extremist supporters, the proud boys, threaten our democracy with their terrorism. This is what we are fighting against every single day and why we will never quit!”

Another Tennessee State Representative, Gloria Johnson, commented on the group’s unexpected arrival: “Well, the proud boys are here in their dollar general colors. I asked if they were so proud, why were they wearing masks? They didn’t have an answer … one said COVID, but I’m doubting the seriousness of that claim. I think I’ll just call them boys from here on out.”

According to the Tennessean, one vocal Covenant mother of a five-year-old who survived the attack, Sarah Shoop Neumann, and members of the far right extremist group started arguing after one of the Proud Boys told her to “thank God for the Covenant (shooting).”

“What could we have done? What is your solution to these shootings?” she asked them.

“The cops should have gone in,” the member of the Proud Boys said. “Isn’t this the one where the cops wouldn’t go in?”

“That’s Uvalde!” Ms Neumann corrected. “Do you even know where you are?”

Ms Neumann is the co-founder of Covenant Families for Brighter Tomorrows, an organization aiming to prevent future school shootings as well as to provide support for and education around the impact of such tragedies.

Sarah Shoop Neumann, right, speaking before a special session of the state legislature on public safety in Nashville, Tennessee

Ms Neumann has been outspoken on social media about the impact that the shooting has had on her child. Days after the massacre, she wrote a chilling post on X: “I have reached out to every local republican and got no response. No one cares that my 5 yr old baby is asking me if this has happened before and me having to tell him yes, knowing it can/will happen again.”

The Independent has reached out to Ms Neumann for comment.

The tragic shooting, at a private Christian grade school in Nashville, killed three nine-year-old students and three staff members on 27 March. The suspect, 28-year-old Audrey Hale, was killed after being confronted and killed by police at The Covenant School in the Green Hills suburb of the city.

The police chief said that Hale’s parents were aware the suspect had purchased one firearm, but believed it had since been sold. In reality, the situation was much more grim: the 28-year-old had legally purchased seven firearms from five different local stores – three of which were used in the shooting – and hid them in the family home.

Students Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs, and William Kinney, all aged nine, Head of School Katherine Koonce, 60, Cynthia Peak, 61, and Mike Hill, 61, all died in the attack.

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