Nazis in uniforms with swastika patches, some in face masks, waving red and black swastika flags and one even carrying a sign reading “Protect White Children” gathered outside Cathedral of Hope as congregants were leaving after the 8:30 a.m. service on Sunday, Oct. 8. (Photos by Mike Hendrix)

Staff and congregants at Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ are no strangers to protests. The Oak Lawn church, known as the largest church in the world with a primarily LGBTQ membership, has long been a target of the “gays will burn in hell” so-called Christians and, more recently, the “all gays are pedophiles” crowd claiming they are protecting innocent children.

But the group that turned up outside the church Sunday morning, Oct. 8, was something altogether different.

Sunday morning, as those who attended Cathedral’s 10 a.m. services were leaving the church and others were arriving for the 11:45 a.m. service, a “whole bunch of Nazis” gathered outside the church, waiting to harass and intimidate those there for services, according to the Rev. Neil Thomas, the cathedral’s senior pastor.

They were armed with knives and mace, and at least one of them was openly carrying a sidearm, Thomas said. Several had on ski masks, and most were wearing “Nazi uniforms with swastikas on their shoulders,” and they were carrying red and black Nazi flags.

“They were chanting things like ‘Down with Israel,’ ‘Down with the Jews,’ ‘All gays should be gassed,’ ‘Annihilate the gays,’ ‘Annihilate the Jews,’” one church said.

Thomas added, “They were taunting our folks as they left or arrived. They were using the N word.”

Thomas said the church’s staff and congregants are “under pretty clear instructions not to engage” with anti-LGBTQ protesters who show up at the Cathedral, and that the church has security just for such situations. “Our security  along with some volunteers to keep people safe and help them  get to their cars or to the church building safely,” he said.

Still, a church member said, it was a frightening experience. “One thing I noticed is that this was not a protest. No one was waving signs and telling us how we are going to hell,” he said. “They were there to scare us, to intimidate, to try and pick a fight.

“I was called every name in the book, including child molester. I was told I had a Jew nose,” the church member continued. “They were talking about the annihilation of all LGBTQ people, the annihilation of all the Jews. They said, ‘Pretty soon, we’ll be able to come for the gays the way they came for Israel.’ These people were just obscene.”

Thomas said church staff called police as soon as they noticed the group outside, but that officers took about 20 minutes to respond.

“We were told there only four patrol officers for the whole area. That’s pretty disgraceful,” he said. “We know there is a shortage of officers right now, and that a lot of officers have been sent over to the area around Fair Park during the State Fair. But still, just four officers for this whole area is not enough.”

He also said that a lot of the Nazis gathered outside the church had parked their cars next door in the Resource Center parking lot. Thomas said he contacted Resource Center CEO Cece Cox, who gave police authorization to make the Nazis move their vehicles, and that officers were able record license plate numbers from many of the vehicles.

Thomas said that Cathedral of Hope is working with Galileo Church in Fort Worth on the North Texas TRANSportation Network, which works to provide funds for transgender youth and their families to travel out of state to continue receiving gender-affirming healthcare. He noted that protesters showed up outside Sunday evening services at Galileo.

But the Rev. Katie Hayes, lead evangelist for Galileo, said she doesn’t believe it was the same people there that had been at Cathedral earlier in the day.

“The group at Galileo Church did not have Nazi flags,” she said. “We know that [the group at Galileo] came from LUCA — Latinos United for Conservative Action. It was the same protest also advertised through Protect Texas Kids, but I don’t know if any of those folks actually showed up.

“The protest at our place was small and uneventful,” Hayes said. “Our church is located in a really inaccessible place, and there’s really no one to see a protest there.”

As frightening and unexpected as the Nazis outside Cathedral of Hope were, Thomas said, it certainly could have been worse.

“No one was hurt. No one was attacked. We did nothing to provoke them,” he said. “We certainly want people to feel safe coming to church, and security has always been a priority for our church. We do want people to know to be vigilant wherever they are, and if they see these people, to not engage. They thrive on attention.

“We live in a very strange time,” Thomas continued. “And as we go into 2024, we have to expect that these tactics will increase, especially around our churches and around Jewish synagogues. People need to be vigilant.”

— Tammye Nash