A crowd of students and faculty turned out Wednesday at UNC-Chapel Hill to protest a rumored white nationalist rally that never materialized.
UNC’s dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, Kevin Guskiewicz, had sent a message Tuesday alerting deans and department chairs that “individuals not affiliated with UNC-Chapel Hill” were planning a “Rally for Nationalism.” He said the university was unable to confirm that a rally would happen, but that campus officials were taking steps to ensure safety.
Big League Politics, a right-wing website founded by former Breitbart News employees, published a story Wednesday saying the planned rally was a hoax. The story said that the person who had announced the rally via email to UNC employees, a man named Kevin Cormier, had confirmed that his group, Kool Kekistani Kids, does not exist.
The motive for the hoax was unclear. An email to the account for Cormier went unanswered Wednesday.
Campus police and monitors wearing orange vests watched the event, but the counterprotest proceeded without violence or disruption. A UNC spokeswoman said she could not comment on security plans or costs.
People gathered outside the main administrative building Wednesday afternoon and then marched to Silent Sam, the controversial Confederate monument on campus.
Protesters carried signs that said “Destroy white supremacy” and other slogans. Some wore hats that said, “Do It Like Durham,” a reference to protesters who tore down a Confederate statue in downtown Durham last year. Charges were dismissed this week against the Durham protesters.
“This is our campus and we’re not going to let fascists have any of it,” said Liam Kelly, a 21-year-old student from Charlotte and a member of the Young Democratic Socialists of America.
A graduate student in history, Tony Rossodivito, said there was a growing threat of hate groups that target college campuses. He urged protesters to throw racist fliers in the trash. “Fascism is violence, plain and simple,” he said.
The proposed rally and counterprotest follow an incident in which a faculty member was confronted by individuals who cornered him in an academic building on Feb. 7, claiming to be reporters.
The faculty member is Dwayne Dixon, a teaching assistant professor in UNC’s Department of Asian Studies. Dixon was in the news last summer and faced a misdemeanor charge for bringing a semi-automatic rifle to a KKK counterprotest in Durham. The KKK did not show up that day. The charge was dismissed by a judge earlier this month.
Dixon was also at the Charlottesville rally last August as a member of the Redneck Revolt, a leftist organization that promotes self-defense in the fight against racism.
He described a situation where he was “pushed and restrained” by two men who chased him down a hallway in an academic building at UNC on Feb. 7. He said it was an ambush, designed to provoke a reaction from him that could be taped.
A video of the interaction was posted on Big League Politics, showing the website’s editor, Patrick Howley and a cameraman approaching Dixon in the hallway. They asked him questions about Charlottesville, whether he chased James Fields, the driver of the car that accelerated into the crowd, killing protester Heather Heyer. “Are you responsible for the death of Heather Heyer?” one of the men asked, as Dixon is seen calling police to report intruders in the UNC building.
Dixon asked the men to get out of his way repeatedly. He identified one of them as Noel Fritsch, a conservative campaign consultant, who tweeted on Feb. 7 that he was “just assaulted” by Dwayne Dixon.
Fields is charged in the death of Heyer after he drove into a crowd in Charlottesville.
In an interview this week, Dixon said Fields’ vehicle stopped in front of him and Dixon “made it clear he wasn’t to stay there,” but didn’t chase him off into the crowd. Afterward, Dixon started receiving hate-filled responses on various social media and other platforms. Far-right organizations also published articles contending that Dixon was responsible for Heyer’s death.
Last Friday, Dixon received an email, purporting to be from Cormier, announcing the rally. The email said, in part,“We realize that these beta male anti-intellectual Marxists enter the education system because they know that naive young kids are the only people stupid enough to buy in to the tenets of Marxism.”
Dixon said at least one other colleague also received the email.
Speaking at the counterprotest Wednesday, Dixon said the issue is less about him than about people coming together to oppose groups that use intimidation tactics. He called the email about the rally part of a “psychological campaign of fear.”
“It requires a new kind of determination among all of us to actually name that and confront it, and also join together with one another to build new kinds of ways of interacting so that we can nurture one another and sustain each other,” he said.
Staff writer Virginia Bridges contributed to this report.