National Politics

‘This ain’t Berkeley, you’re in Dixieland’: Activists clash over ‘Confederate Memorial Day’ event in NC

An Alamance County group clashed with another activist group at a planned a “Confederate Memorial Day” event in Graham on Saturday.

The Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County (ACTBAC) group held the event in response to “attacks and destruction of Southern symbols in other cities and states.”

“North Carolina holds tight to the preservation of history and the truths of the reasons our forefathers took the battle field to protect the Tar Heel state. North Carolina patriots past and current have a legacy of standing up to the devilish ways of tyranny and corruption. That legacy is alive and well today,” the group wrote on its Facebook page.

The group invited “any other respectful organizations” and individuals to the annual event, adding that the best way to prevent the destruction “of our beloved cause” was to hold public gatherings.

The Triangle Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) group held a counter-rally during the Confederate Memorial Day event which the group called “Stop white supremacy in Alamance County.” Three IWW protestors were arrested at the event, according to The Times-News of Burlington. IWW has ties to socialist and anarchist labor movements.

Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson told The Times-News that some of the ACTBAC event attendees arrived with muskets, and had been encouraged to by the group’s leaders. Some IWW members had knives, Johnson said. Two other people also were arrested for trespassing. Social media posts alleged that they were members of of Identity Evropa, a white nationalist group.

Photos from the event show dozens of people carrying Confederate and other flags, wearing Confederate uniforms or Confederate-era clothing, U.S. military tactical gear and clothing in support of President Donald Trump.

“This ain’t Berkeley,” The Times-News reported one ACTBAC member shouted at IWW protestors. “You’re in Dixieland.”

Of the five people arrested on Saturday, Graham police told The Times-News that two would be charged with assault on a law enforcement officer, two with trespassing and one with injury to real property.

Denice Freeman, of Alamance County, said about 100-200 people attended the Confederate Memorial Day event, along with about 25-30 counter-rally protestors. She said the IWW protestors were loud and obnoxious but “showed no force against us” and made no attempts to cross police tape or “to become aggressive.”

“At no time whatsoever did I or anyone else feel intimidated,” Freeman said. “We did have a small amount of militia attend and escort us to our cars. Our tags were photographed by the opposition but as all of us carry we don't expect that to be an issue.”

Freeman said the Graham Police Department “did a great job” handling the event and that the police respected the Confederate Memorial Day attendees “and seem to support us as we have always respected them.”

Though the Southern Poverty Law Center designated ACTBAC as a hate group earlier this year, calling it a “neo-Confederate” organization, Freeman said that’s “totally opposite of what we stand for.”

“We believe in keeping all history all, the good, the bad and the ugly,” Freeman said. “It was never started as a hate event like our opposition portrays us. Everyone is invited.”

But Matthew Kornberg, a resident of Snow Camp in Alamance County, said he was there and had a different impression of the ACTBAC event.

Kornberg said he’s not yet a member of IWW, but plans to join. He’s worked with the group before, so he wanted to be at the counter-rally in support, and to show that “This is not what Alamance is.”

About 20-30 counter protestors were present near the courthouse in Graham on Saturday, Kornberg said, but were later relocated by police since only ACTBAC had a permit for a gathering near the courthouse.

But Kornberg said it wasn’t just ACTBAC members who came out in support of the Confederate Memorial Day event. He said other groups, some with ties to white nationalism, also were present. Kornberg also said that some had come from out of county or out of state.

“We just wanted to try to show the community that we would not let that kind of speech go uncontested,” Kornberg said. “That is not the Southern heritage worth of celebration. That’s not the Southern heritage of the slave revolt, the Civil Rights Movement or the Underground Railroad.”

Kornberg said it was frightening to see so many people gather “to spread this message of fear and hate” in a small town he’s lived about 15 minutes from his whole life.

“This is not something to be proud of,” he said.

Abbie Bennett: 919-836-5768; @AbbieRBennett