Rumors of white supremacist organizations coming to protest against a UNC employee motivated students and workers to rally together in opposition on Wednesday.
While the white supremacy protest didn't happen, the counter-protest at the steps of South Building attracted numerous people from around campus. Some in attendance, including UNC Workers Union member Tony Rossodivito, expressed concerns for the potential danger of these groups coming to the University.
“White supremacy, and its representatives coming out and threatening faculty and threatening students, it’s a public safety issue,” Rossodivito said. “I think we have to turn away from this idea that it is simply a perspective to be listened to.”
The rumors of a planned protest originated from an email sent to multiple UNC staff members Feb. 16 by an individual named Kevin Cormier. He claimed to be a member of the group Kool Kekistani Kids, though no documentation exists to verify that this group exists. In the email, Cormier said they would be joined by Identity Evropa, a well-documented nationwide white supremacist group.
The email said the rally would be held unless the University investigated Dwayne Dixon, a teaching assistant professor in the Department of Asian Studies. Dixon became the target of some radical right-wing groups when he posted a Facebook status Jan. 7 about being a counterprotester last year at the “Unite the Right” white supremacy rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Dixon mentioned carrying a rifle in Charlottesville, something he strongly advocates for those protesting against white supremacists. While Dixon said he does not advocate for use of any weapons unless it's for self-defense, he feels a change must occur in the way democrats approach these kinds of protests.
“I understand the ethical concern, that somehow, something will be contaminated,” Dixon said. “But, from my mind, that moral high ground is where you go to drown in blood. Because if you don’t actually start to resist and to stand up to people, and, yeah, sometimes it may involve actually putting your body on the line, then we won’t actually have anything to build. And we’ll all be overtaken by Nazi ideology.”
In the Facebook status, Dixon said he used the rifle to “chase off” James Alex Fields Jr., who was driving a car suspiciously close to the counterprotesters in Charlottesville. Minutes later, Fields Jr. used that car to run over and kill Heather Heyer, another anti-white supremacy protester, on a different street, in an incident that made national headlines.
Some right-wing groups used the Facebook post to paint Dixon as partly to blame for Heyer’s death. After receiving threatening messages for months following, an incident on Feb. 7 escalated things to a physical level.
Dixon said in an email to a fellow UNC staff member that he was greeted by two men in the hallway of his office who prevented him from exiting. As they recorded Dixon with a phone, the bigger of the two men restrained and shoved him repeatedly while claiming that Dixon was the one doing the harassing.
“It was basically ‘gotcha’ journalism,” Dixon said. “They were trying to provoke me into reacting in a certain way, only to then give credence to the conspiracy that they were working on. And in that sense, of course, they were also trying to make me a problematic figure within the space of the University.”
These events led Dixon to take the threat of a white supremacy rally on campus seriously. The situation resonated with many of Dixon’s coworkers at the University, who showed up in solidarity with their colleague.
“Free speech on campus is a huge deal right now, and people on the right and the left have different opinions about it,” said Bo Eberle, a teaching assistant in the Department of Religious Studies who attended the rally. “But it seems very hypocritical since it’s usually right wing organizations that talk about speech when they bring in controversial speakers, like Sebastian Gorka last semester, who are agitators with bigoted views. But, yeah, supposedly when they get wind of somebody being a Marxist, that is something that they think is worthy of firing.”
The focus of the rally covered more than just the issue of white supremacy, with speakers also addressing things like frustration with the University administration, police and Silent Sam.
“Our chancellor must protect our safety, not a Confederate monument,” said Altha Cravey, associate professor of geography. “UNC is not a brand for wealthy people to profit from.”