A vigil memorializing victims of white supremacy from the Holocaust to the present day continued undeterred at the Peace and Justice Plaza on Saturday, Nov. 10, despite disruptions.
The Jewish Antifascist Network of the Triangle organized the vigil in memory of victims of anti-Semitism and white supremacy. The vigil also commemorated victims of mass violence, such as those killed at the Tree of Life synagogue and the three Muslims killed in an apartment in Chapel Hill.
Attendees lit candles, chanted prayers and passed aromatic spices during the ceremony, but they were interrupted by a man who arrived during the lighting of the candles.
Lindsay Ayling, a vigil attendee, was shocked by his lack of empathy.
“This is a memorial service for people who died,” Ayling said. “Then he took out his phone and started screaming that he was being attacked by terrorists.”
The provocateur repeatedly shouted that the true intention of the vigil was not to mourn the dead but to remove the Jefferson Davis Highway sign, support a Goldman Sachs takeover of the United States and physically harm him among other allegations.
The vigil continued after attendees formed a barrier between the disruptor and the main prayer ceremony.
Nicole Berland, a UNC graduate student attending the vigil, said she admired how well the leader kept her composure.
“(The leader) did a really good job pushing through and trying to speak over him and draw people into the circle," Berland said. “There was no question that everyone there was actively trying to ignore him. People spontaneously started crying at certain things he said. We kept going, and I’m glad we did.”
The sudden interruption caught many attendees off guard. Berland said his demands and hateful speech brought her and others to tears.
“He definitely disrupted the vigil,” Berland said. “He took something that was to be healing and made it traumatic.”
The man called 911 demanding a police escort shortly after arriving, and Chapel Hill police arrived to the scene about fifteen minutes later. The police did not take action to remove him and ultimately cited a vigil attendee for simple assault.
It is unclear how the police determined to give the attendee the citation, but other attendees said he stepped in to protect the group after the provocateur attempted once again to charge into the prayer circle.
“The last time he charged the group, he charged directly into one of the mourners, who subsequently and erroneously received a citation for assault,” Berland said.
The Daily Tar Heel reached out to the Town but did not receive a response.
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