As students and activists gathered Saturday on the ground where Silent Sam once stood, a group of out-of-town individuals entered UNC’s campus – one openly-carrying a gun, others concealed-carrying and a few more with either knives, a baton or handcuffs.
The armed group stood in front of Memorial Hall, just beyond the view of those gathering in McCorkle Place, wearing Confederate clothing and memorabilia. Bill Miller, a resident of Gloucester County, Virginia, wore a participation patch for the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally, where a white supremacist murdered an activist with a car.
Most of the individuals had already attended previous rallies over Silent Sam. Durham documentary photographer Daniel Hosterman intercepted them as they came onto campus, photographing the weapons he could see and collecting time stamps throughout the visit that he provided to The Daily Tar Heel.
“I think that they probably would have been happiest if somebody would have taken their bait and attacked them so that they could shoot them,” Hosterman said.
North Carolina law makes it a felony to possess a firearm, openly or concealed, on any educational property. It also sets extensive guidelines for weapons that translate to a misdemeanor.
However, neither University nor town police charged, arrested or issued trespass orders during the event.
"Due to immediate uncertainty on Saturday about the application of these laws to the Cameron Avenue right of way, which is maintained by the Town of Chapel Hill, no arrest was made in this case," the University said in a statement released Monday.
‘Ready to kill’
Randolph County resident Lance Spivey, co-founder of the Heirs To The Confederacy, carried a camouflage-skin pistol on his hip at UNC last weekend.
Less than a week earlier, Spivey had written a blog post reflecting on a rally he attended in McCorkle last month. He expressed a range of views, including that the United States is under assault from “foreign invaders” like undocumented immigrants and Muslims.
Spivey also wrote, “I am willing to die for what I believe; I am more so ready to kill for it,” referencing what he views as a connection between Confederate monuments and overall freedom.
A number of things must happen, he stated, to preserve both of those things.
“We do it by fighting back when attacked, especially if the police do not do their jobs, and we respond not with equal violence, but with excessive violence; we hurt them worse than they hurt us,” Spivey wrote in the post.
After lingering in front of Memorial Hall for over 10 minutes on Saturday, Hosterman said, the armed individuals – who brought two young children with them – were approached by UNC Police.
For around three minutes, Lt. Timothy Tickle explained to them the boundaries of campus, according to a video taken at the time by an Heirs To The Confederacy member. The pro-Confederates asked Tickle multiple times for further elaboration due to them not being from the area.
“Now if you’re passing through, we won’t say too much about the weapons, but now that I’ve talked to you, this is gonna be you guys’ only warning today, OK?” Tickle told the group.
At the conversation’s close, Tickle shook hands with Miller, who had an empty gun holster at his waist, and the group left campus.
Spivey made it clear in a new blog post Tuesday it would not be his last visit.
“If they ban me, they ban me; it won’t stop me from coming; they can’t keep me off public streets,” Spivey wrote.
‘Era of lawlessness’
UNC Police Spokesperson Randy Young said in a statement to the DTH that the department is aware of Spivey’s blog posts and finds them concerning. Handcuffs and pocket knives, he stated, are not legally prohibited from campus, though Young did not address what appeared to be a baton jutting out of another man’s pocket in a photo. State law makes possession of a “leaded cane” on educational property a misdemeanor.
Young also did not address a question of why Spivey faced no arrest or charges for openly-carrying a firearm.
Referencing the individuals as “members of a ‘Confederate heritage’ group,” the University said in a public statement Monday that “moving forward, possession of a firearm will not be tolerated within any boundary of the campus.”
In an email to the DTH, UNC Media Relations Manager Kate Luck emphasized concern across University leadership. She also cited free speech laws, saying “we cannot prohibit a person from speaking on campus because the University community does not agree with what that person has to say or because the speech is offensive to most people.”
Orange-Chatham District Attorney Jim Woodall said officers have discretion when deciding whether or not to make an arrest for possession of a weapon on campus. Level of cooperation with the officer, Woodall said, may contribute to no charges being filed.
The incident Saturday was not the first time this year UNC Police have exercised that discretion in such a way.
The night Silent Sam’s base was being removed at the order of former Chancellor Carol Folt in January, Gary Williamson — founder of ACTBAC N.C., a Confederate group — rushed at one of the construction vehicles and attempted to slash its tire with a knife, as photographed by Hosterman.
While arresting Williamson that night, according to a News & Observer video, the officers shouted for the knife until one said they had retrieved it. Williamson repeatedly yelled that the officers themselves were breaking the law, in reference to a 2015 state law that set restrictions on the removal of monuments.
He received only one charge of resisting arrest, despite his arrest report noting he was armed with a “lethal cutting” weapon.
Young stated to the DTH that Williamson did not receive a weapons on campus charge because he was using a pocket knife, which is not illegal on campus. However, the knife itself is not visible in any video or photos from the night. Young did not expand on the exclusion of any other charges.
Williamson doubled down in a Facebook post after his arrest, calling the attempted tire-slash his “rightful duty” and saying he “personally will be the first to end this era of lawlessness” in Chapel Hill.
‘A wide variety of bigotry’
Samee Siddiqui, a global history graduate student, called these situations “ridiculous” in comparison to UNC Police’s treatment of anti-Silent Sam students and activists.
He referenced a rally last September where police confiscated a bin full of donated canned goods from activists due to the possibility the cans would be used to harm others.
“There’s no other purpose of a gun aside from threatening or using violence,” Siddiqui said. “That’s the whole point of a gun. So how is it that a weapon like a gun doesn’t get treated in the same way that a canned good would?”
Siddiqui comes from a Muslim family. Although he himself no longer practices the religion, his racial makeup exposes him to the same risk of Islamophobia as his practicing brother.
In the wake of a white supremacist terror attack that killed at least 50 mosque-attendants in New Zealand last week, Siddiqui said it is important to remember that, while the Confederacy may seem to only be about slavery, modern Confederate movements “encompass a wide variety of bigotry.”