Update: This article has been updated to include a statement from Maya Little.
Update: This article has been updated to include information from a tweet made by Ryan Barnett to better contextualize the story.
Update: This article has been updated to include information about the history of Ryan Barnett and Nancy Ann Rushton. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.
Confederate demonstrators made their way around Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Durham on Sunday, July 7, rallying and symbolically “renaming” parts of the towns.
The rally, called “Confederates Against UNC Antifa Fascists,” was organized on Facebook by Ryan Barnett and Nancy Ann Rushton, also known as Nancy McCorkle. The two Confederates were previously arrested for defacing the Unsung Founders Memorial and are still awaiting trial.
A post on the event page said the goals of the demonstration were to expose what they called "fascism" and "domestic terrorism" at UNC.
While the Facebook event page simply stated the demonstrators would be gathered in Chapel Hill, notable events included a renaming of the Peace and Justice Plaza to the “Silent Sam Plaza.” The overall event was slated to begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, but Barnett, one of the event organizers, said they never planned to be at the Plaza at all. Instead, they wanted any potential counter-demonstrators to think they’d be going there.
“If they find out your plans, then they’re going to practice their fascist tactics … and if we show up and we tell them, ‘Oh, we’re going to be here,’ they’re going to come and try to shut us down,” Barnett said. “We were never going to show up at Peace and Justice.”
And it worked: around 50 progressive counter-demonstrators were gathered at the Peace and Justice Plaza on Sunday morning having their own event, passing out coffee to “antiracists.” The event was advertised on Twitter with several different names including “Coffee, not Confederates,” “Pour Over, not Police Violence,” “Coldbrew ~not~ Capitalists” and “Nitro, not Nazis.”
Prepared for the Confederate group to show up, the counter-demonstrators had signs that read “F---- the Heirs to the Confederacy,” “Nazis Go Home,” “Power to the Unsung Founders,” and “F---- your racist flag.”
Lindsay Ayling, a vocal member of the anti-Confederate movement in Chapel Hill, said the group’s goal with the counter demonstration was to have a presence at the Peace and Justice Plaza since they heard the Confederate group was planning to be there.
“Because this group is dangerous, they bring weapons to campus, we wanted to have a presence there to make sure that they don’t hurt anyone because they’re less likely to target individuals if they're a large group of counter-demonstrators around,” Ayling said. “We also want to make sure that they know that the Town doesn’t accept or tolerate racism, and that they’re not welcome here and that they can’t intimidate us.”
Ayling added that they were giving out free cold brew coffee because they like to have counter protests that also benefit the community.
But, the Confederate group didn’t show up there. Instead, they started their rally at 10 a.m. at Chapel Hill Town Hall. A livestream Facebook video showed the group having a ribbon-cutting ceremony and “renaming” the Town of Chapel Hill to “Confederate Hill.”
Barnett said the group has made no efforts to file an official request with the Town Council to rename the town or the Peace and Justice Plaza. He said he thinks they didn’t need to.
“We don’t need their permission because it's a First Amendment right,” Barnett said. “We’re just going to start going around renaming everything.”
Earlier in the day, Barnett tweeted out a statement calling the counter-protestors "terrorists" and "Antifa Facist pigs" as well as claiming "the Triangle area will be in a war in 6 months."
Barnett said since counter-demonstrators were at the Peace and Justice Plaza Sunday morning, the Confederates' rededication and renaming of the plaza to honor Silent Sam has been postponed to a later date, but still has no plans to officially file for these renamings through Town officials.
Calvin Deutschbein, a UNC student, was another counter-demonstrator present at the coffee gathering at Peace and Justice Plaza. He said while some individuals from the anti-Confederate group went to confront the Confederates as they moved around the Chapel Hill area, he and several other demonstrators stayed at Peace and Justice Plaza all day, hoping their presence would discourage the Confederates from showing up there.
A video on a Twitter post from later in the day showed one of the Confederate demonstrators, later identified as Tommy "Strawberry" Parnell, interacting with some counter-demonstrators.
In the video, Parnell yells derogatory, racial slurs allegedly about activist Maya Little and threatens to go to Little’s apartment.
Little responded to the video on twitter and shared a statement with The Daily Tar Heel.
"These types of threats, racial and homophobic slurs, have always been coming from the neo-Confederates groups and people like Tommy Parnell," she said. "Once again, they were caught on tape. Despite the threats, anti-facist tactics are working."
Little added that she is still trespassed from McCorkle Place by UNC police despite threats against her made by Confederate members.
Ayling said she takes the Confederates’ threats and demonstrations seriously and that she feels the counter-demonstration was effective.
“I don’t want to underestimate the danger that they bring to the community, but at the same time, I feel like our tactics have been effective because they don’t want to stay in the same place as long as the counter-protesters are around,” Ayling said.