CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the number of people arrested at a Sept. 28 protest in Pittsboro. Three people were issued criminal charges at the Sept. 28 protest, but two of those individuals were charged by citation and released at the scene. The article has been updated to reflect the change. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.
After over a month of weekly protests, out-of-town Confederate demonstrators again faced off with a larger counter-demonstration in downtown Pittsboro on Saturday.
As the groups stood on opposite sides of the road adjacent to Horton Middle School, they jeered at each other with familiarity, referencing each others’ names and previous actions. They had crossed paths before, during different rallies at UNC and in other parts of the country.
Though the core ideological differences of each group does not change, at the center of this particular conflict is a Confederate monument outside the Chatham County Courthouse and a Confederate flag that was recently raised across the street from Horton, a historically Black school.
The Chatham County Board of Commissioners decided in August to remove the Confederate monument outside its courthouse, as first reported by Spectrum News. They had discussed with the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the monument's owner, an idea to re-purpose the monument to honor all veterans, but the commissioners decided to act for its removal when the UDC backed out of those negotiations.
Commissioners gave the UDC until Oct. 1 to present a plan for its removal, but the group has not yet presented any such plan. If no action has been taken by Nov. 1, they will consider the monument trespassing on public property and make their own plans for removal, as previously reported by WRAL.
Weeks after the commissioner’s decision, on Sept. 26, a Confederate flag was erected across the street from Horton Middle School. The school is named after George Moses Horton, a Black poet and former slave from North Carolina, and was an all-Black school in segregation-era North Carolina.
The flagpole was knocked down soon after it was raised, and the flag was taken down during the night. The next day, it had been erected again.
Two Confederate groups, the Virginia Flaggers and Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County claimed responsibility on Facebook for raising the flag.
Every Saturday since the commissioners announced the Confederate monument’s planned removal, demonstrators have appeared in the town. Three people were criminally charged at a Sept. 28 protest, according to WRAL.
Longtime Pittsboro resident Altis Johnson said he has visited that section of town since he was 10 years old.
“It’s all messed up,” he said. “The statue is coming down, regardless, so just give it up. They’re trying to start a fight right now. You got men over there with pistols on their hips, and I know all of them. I’m guessing I know everyone in this town. I do. It don’t make no sense, it really don’t.”
While protesters marched to a plaza across the street from the courthouse monument, pro-Confederate demonstrators congregated at the base of their self-placed Confederate flag across the street from Horton Middle.
Chatham County Police Department estimated 125 to 150 marchers were present at 10:39 a.m. Around an hour later, several people from the march positioned themselves across the street from the group of around 50 pro-Confederates.
Cars driving between the two groups honked and shouted out the window or held a fist or thumbs up to show support for one group or another.
The two groups kept to themselves until about 12:45 p.m., when a small round of chanting began on the side of the marchers. The pro-Confederates responded with taunts.
Around 1:00 p.m., a man drove through the street on a large backhoe flying Confederate flags. At that point, Maya Little, a UNC graduate student who has been highly involved in anti-Silent Sam activism, leaned out the passenger-side window of a car passing the farm machinery and shouted at the man.
The backhoe was stopped at a point between the two groups, and a small confrontation broke out in the street. Protesters called for officers to assist, and the sheriff’s department eventually cleared the street.
By 1:20 p.m., the heckling had taken full force as both sides targeted the other with insults of a racist and sexual nature.
Lindsay Ayling, a UNC graduate student involved in activism at UNC and elsewhere, said the jeering is part of a strategy to distract the pro-Confederates from wandering into town and interacting with Pittsboro community members.
Ayling countered the idea that if people just ignore racism, it’ll go away.
“Historically, ignoring fascism and white supremacy has been disastrous,” she said. “When racists are coming to town promoting white supremacy and neo-Nazi ideas, we have to show that that’s not welcome in our towns, in our states, anywhere, and we need to build a community to resist that.”
License plates from Virginia and Texas hung on the back of some of the cars parked at the base of the Pittsboro monument. Along with the flags they were waving, the pro-Confederates raised flags on the backs of trucks and played loud music.
Jamie Wilson said he has been to over 60 rallies across the country. He was wearing a neon yellow shirt with the logo of the Hiwaymen, a group that the Southern Poverty Law Center described as “a reactionary right-wing group that flocks to various far-right protests.”
Wilson said he is from northeast Tennessee and came to the rally for freedom and love, for history to not be forgotten, and for heritage.
“You know, the monument they’re trying to take down is a headstone,” he said. “Say you go to your great grandparents, you know, whoever, somebody you’ve buried, take their headstone from their grave — that’s disrespectful, right? That headstone, monument, stands for what we’re doing right now, the freedom we have right now, so why not leave it up? It ain’t bothering nobody.”
The Hiwaymen were also part of the Unite the Right rally in 2017, where a white supremacist murdered activist Heather Heyer with a car, and UNC graduate student and activist Calvin Deutschbein said they have been active at UNC since the toppling of Silent Sam.
Also present was Nancy McCorkle, who was found guilty of injury to real property and larceny after vandalizing the Unsung Founders memorial on UNC’s campus in March. At Saturday’s rally, she taunted the anti-Confederate demonstrators with pacifiers and coloring books, calling them “crybabies.”
ACTBAC was also in Pittsboro. The group has been active at UNC since the removal of Silent Sam, and the founder pleaded guilty of a misdemeanor during a protest the night Carol Folt ordered the removal of the monument base.
A man who multiple witnesses referred to as Jay Baxton, a member of the Proud Boys, verbally targeted Little, the UNC graduate student activist, in Pittsboro. The Proud Boys are classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
James Shillinglaw, a man allegedly associated with the League of the South, was present at the Pittsboro rally. The League of the South is another SPLC-designated hate group which became a primary defender of the Confederate flag following the Charleston, South Carolina, shooting of an African-American church in 2015.
Ayling said some members of the League of the South attended the August 2018 demonstration at UNC, during which police officers used pepper foggers on students.