'Victory': Confederates tout backdoor dealings of $2.5 million Silent Sam settlement
Confederate heritage supporters rallied in McCorkle Place to defend the statue of Silent Sam in 2015. Confederacy-related controversy has plagued UNC since, the latest of which came last week when the UNC System and Board of Governors settled a lawsuit with the Sons of Confederate Veterans under controversial circumstances.
When the UNC System announced it had settled a lawsuit that the public hadn’t yet heard about last week, Kevin Stone began celebrating his secret role in a “major strategic victory” for the pro-Confederate movement.
Stone, commander of the North Carolina Division Sons of Confederate Veterans Inc., emailed his group that day with information he wouldn’t tell the media or others about. He described many months of confidential negotiations and meetings, invisible to the public and only fully understood by SCV leadership, attorneys and unspecified members of the UNC Board of Governors.
Detailing a process that at one point involved lobbying the North Carolina legislature, Stone suggested the backdoor dealings led directly to the settlement — entitling the SCV to legal ownership of Silent Sam and $2.5 million of UNC System money for “the preservation and benefit of the Confederate Monument.”
A copy of the email from Stone, who is also a state-employed corrections officer in Chatham County, was leaked Monday by an anonymous SCV member to Durham attorney T. Greg Doucette. The Daily Tar Heel verified the legitimacy of the email with Stone himself, who declined to comment further.
“There have been those who say we’ve ‘lost the respect’ of the (Board of Governors), etc., while during this whole time, we were working directly with them and for the honour of our ancestors,” he wrote in the SCV email. “What we have accomplished is something that I never dreamed we could accomplish in a thousand years, and all at the expense of the University itself.”
The SCV’s multi-million dollar winnings dwarf any measurable income that a North Carolina chapter of the tax-exempt organization has generated in years.
Among 84 state organizations listed on ProPublica’s Nonprofit Explorer tool with the “Sons of Confederate Veterans” title, federal income tax reports are only available for a few. The most well-funded of those is an SCV filing from Claremont, with total revenue of $128,000 and ownership of no land, buildings or other assets for the year ended May 2019.
The UNC System’s new fund of non-state money will be nearly 10 times the value of all assets reported in that filing.
Keeping the months-long negotiations secret from the SCV gave the group an advantage, Stone said in his email, because members who he knew would “gladly share information with our enemies ... would have killed the whole deal.”
The secrecy was mutually beneficial for the UNC System, he said.
Stone noted that the Board of Governors members he worked with were “not at all worried about losing” a lawsuit judgement over Silent Sam when they first approached him earlier this year, after learning the SCV planned to sue over Silent Sam.
The Board members instead wanted to avoid a legal dispute with attorney Boyd Sturges, whom Stone described as a high-profile attorney connected to the Board, raising “the prospect of another media circus” on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus, he said.
“For (the UNC System’s) part, knowledge by the media, the leftists, UNC faculty, and even other members of the (Board of Governors) not privy to the negotiations that their leadership was working with the SCV would have torpedoed the whole thing.”
Stone didn’t specify which board members were privy to the negotiations.
According to court documents obtained by the DTH, the SCV filed an extensive initial complaint against the UNC System and its Board of Governors at 11:10 a.m. on Nov. 27. The official response of the System and Board is stamped as being filed two minutes later.
The court’s final judgement, which established the lawsuit settlement, is stamped as being filed five minutes after that.
While the official process appears to have taken under 10 minutes, the final judgement states that Board of Governors chairman Randy Ramsey consented to the Silent Sam settlement five days early, on Nov. 22. Interim UNC System President Bill Roper is documented as consenting one day before the complaint’s filing.
Stone and the attorneys representing each side are documented as consenting the day the settlement was completed.
Media representatives for the UNC System did not respond to comment requests by the time of publication. A UNC-Chapel Hill media relations spokesperson declined to comment, saying the broader UNC System handled the settlement.
Sturges also declined to comment on the settlement, telling the DTH he hadn't yet read the contents of Stone's email and couldn't verify its accuracy.
'Approached by the enemy'
According to Stone's email, the SCV’s original goal was to have Silent Sam returned to the same spot on UNC’s campus where it was toppled and defaced just over a year ago. It became clear this would be impossible, he said, due to wholesale local and state opposition.
The group's second goal would become a reality.
When the BOG members approached him, Stone said in the email, they first suggested convincing the N.C. House and Senate to sign off on a deal “that would satisfy the law, us and UNC.”
He then described changes the SCV proposed to bolster “the Monument Protection Law,” referring to a 2015 state law that has been criticized as an intentional roadblock to Confederate monument removals.
Stone said “the trade-off for a stronger law was that Silent Sam would be given to us along with an unspecified amount of funding” for the monument’s preservation. He estimated that the funding would've fallen between $300,000 and $500,000.
“With the help of the House leadership, we got enough support there to proceed to the Senate,” he said.
But the plan failed there, which Stone attributed to a loss of conservative seats in the 2018 Senate elections and a potential veto by Gov. Roy Cooper.
He said the group will continue to work in the next session for the stronger legislation’s adoption.
At the time, Stone said the SCV was “despondent, and thought that despite ... zero chance of winning, we were going to have to instruct our attorney to sue just so we could say we tried honourably.”
But when Sturges informed the BOG members of imminent legal action, Stone said he was immediately met with an offer to settle.
“It was only through his expertise, his good connections with and respect by all the parties involved, and his influence that we were approached by the enemy and were able to work with officials at the very highest levels of the University and State government,” Stone wrote.
The multi-million dollar transfer was agreed upon, Stone suggested, to fund Silent Sam’s care, the purchase of land for its display, a small museum for the public and a comprehensive headquarters for the benefit of the SCV’s North Carolina chapter.
“This is a special case where the University chose to work uniquely with the SCV and ... carved out (an) exception to the Monument Protection Act that would give us what we want while at the same time preventing any further damage to the law,” he wrote.
'That's the shadow'
Doucette was given a copy of Stone’s email after posting a string of tweets criticizing the settlement’s questionable circumstances. He then posted it publicly.
“It’s absolutely outrageous, and it’s a failure of leadership by the people we pay to lead and protect the University System,” Doucette said.
He said the email adds viability to questions activists have long raised about Confederate affiliations within the Board of Governors. The board had 24 voting members elected by the General Assembly as of July 2019, according to its website.
Depending on the General Assembly's makeup after next year’s state elections, Doucette said, the SCV’s claims of future legislative lobbying efforts could carry weight.
He also suggested that if Stone wants to increase political efforts, he could give himself a job related to security for Silent Sam and pay his own salary with the UNC System’s funds.
The settlements terms state that “no part of the property or net earnings of the Trust shall inure at any time to the benefit of any private individual or the activities of (the SCV) or any other group other than for the preservation and benefit of the Confederate Monument.”
Public backlash since the settlement’s announcement has included threats of donor holdout, suggestions of malfeasance and accusations that the UNC System is facilitating white supremacy.
Some have pointed to the SCV’s modern day activity as evidence, such as members rallying with groups classified as white supremacists by anti-hate organizations. SCV members have participated in and helped organize demonstrations in recent months with the Ku Klux Klan in Hillsborough and the League of the South in Pittsboro.
Here's a racist Confederate using the N-word during their monument rally in Pittsboro today.
Rally attendees included members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the white supremacist neo-Nazi group League of the South.
“It’s peaceful for me to walk on a campus without Silent Sam, but Silent Sam’s shadow is still there, and the shadow is the $2.5 million,” she said. “Making this arrangement before filing suit, that’s the shadow.”