A rumored white supremacist rally did not transpire in Charlotte on Thursday but an unwieldy left-wing coalition of antifascists and mainstream progressives turned out to let them know they weren’t welcome in the Queen City regardless.
About a month after the violent Aug. 12 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., the crypto-fascist group Anti-Communist Action, or Anticom, announced plans for a Dec. 28 gathering at Marshall Park in Charlotte, NC with “provocative speakers” and a possible “torch rally.” The far-right event was called off almost as soon as it was announced: Richard Spencer, the celebrity white supremacist, announced he would not participate, and Anticom tweeted that they were canceling “in light of safety concerns.”
But anti-racist opponents in Charlotte decided to go forward with a counter-rally based on intelligence indicating that white supremacists were planning a surprise appearance.
Absent a showing by far-right activists, squabbling soon erupted between the two anti-racist factions, although they still elected to go forward with a march through the heart of Uptown. As dusk descended on Marshall Park, about 25 members of Indivisible Charlotte and the ad hoc Charlotte Against Racism and White Supremacy gathered in a recessed plaza in the park as about 100 members of Antifascists Charlotte, dressed in black and masked with bandanas, huddled in a defensive formation along the street.
Jibril Hough, who organized Charlotte Against Racism and White Supremacy in response to Anticom, acknowledged some differences with Antifascists Charlotte, commonly known as antifa, who make no apology for their use of violence and lack of recognition for fascists’ First Amendment rights.
“They have different strategies; they have different slogans, but we’re all on the same side,” said Hough, who carried a sign declaring, “Racists will not replace us.”
Hough said he recognizes Anticom’s First Amendment right to gather and speak, and that initially he had planned to hold a counter-rally near the Martin Luther King Jr. statue at the other end of the park, noting that the park was big enough to accommodate two opposed groups. “It might have gotten a little physical if they had come over there,” he added. “That would be a desecration.”
The squabble between Councilwoman Lawana Mayfield, one of two Charlotte City Council members who spoke at the rally, erupted after Mayfield took exception to an unidentified antifa member’s criticism of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.
The antifa member lectured the small group of mainstream progressives.
“The same police department that protects Nazis and KKK members every single day are the same people were up against,” he said. “If we want to be anti-white supremacy, we have to say that this US government — the US fundamentally was built on white supremacy beginning with the indigenous genocide that founded this country and then the enslavement of African people and now the continued mass incarceration black and brown people every single day.”
Mayfield, who had earlier implored progressives to run for office to fight against racism and gentrification, took back the mic and responded, “These people that we see standing up here, they’re here to protect all of us, so if you want to see a change then you see what you need to do to become one of them because our officers — the laws are the laws. If you want to change the laws then you take your butt to a training, get elected to office because the only way we fix this broken system honestly is on the inside.”
By now back on the hillside with other masked antifascists, the unidentified antifa member picked up a bullhorn and interrupted Mayfield, repeatedly yelling, “Fuck the police.”
“All you’re gonna do is make it seem like we’re against the police and the police are against us,” Mayfield said. “They’re sitting out here in the cold when they don’t have to be. I’m gonna stand up here and speak for our CMPD…. If you care about this country, then you recognize that these are individuals that are putting their life on the line just like we’re out here showing up. Because what I’m not doing is hurting my case…. I’m not gonna let anyone throw our police department under the bus.”
Several antifa members began chanting the names of Keith Lamont Scott and others who have been killed by the police.
Scott Huffman, an Indivisible Charlotte organizer who has announced plans to challenge US Rep. Richard Hudson in North Carolina’s 8th Congressional District, attempted to smooth over the differences by urging dialogue and calling for people to work together to address injustice.
“We need a revolution to destroy fascism,” the antifa member protested. “The police are the same fascists we’re fighting every day. It will not be voted away.”
Marching through Uptown, antifa monopolized the chants. Many of them, like, “Fuck Trump, Fuck Pence, organize for self-defense,” focused on independent agency. Others projected intimidation towards white supremacists while mocking liberal mores about nonviolence: “Love doesn’t trump hate, punch a Nazi in the face.” Or, “Every nation, every gender, stuff a Nazi in a blender.”
Afterwards, Indivisible Charlotte tweeted, “Things are fluid at the event. It’s important for everyone to speak to each other, sit down at the table and listen. We can accomplish much when we do. So I welcome followup from everyone.”