As a peaceful protest was dispersing on Tuesday night, Greensboro police arrested six African-American men, charging them with violating a North Carolina statute called “Weapons at Parades Etc. Prohibited” and seizing guns from five of them.
In contrast, three white men, including one with a history of firearms training with open white supremacists, showed up armed with handguns and rifles while wearing paramilitary gear at the protests on the first three nights while making violent posts on Facebook, and have so far managed to avoid incurring any similar charges from the Greensboro Police Department.
Jason Passmore, a Greensboro native, has been active with the Stokes County Militia, whose executive officer Brandal T. Payne has been identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as member of the white supremacist group Identity Dixie. Before joining the Stokes County Militia, Passmore organized the Guilford County Militia, whose members showed up at then-candidate Donald Trump’s June 2016 campaign stop at the Greensboro Coliseum. The now-defunct Guilford County Militia adopted the Guilford Courthouse battle flag, which members carried to the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va. in August 2017 (Passmore did not attend that event).
Howard Graves, a senior research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said Passmore’s activism fits “within the umbrella of militant, anti-government extremism.”
“We saw through your reporting that Jason is more than willing to show up in these spaces in league with open white supremacists,” Graves said, citing Triad City Beat’s reporting. “That gets to some of the underlying drivers for this. Whatever he might say about the Constitution, he doesn’t mind standing shoulder to shoulder with people who are committed to making sure African Americans are shut out of the political system, and are willing to stand in the street with firearms to further that goal.”
Passmore posted on his Facebook page that on Saturday, the first day of protests in Greensboro, he was “at GPD headquarters, on the [railroad] tracks when the [tear]gas was used and in front of Natty Greene’s.” He went on to say that he and his associates were “all armed with handguns (concealed carry).”
NCGS 14-277.2 “Weapons at Parades Etc. Prohibited,” the statute under which six black men were charged during the George Floyd protest on Tuesday evening, states, in part, “It shall be unlawful for any person participating in, affiliated with, or present as a spectator at any parade, funeral procession, picket line, or demonstration upon any private healthcare facility or upon any public place owned or under the control of the state or any of its political subdivisions to willfully or intentionally possess or have immediate access to any dangerous weapons.”
Notably, the statute covers both persons “participating in” and “present as a spectator” at a “demonstration.”
“I think this evidences the exact fundamental problems with policing that have led to these protests,” Graves said. “There’s no reason an African American should have more expectation of getting arrested at a protest than a white person. There are laws on the books in North Carolina that say you’re not allowed to bring a firearm to a public demonstration. It shows the fundamental contradiction in America’s policing that individuals like Jason Passmore, an armed white militia man, are allowed to show up and flout the law.”
Greensboro police spokesperson Ronald Glenn told TCB that the arrests of the six black protesters on Tuesday came after the department became aware that people were carrying weapons in the vicinity of the protests and researched the statute.
“After clarifying the ordinance around weapons related to protests, yes, [the officers] felt those individuals fell within the purview of the ordinance. There have been individuals who have been armed close to and in proximity to the protests the past few days, and the department received clarification on the ordinance and decided to pursue charges.”
Local law enforcement in North Carolina has a long history of turning a blind eye to white right-wing actors carrying firearms at demonstrations, most recently when boogaloo-inspired activists started making weekly appearances in downtown Raleigh in support of the call to reopen the state’s economy. In September 2019, a dozen members of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan held a demonstration at the Orange County Courthouse in Hillsborough while conspicuously carrying sidearms, as documented by photojournalists and antiracist activists. Most infamously perhaps, a coalition of Klansmen and neo-Nazis brought rifles brought rifles with them to confront an antiracist march in Greensboro in November 1979, with the knowledge of a Greensboro police detective. The Klansmen and neo-Nazis opened fire on the march and killed five antiracist labor activists.
On early Sunday morning, as looting was breaking out in Greensboro, Passmore posted an update on his Facebook page: “The killing is about to start.”
In a Facebook chat with TCB on Monday, Passmore elaborated on his post without prompting.
“We need to push the looters and protesters toward the enemy not towards local private business,” he wrote. “The protests aren’t the problem. They just aren’t getting anything done. The looters are going to get the military called out and people are going to get killed by the [National Guard].”
Passmore and two unidentified white men returned to Greensboro for the second night of protests on Sunday. At 10:40 p.m., as about 50 protesters marched through Commerce Place, a protester told a TCB reporter on the ground that he had received information about a white pickup truck with white men carrying guns circling the protest — a description consistent with Passmore’s Chevrolet pickup. Shortly afterwards, the protesters spotted police in riot gear massed on Eugene Street and walked down an alley to meet them.
By 10:45 p.m., the police and protesters were engaged in a standoff on the 300 block of North Eugene Street, and seven minutes later police advanced northward, prompting the protesters to flee eastward on Bellemeade Street.
At 11:51 p.m., a source provided a photo to TCB that shows Passmore holding an AR rifle outside Acropolis Restaurant across the street from First National Bank Field on the 400 block of North Eugene Street.
The owner of Triumph Motorcycle, located next door to Acropolis, told TCB that he called the police twice on Passmore’s group. The business owner spoke to TCB on condition that his name be withheld for his personal safety.
“They had guns,” he recalled. “I was terrified. I thought they came to rob me and they were going to start loading motorcycles into the pickup trucks. The first time I called, the officer said he thought they might be protecting the business owners. I said, ‘No, that’s not true.’ The police told me I didn’t have to worry.”
At that point, the business owner said one of the armed men started telling him about his heating and air-conditioning business, which describes Passmore’s occupation.
After the men left the second time, they drove down North Eugene Street again, according to both the business owner’s account and TCB’s direct observation.
Notwithstanding Passmore’s adversarial stance towards government, another recent thread on his Facebook page provides a window into his motivation for being in Greensboro during the protests.
Another user with the same last name — possibly a family member — wrote: “You loot, we shoot. Protectors of family owned businesses in a serious time of desperation. Time to get some rubber composite bullets.”
Jason Passmore responded: “Fuck rubber bullets. When it pops off, there will be a die-off.”
On Monday, after Mayor Nancy Vaughan declared an 8 p.m. curfew, Passmore directly called out protesters on his Facebook page.
“So, Antifa, BLM and the rest of you bitches, see you at 8:05 p.m. on Elm Street?” Passmore wrote, referencing a tactical approach of opposing fascists and white supremacists that President Trump is threatening to designate as a terrorist organization, and Black Lives Matter.
Mayor Vaughan told TCB that after learning that Passmore and his associates had violated the curfew, she spoke to a police representative about them carrying weapons.
“They are really scary people,” Vaughan said. “Whether they come to incite or cause violence themselves, there’s not much of a distinction.”
But she said she wasn’t sure they could legally be charged based on the circumstances.
“I think while Passmore emails [sic], ‘I’m going to be here, I’m going to be there, I’ll be down at the march,’… he doesn’t show up,” Vaughan said. “He’s not a marcher. He goes around and takes pictures of himself, but he’s not making himself known while he posts on Facebook where he is. He’s still kind of in hiding.”
Glenn said on Wednesday that the department is considering whether to charge Passmore.
“Basically, at this point in time, he may or may not be charged,” Glenn said. “They’re still looking into some of the incidents that were reported. He has not been charged, but that’s not to say he won’t be charged. I don’t know what the specific charges may be.”
On Wednesday, the Statesville Police Department charged James Holden Jr., a 37-year-old white man, with Going Armed to the Terror of the People. The city said in a press release that Holden “was seen carrying an AR-15 and a handgun on his side while subjects were peacefully protesting the death of Mr. George Floyd in the downtown area” on Sunday.
On Monday, peaceful protesters in Statesville complained that Holden was once again “driving by their location on multiple occasions making them feel intimidated.” The Statesville police investigator obtained a criminal warrant for Holden on Tuesday, and on Wednesday he turned himself in at the police department. A magistrate issued Holden a $15,000 unsecured bond.
In a 2012 blog post, Jessica Smith, a professor of public law and government at UNC School of Government, outlined the elements of a Going Armed to the Terror of the People charge: “A person guilty of this offense (1) arms himself or herself with an unusual and dangerous weapon; (2) for the purpose of terrifying others and (3) goes about on public highways, (4) in a manner to cause terror to the people.”
Passmore has demonstrated an unsettling preoccupation with Greensboro.
On Oct. 17, 2019, about two weeks before the 40th anniversary of the Greensboro Massacre, Passmore messaged TCB on Facebook with an attachment of black and white photo from the News & Record archives. It shows a pickup truck that was parked on East Market Street during a funeral march for the slain activists. A hand-painted sign erected in the back of the truck reads: “Greensboro people don’t want you communist bastards in our town.”
The word “communist” has a significance that goes beyond political ideology, said Howard Graves of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“That’s pretty alarming when you consider the way those in far-right communities use the phrase ‘communist,’” he said. “It’s a stalking horse for basically any group that’s deemed to be a political adversary. They will talk about Black Lives Matter in the same way. White supremacists consider Black Lives Matter to be part of a communist plot.
“Within the specific context of the Greensboro Massacre,” he continued, “for all the progress made thanks to the people in the civil rights movement — including those who were victims of the massacre — it shows that a lot of themes that drove that massacre are still resonant.”