Among the handful of neo-Confederates who have been stalking the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill since the toppling of Silent Sam, Lance Spivey is a memorable figure. The Randolph County resident and founder of Heirs to the Confederacy typically shows up for protests dressed in an oversized flannel shirt, wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses while equipped with a wooden walking stick whose rhythmic thump announces him from a hundred yards away.

Unlike fellow Heirs founder Nancy Rushton, a South Carolina resident who frequently exchanges taunts with antiracist protesters and maintains a running commentary on Facebook Live, Spivey is a man of few public words.

On March 16, Spivey showed up for an Anti-Racist Parachute Party on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill, which featured lawn games and a scholarship fundraiser, conspicuously armed with a pistol. NCGS § 14-269.2, headed, “Weapons on campus or other education property,” plainly states that this should not happen: “It shall be a Class I felony for any person to knowing possess or carry, whether openly or concealed, any gun, rifle, pistol, or other firearm of any kind on educational property or to a curricular or extracurricular activity sponsored by a school.”

Spivey was not arrested for the transgression. Instead, UNC police informed him that firearms were not allowed on campus, and one of the officers even shook hands with one of Spivey’s fellow activists as the small band of neo-Confederates took their leave.

In response to an outpouring of indignation from students on social media, the university issued a statement two days later noting that “members of a ‘Confederate heritage’ group walked onto the UNC-Chapel Hill campus from the town of Chapel Hill via Raleigh Street to Cameron Avenue,” and that UNC police officers “approached them on the sidewalk in front of Memorial Hall.” The statement went on to say that “due to immediate uncertainty on Saturday about the application of [the weapons on campus law] to the Cameron Avenue right of way, which is maintained by the town of Chapel Hill, no arrest was made in this case.”

Considering that Cameron Avenue cuts through the heart of campus and Spivey and his friends were walking on a wide brick sidewalk in front of a campus building, this seems like a generous interpretation of the law, to put it mildly.

The UNC Police’s approach to the neo-Confederates in Chapel Hill on March 16, consistent with law enforcement’s posture towards the far right across the country, seems to assume good intentions and make wide allowances for potential misunderstanding.

But on the eve of the March 16 incident — and chillingly, the same day as the Christchurch mosque shooting — Spivey published a rambling essay that opened with his frustration about his most recent encounter with antiracists at UNC-Chapel Hill on Feb. 23. Spivey recounts his response to his mother’s question about whether he’s willing to die for his cause, continuing, “My answer was unhesitatingly stated, ‘Yes, mama, I am,’ and then adding, “I am more so ready to kill for it.” 

Spivey’s self-avowed “long-winded” missive makes it abundantly clear that his cause goes beyond defending the honor of Confederate ancestors. The essay takes aim at a host of undesirable others. Addressing “illegal immigrants who harbor no ill feelings towards America” and so-called “radical Muslims,” Spivey trots out false and racist stereotypes with phrases like “heinous crimes” and “diseases,” before declaring, “Yet more cases of high treason that should be met as all such; with a short rope and tall tree.” Similarly, professors who have, in Spivey’s view, indoctrinated students with socialist and communist views, should be “led straight to the gallows for high treason.”

Spivey wasn’t the only neo-Confederate who showed up armed at UNC-Chapel Hill on March 16. Based on photographs of the event, others appear to be carrying knives, and in one case, handcuffs. One man wearing a Virginia Task Force III% Dixie Defenders jacket displayed a triangular merit patch signifying that he was present at the Aug. 12, 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. Ryan Barnett, another neo-Confederate activist who showed up last weekend, warned on Facebook after the toppling of Silent Sam: “UNC better handle this storm correctly or there will be dead bodies on the streets up there.”

For what it’s worth, neo-Confederates, including Barnett, like to characterize antiracists at UNC-Chapel Hill as “domestic terrorists.” I won’t dignify their position by attempting to explain their warped reasoning in this space.

The multiple threats of violence by neo-Confederates are not new and have been widely reported.

In contrast, law enforcement approaches to policing antiracists seem to assume the worst intentions, rather than granting that their actions are motivated by a desire to remove monuments to racial degradation and terror, and to protect their communities from racial violence. UNC police arrested an antiracist protester for throwing a smoke bomb at a group of departing neo-Confederates during a rally last September. The arrest was made about 10 minutes after the fact based on an identification by a Chapel Hill police officer, even though, as an officer testified last month, no one was harmed by the act. As a result of what appeared to be an inexplicable arrest, antiracists yelled at police, who in turn charged into the crowd, resulting in seven more arrests. Of the eight, two have had charges dismissed, one has been found not guilty, and two others are appealing guilty verdicts; in one case, a motion alleges the charging officer lied on the witness stand. Ironically, a melee that began as a result of police arresting an antiracist for throwing a smoke bomb ended with police deploying a smoke device to disburse the crowd.

By Tuesday, the university was forced to acknowledge the inadequacy of its previous explanation for police allowing Spivey to carry a gun onto campus without consequence.

“We believe in and support the notation that, ‘anyone with a firearm found in violation of NC General Statute 14-269.2 will be arrested and issued a warning of trespass for the campus,’” the Office of the Dean of Students said in a prepared statement. “This statute should be upheld equitably in order to promote a safe and secure campus that is free from violence. As an office whose central mission is to care and support students, the Office of the Dean of Students believes that weapons of any kind, except as permitted by law, should not be allowed on-campus.”

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