They were waiting for us.
The group of protesters, 700 strong, had just marched more than a mile east from a parking lot in Burlington under a hot sun, been handed off to Graham police as we crossed the town border and taken a pause before making that last right onto Main Street.
The organizers knew a crew of 70 or so neo-Confederate counter-protesters would be there, in ballcaps and faded T-shirts, with signs and flags, not a single mask among them. They had been there all morning. Waiting.
Graham police and a special bicycle crew on loan from Charlotte Metro Police kept a perimeter around the white supremacists, buttressing a thin line of blue tape meant to mark the boundary. It’s important to note that the police were facing outwards, towards the Black Lives Matter protesters — they were protecting the angry white folks, who at first seemed surprised that they were outnumbered 10 to 1. But they were on the safe side of the rope.
With the law on their side and one of the last Confederate monuments in the state looking down approvingly, they were emboldened enough to begin ringing the old courthouse bell during the speaker portion of the protest.
The bell was behind the police line, too.
It was nothing more than a sideshow to the events in the square. It was a failed show of force — the fascists had been recruiting for a week to bring supporters to this event, and even with bodies from all over North Carolina and Virginia, just the 70 had been willing to stand in public with their worldview on display. Even metaphorically, it was dumb: Imagine the intellectual disconnect required to shout, “Let freedom ring!” while swinging a courthouse bell to drown out people asking for equal rights.
I could feel the poison in the air, emanating from the protected side of the rope, knew their malevolent intent from the angles of their bodies, the twisted looks on their shouting faces.
It moved like a toxic cloud, over the heads of police, beneath the unwavering gaze of the last Confederate soldier in the Triad, only to be dissipated by Black joy, Black faith, Black excellence, fists raised in the air.
Like their avatar atop the pillar outside the courthouse, they were destined to lose that battle.
View the livestream of the Graham protest here.