Roughly 150 black-clad left-wing protesters gathered along a gravel road at a community center serving the unincorporated hamlet of Pelham, home to the Loyal Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, this morning.
The fledgling Klan group’s announcement in November that it would hold a parade to celebrate the election of Donald Trump in North Carolina drew international headlines, but until a representative spoke to a local newspaper in Burlington the location had remained a secret. Even then, the group only let it be known that it would hold a parade in the area of Pelham.
The Klan’s whereabouts remained a mystery, with rumors floating among the protesters that the white supremacist group planned to drive from Pelham to Danville, a small city just across the state line in Virginia, and that they were delayed from their announced 9 a.m. start time.
Eventually, at about 11:15 a.m. the protesters — many of whom traveled from the Raleigh-Durham area — huddled in the gravel lane outside the community center and decided through consensus to take action.
Marching behind a giant banner honoring the militant abolitionist John Brown, the protesters chanted, “Racist, sexist, anti-gay — KKK, go away,” and, “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA.” Bringing up the rear of the parade, another banner proclaimed, “Against white supremacy: Screw the Klan, the Confederacy and the cops,” with a modified Ghostbusters logo depicting a hooded klansman and a circle-A anarchy symbol on either side of the text.
As the marchers turned on to a state road hugging a rail line, chanting, “Whose streets? Our streets!” motorists halted and turned back around although one man in a pickup truck stopped alongside the road and took photographs of the protesters.
About halfway through the march, five or six Caswell County Sheriff’s squad cars arrived on the scene and a handful of law enforcement officers watched as the marchers passed, chanting, “No hate, no fear, KKK’s not welcome here.”
One deputy pursued the marchers on foot and ordered, “Out of the street!” but the protesters did not heed him. Another officer confirmed to a reporter that the marchers did not have a permit and fumed, “They should be at home asleep like everyone else.”
After a minute or so the law enforcement officers retreated, and then followed the march from a distance in their vehicles. After the marchers turned on to another road, heading back towards the community center, a State Highway Patrol unit appeared behind the parade, causing apprehension among the protesters. A handful of protesters, faces concealed by bandannas and armed with aluminum baseball bats, created a buffer between the squad cars and the rear of the march.
After completing the 1.2-mile loop, the protesters piled into cars and headed north to Danville, a small industrial city 13 miles to the north, just across the Virginia state line, attempting to locate the Klan.
The whereabouts of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan remained unclear for much of the morning. Multiple calls by Triad City Beat to a hotline listed on the group’s website went unreturned. One protester who spoke on condition of anonymity said two representatives of the Klan appeared at the Piedmont Triad Visitor Center and gave an interview to CNN before being quickly hustled away under a heavy law enforcement escort. The British newspaper The Telegraph is reporting that a motorcade of about 30 vehicles paraded through Roxboro, NC — about 30 miles to the east in Person County — flying Confederate flags at 3 p.m.
Although fliers distributed by the group in November promised a “Victory Klavalcade Klan Parade,” the website made no mention of the event. But a six-minute news-style YouTube video produced by Alex Jones’ InfoWars and posted on the group’s website, entitled “Anti-Trumpers Are Committing Treason,” heaps ridicule on anti-Trump, anti-Klan protesters. “At the end of the day, it’s nothing less than a display of treason — treason fueled by disinformation, insulting the memory of defenseless Americans killed or raped by the very illegal aliens these delusional leftists continue to defend,” a narrator intones before unleashing a tide of hyperbole and baseless claims. “But all of that horror aside, anti-Trump protesters, you just keep on ignoring the mushrooming epidemic of unreported child rapes by illegals, the unwarranted deaths of your fellow citizens and the coming jihad that will eventually claim you or someone you know if the real Americans protecting your hide don’t do something about it. Because the rest of us are working towards a day when you will have to answer for your ignorance.”
As a supposed refutation to protests against Trump’s racism and xenophobia, the video approvingly includes a clip of the president-elect’s campaign announcement speech, in which he said, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best…. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
Andrew Blum, a self-described “big data architect” from Cary, said he came to Pelham to protest the Klan to counter an outpouring of bigotry unleashed by Trump.
“What Trump did was unleash some nastiness in the fabric of our society that was heretofore bottled up,” Blum said. “Shame was what kept it bottled up. Now, it’s out. I don’t think I can put the genie back in the bottle, but I’m gonna do what I can.”
Kori, a Durham resident who declined to give her last name, said it was important to her to not let the Klan or Trump go unopposed.
“With the times ahead, it’s important to get used to the fear and anger,” she said. “It’s important to not run from the fear and anger — embrace it, feel it and use it.”
While the Klan might not be as powerful as they were at the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, Kori said, “It would be a mistake to sleep on the potential that they have to mobilize their folks.”
The protesters represented a broad range of sensibilities, tactical postures and backgrounds, but a sizable number of them who shunned interviews with the press came ready for battle.
One speaker who asked that a planning huddle not be recorded told a group of about 50 protesters at the welcome center that the Klan were apparently gathering at a local Methodist church.
“I think we could confront them there,” he said. Minutes later, he called the group to attention, and corrected his original statement.
“Apparently some people saw Methodists and thought they were the Klan,” he said, prompting gales of laughter. “Make of that what you will.”
Protesters, including one wearing a motorcycle helmet, carried aluminum baseball bats, crowbars, bicycle chains and nightsticks. As they mustered at the welcome center, one advised: “Think about your positionality. If there’s a person of color and you’re a white person, make sure there’s three or four white folks between them and these motherfuckers.
“Unless [the persons of color] don’t want you to,” he added, laughing.
Another protester broached the idea of abandoning cars in the roadway to impede the Klan’s parade route.
Others opposed to the agendas of the Ku Klux Klan and Trump chose to avoid confrontation while emphasizing a message of unity and inclusion in simultaneous rallies held in Greensboro, Mebane, Raleigh and other locations across the state.
The protesters’ efforts to confront the Klan in Danville went unrealized. Several caravans of people lined Main Street in front of the Danville Museum of Fine Arts & History shortly after 12 noon. Some pickup trucks with Confederate flag bumper stickers cruised passed the gathering, but otherwise there was no sign of organized white supremacists. A Danville police officer ordered protesters to get out of the street and put any weapons in their cars. The protesters were already discussing plans to head back to the welcome center in Pelham based on a report that the Klan had showed up there. As the caravan was leaving Danville, the protester who spoke on condition of anonymity reported to TCB that the Klan members had already left the travel center.
As it turned out, the protesters’ Danville excursion narrowly avoided an encounter with a group that regularly gathers on Saturday mornings to display the Confederate flag. Robert Bordeau, a black resident of Danville, said the weekly gathering is a protest against the museum’s decision to remove the flag following the June 2015 massacre of African-American worshipers at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC.
“If [the protesters] had come a half hour earlier, they would have been out there,” Bordeau said.
Noting that the design for the Confederate flag, as it is recognized today, was actually not used when the Southern states first seceded from the union, Bordeau said, “It ain’t the same one they used during the Civil War. It’s one they adopted during the Civil Rights Movement with Strom Thurmond. That to me means I should not be equal, that I should be a second-class citizen.”