Chanting, “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA,” about 100 militant leftists from across North Carolina marched through downtown Asheboro around noon on Saturday.
Billed as “NC Stands Against the Klan,” the event was organized to protest a publicized rally and cross burning outside of town by the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Located 27 miles south of Greensboro, Asheboro (pop. 25,012) is the seat of Randolph County.
Organized by a chapter of the Redneck Revolt based in neighboring Davidson County, the march drew from the larger anarchist community across the state, including members of the Industrial Workers of the World from Durham to Asheville. The anarchist-oriented Redneck Revolt also sent members from chapters in Shelby and the western part of the state.
While Mitch Maden, one of the organizers from Silver Valley Redneck Revolt in Davidson County, estimated that only 10 percent of the marchers were actual members, many of those who turned out for the march, wore the group’s trademark red bandanna around their necks. (Maden, who identifies as gender non-binary, is not their real last name.)
The “NC Stands Against the Klan” event was preceded by a separate “Unity” rally at Memorial Park. Aimee Pippin, who organized the “Unity” rally, said the event drew about 50 people and included a blessing by the Rev. Lynda Ferguson, pastor at First United Methodist Church. Pippin said city officials discouraged her from holding the event on the basis that it would draw undue attention to the Klan. Although she eventually received a permit, Pippin said the city delayed finalization of a parking plan for guests. As a final challenge, the city would not allow her to use a sound system or generator at the park on the grounds that it would interfere with a lifeguard training, and she and other speakers had to yell to be heard.
Pippin said she received a phone call from a member of US Rep. Mark Walker, a Republican lawmaker, thanking her for organizing the event.
In contrast, the organizers of the Redneck Revolt event, which began in front of the historic Randolph County Courthouse, did not seek or obtain a permit.
Around 12:30 p.m., the largely white anti-Klan protesters marched through the heart of downtown as residents milled around an adjacent alleyway blocked off for a street fair. They chanted, “One-two-three-four, this is class war,” and carried signs reading, “Rednecks against racism,” “No hate in our hills” and “Resist hate — love shines.”
As the group rounded the corner for the final leg of the unauthorized march to City Hall, police in riot gear closed in on both sides, prompting the protesters to chant, “We don’t see no riot here, why are you in riot gear?”
While protesters unanimously joined a sentiment of rejecting the racist violence epitomized by the Klan, a white supremacist group dating back to the period after the Civil War, not everyone who participated in the march embraced its militant tone.
“I don’t know if coming into town saying ‘F— you’ is going to bring people to your side,” said Steve Woolford, a member of the Catholic Worker who lives in a communal house in rural Chatham County. “In some ways I appreciate people’s boldness, but being careful about your wording is going to make more impact.
“I’m here as a privileged white guy who has many people in my life who feel terrorized by the Klan,” said Woolford, who wore a red bandanna as requested by the organizers. “I know people who have trouble sleeping at night. They don’t know whether the rhetoric is talk or whether they are actually going to commit acts of violence. They are people who are black, they are Latinos, they are trans. There are Jews I’m close to.”
As the protesters marched back to the courthouse a chant went up of “F— the cops and f— the Klan.”
Chad Conville, who operates a store owned by his mother on Sunset Avenue, challenged some of the protesters.
“I’m totally with what you’re doing, but that’s not the right message,” he said. “Our police department is a wonderful police department. Having a voice is important. We do appreciate our police department. They do a fantastic job.”
Pippin, who organized the “Unity” rally and observed the Redneck Revolt march, said she was frustrated with both the police’s militarized response and the reaction from the protesters.
“In my view it was a complete intimidation factor,” she said. “There was no need for it. They were not pushing people. There’s no need for riot gear other than to intimidate. I know it was frustrating. [The police] didn’t know if the Klan was going to show up, but they could have been in riot gear around the corner and been there in 30 seconds if they needed to.”
Pippin added that the anti-police chant likely turned many bystanders against Redneck Revolt.
“I think before the community was curious,” she said. “They were talking about growing their own food to help the community. Once they started with the anti-cop stuff, that killed that interest. Around here people are going to side with the police whether the police are right or wrong.”
The Asheboro anti-Klan event marks the first high-profile event for Redneck Revolt in North Carolina. Launched in June 2016 as a national network, the flagship chapter in Phoenix earned notoriety by openly carrying firearms outside of the Arizona State Legislature on the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration while declaring support for people resisting the new president, including Muslims, immigrants and LGBTQ people. The presence of the Brown Berets at the same protest underscored the “rainbow coalition” that Redneck Revolt sees itself as a part of. While the red bandannas worn by Redneck Revolt intentionally invoke striking coalminers who launched an armed insurrection in West Virginia in the 1920s, the group also draws inspiration from a short-lived coalition in Chicago between the Black Panthers, the Young Lords, who were Puerto Rican, and the Young Patriots, who were Appalachian migrants, in the late 1960s.
An avowedly pro-gun group, Redneck Revolt doesn’t shrink from the label “militia.”
“We train with firearms so that if the Klan rolls up on someone we have the ability to respond,” Maden told a friendly and interested bystander at the courthouse after the march.