City attorney: Neo-Confederates hired ‘armed security’ to protect statue

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The Confederate monument in Winston-Salem stands in front of the old Courthouse building. (photo Todd Turner)

The city of Winston-Salem took into consideration “lapses in good judgment on both sides” during a recent dueling set of rallies at the Confederate monument in making its decision to declare the statue a “public nuisance” and remove it.

“Emotions on both sides of the issue often escalate, causing people to make decisions contrary to law and reason,” Winston-Salem City Attorney Angela Carmon wrote in a letter today to James A. Davis Jr., a lawyer representing the United Daughters of the Confederacy. “As time has demonstrated, such decisions have not always been made in the interest of public safety. Earlier this month, on January 13, 2019, groups on both sides of the issue organized events near the Confederate Statue on 4th Street. During the course of these events, the [police] department witnessed lapses in good judgment on both sides of the issue.”

Carmon went on to say that despite repeated assurances by the police department through media interviews that they would protect protesters on both sides of the controversy, “one group made a decision to hire armed security for the protection of the Confederate Statue.” Carmon said that the police directed the security force to leave the area based on concern that their presence would make it difficult for the public and officers “to differentiate between private security personnel and city law enforcement personnel.”

Carmon added that while the security personnel told police they would be armed “only with non-lethal weapons,” “There were also concerns that some of the event participants were in possession of firearms, in disregard of state law, which prohibits spectators and persons participating in a protest or demonstration from being in possession of dangerous weapons at such events.”

The monument support rally was initially called by a group called Heirs to the Confederacy, led by Howard Snow, of East Bend; Lance Spivey, of Asheboro, and Nancy Rushton, of Newberry, SC. The Heirs announced on Facebook that they were canceling their event, but the three showed anyway. Rushton said in a Facebook Live video during the rally: “We decided to come here for a prayer vigil with the Sons of the Confederate Veterans instead of going to Chapel Hill like we originally planned.” An inquiry about security for the event submitted to the NC Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans garnered a response by email: “Being familiar with Triad City Beat, we hope your request is in jest. Obviously, we do not, now or ever, have anything to say to you or anyone associated with your organization.”

Carmon said in response to an inquiry from City Beat about which group hired armed security that the information was “not subject to public disclosure.” The Winston-Salem police could not be reached for comment prior to publication.

Facebook Live videos posted by Rushton during the rally at the Confederate monument reveal a preoccupation with security and concern about the intentions of monument opponents, whom Rushton calls “antifa.” Neo-Confederates and patriot militia activists frequently use Facebook Live to provide running documentation of rallies, as do some antiracist activists, albeit to a lesser extent. The medium offers the benefit of recruiting supporters to attend events, providing real-time reporting to those who are unable to attend, and documenting any contested interactions with opposition. It’s not uncommon for commenters on neo-Confederate pages viewing events from afar to make inflammatory comments, attempt to goad those on the ground, or fantasize about violence.

During one part of the video posted on Rushton’s Facebook page, which shows antiracist activists chanting across Fourth Street, a person identified as Stephen Bishop commented, “Easy pickins for my AK,” apparently referring to a high-powered rifle.

Another individual identified as “Dakota Stone,” commented, “If antifa attack, remember, NC is a Stand Your Ground State.”

The preoccupation with Confederate monuments in North Carolina, a particular antiracist activist at UNC-Chapel Hill and “antifa” in the comments bear a close resemblance to those of Twitter and Gab user named “Jack Corbin” who has interacted with and praised Robert Bowers, the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter.

In response to the provocative comments on Rushton’s video by “Dakota Stone,” another individual identified as Steve Earley cautions that it’s not legal to shoot someone merely because they hit you, adding, “Please read the law before you get someone in trouble.”

Carmon’s letter also faulted antiracist activists for escalating tensions during the dueling protests.

“On the opposite side of the street,” she wrote, “the [police] department had to remind protesters opposed to the Confederate Statue to keep their distance from supporters of the Confederate Statue, which distance, at one point during the protest, narrowed when protesters, despite agreeing to refrain from doing so, started to cross the street in the direction of the Confederate Statue and its supporters.”

Miranda Jones, an organizer with Get Hate Out of Winston-Salem, said the group never made any such agreements.

In a letter to the United Daughters of the Confederacy today, Assistant City Manager Damon Dequenne declared the Confederate monument to be a public nuisance, asserting that its continued presence is “prejudicial to public safety.” Dequenne said if the statue is not removed by Thursday, “the city will summarily remove and relocate” it.

Carmon noted that the statue was vandalized on Aug. 17, 2017, five days after “the unfortunate incident in Charlottesville, Va.” During the violent Unite the Right rally, a neo-Nazi named James Fields used his car to murder antiracist activist Heather Heyer. Carmon said the city of Winston-Salem had been “fearful that the graffiti would incite individuals on both sides of the issue and give rise to an incident,” and that the city quickly cleaned up the statue and initiated temporary police patrols to provide protection. Denying a request for a 60-day extension to remove the statue, Carmon said the Daughters of the Confederacy had participated in discussions with Mayor Allen Joines over the course of 16 months about the possible relocation of the statue. The Daughters and their lawyer could not be reached for this story.

Late Wednesday afternoon, the Daughters’ lawyer also received notice from an attorney for the owners of the 50 West Fourth apartments, where the statue is located, reinforcing the city’s demand.

Scott Horn, the lawyer for Winston Courthouse LLC, the ownership entity, wrote that “the recent public demonstrations and contentiousness among various groups” do not promote “the peace and comfort” of the residents, and the owner “is left with no choice but to request that the UDC cooperate with the city to relocate the statue from what is a private residential property to a place that the parties would find acceptable.

“The statue must be removed from the property without further delay,” Horn wrote. “If the UDC is unable to reach an agreement with the city, Winston Courthouse will not oppose the city’s efforts to relocate the statue.”

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