Citizen Green: Resurrecting Sam would pour gas on the fire

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UNC-Chapel Hill graduate student Tim Osborne (left) confronts a man named "Mike" with SS thunderbolts tattooed behind his ear. (photo by Jordan Green)

UNC-Chapel Hill graduate student Tim Osborne confronted a man with “SS” thunderbolts — a symbol that represents the Aryan Nations white supremacist prison gang — tattooed behind his ear during a heated exchange near the site where protesters toppled the Silent Sam statue five days earlier.

“You’re literally a Nazi,” Osborne said.

The man with the tattoo, who identified himself only as “Mike,” carried a Confederate flag. His friend held a small handwritten sign reading, “Heritage, not hate.”

Asked why he had a Nazi tattoo on his neck, the man known as “Mike” responded, “When we’re at a rally for that, then we’ll discuss that.”

The Silent Sam statue is literally about beating a black woman for publicly insulting a “Southern lady” and celebrating a Ku Klux Klan campaign of racial terror. If you don’t know this by now, I suggest a Google search with the terms “Silent Sam dedication” and “Julian Carr.”

Thom Goolsby, a Republican member of the UNC Board of Governors and former state senator, has vowed that Silent Sam will be returned to its pedestal in the center of the campus at UNC-Chapel Hill. Goolsby put out a video on Monday doubling down on a previous statement, saying, “UNC has no choice but to re-install Silent Sam or allow mob rule.” Notably, Goolsby is not the chair, so it’s curious that he’s speaking for the board.

In a situation that the university describes as “highly charged,” Goolsby is pouring gasoline on the fire. Few, if any, Confederate monuments that have been removed have been re-erected. The Confederate monument torn down by protesters in Durham last year is still down. Cities from Baltimore to Lexington, Ky. quietly removed monuments in the dead of night after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. The University of Texas at Austin did the same. For North Carolina to be the only state in the nation to re-erect a Confederate monument would be like, I dunno, maybe being the only state to pass a law preventing transgender people from using the bathroom that accords with their gender identity. It seems almost like North Carolina is hellbent on being as shunned and isolated as Mississippi was in the 1960s.

More to the point, it shows a callous disregard for the safety of the campus community — students, faculty and staff, who overwhelmingly reject the statue and what it represents — to call for it to be put back up in the same place. Keeping the controversy alive would give the white-nationalist movement an optimal rallying point to unify and pull together more cautious elements of the far right. That’s something they haven’t had since their public-relations catastrophe in Charlottesville. You may as well erect a giant sign outside the town limits reading, “Nazis: Welcome to Chapel Hill.”

Although she might be faulted for dithering in the face of a mounting crisis, Chancellor Carol Folt reiterated her view that Silent Sam should be relocated in a conference call with reporters after the clashes that took place on Aug. 25.

“I said from the start I think it’s in the interest of public safety that I would find a better location — a safe, secure location for the monument that would allow us to talk about it, learn from it, and deal with it in a respectful and appropriate way,” Folt said.

The university also finally acknowledged on Aug. 24 that students opposed to the monument have been receiving threats.

Among the threats of violence posted on the Facebook page of ACTBAC — the Alamance County group hosting the upcoming “Silent Sam Twilight Service” on Thursday — is this gem from one Justin Allman: “Done talking. Done fighting. Time to drop them where they stand. Let us treat them the same way they have treated our statues. Let the streets flow with the blood of the ignorant.”

Just to confirm the authenticity of the comment, I messaged Allman to ask him if he stood by it.

“Bet your ass I do,” he responded.

The Jim Crow system signaled by the erection of Confederate monuments across the South in the early 20th Century was built and maintained on a wave of murder directed at black people. It should surprise exactly no one that the monuments’ supporters are willing to use the same tactics to maintain them.

We can only hope that the missteps of groups like ACTBAC will sabotage their efforts to capitalize on the controversy surrounding Silent Sam. ACTBAC allowed an outside group from eastern Tennessee to pre-empt their plans for a public response to the toppling of Silent Sam, likely resulting in smaller turnout than if they’d had more time to prepare. But because one of ACTBAC’s members was arrested for punching an anti-racist protester and one of the two men standing with Confederate flags at the outset was a member, most people will likely associate the event with them.

It may be comforting to think extremists can be ignored because they’ll eventually undermine themselves. But that’s not a gamble anyone should take lightly.

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