In Part I, right-wing militia activists in the Greensboro area who showed up at a Donald Trump campaign rally were inspired to launch the Guilford County Militia. Despite the militia’s avowed “constitutionalist” foundation, the group attracted interest from a number of people with extremist ideologies, including national socialism, neo-Confederacy and anti-Semitism. Shortly after Trump’s inauguration, members showed up for events focused on preserving the legacy of the Confederacy and promoting Islamophobia. Members also gravitated into the orbit of Identity Evropa, an explicitly white nationalist group, in the run-up to the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.
The NC Shield Guard goes to Charlottesville
Prior to the Unite the Right rally in August, Guilford County Militia founder Jason Passmore moved from Browns Summit to rural Stokes County. He says it was best to leave Guilford County to avoid being “LaVoy-ed,” referring to LaVoy Finicum, a militia activist who was fatally shot by an Oregon State Patrol officer at a roadblock during the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge standoff in January 2016. Passmore stopped promoting the Guilford County Militia. After moving, he joined the Stokes County Militia.
Darrell Calloway, the commander of the Stokes County Militia, says he counseled Passmore against going to Charlottesville, even though he appreciated that many militias went with the noble intention of protecting people and property.
“They didn’t have a dog in the fight,” Calloway says. “But we thought it could be turned against them. And it turned out that it was.”
Remnants of the Guilford County Militia and others who had also participated in North Carolina “anti-sharia” and pro-Confederate rallies traveled to Charlottesville as a tactical fighting unit. Equipped with wooden shields bearing “NC” lettering, helmets, goggles, and sticks, they held Emancipation Park side by side with similarly outfitted squads from the white nationalist Traditionalist Worker Party, League of the South, and Vanguard America groups.
Hunter Smith painted the number “14” on his shield, in reference to the “fourteen words,” a white nationalist slogan. If there were any doubt about his intent, he resolved it in a Facebook exchange two months later. In response to a woman who said the fourteen words — “We must secure the existence for our people, and a future for white children” — Smith wrote, “I love those words.”
The NC Shield Guard also included Manuel Luxton, James Campbell, Casey Becknell and Zach Smiley, along with Clyde Bone, a Gaston County carpenter and war veteran, and his cousin Nikita Bone, a Davidson County resident with an interest in fascist philosophy.
Video shows the NC Shield Guard and others holding up their shields to create a battlement at the southeast entrance to Emancipation Park, as water bottles and other projectiles flew back and forth. But they can also be seen pushing into the crowd of counterprotesters in the street in a provocative offensive.
Campbell takes offense to the suggestion that he’s a white nationalist, calling the label “laughable.” His purpose in going to Charlottesville, he says, was to defend the statue of Robert E. Lee, whom he considers an “American hero, not a pillar of slavery. He believed in states’ rights, as everyone should.” (Lee, despite the revisionism of the Lost Cause mythology, was in reality a slave owner; he, of course, also led an army dedicated to protecting white people’s right to own other human beings in a war that cost hundreds of thousands of lives.)
Rather than focusing on race — to demonstrate that he’s not a racist, he expresses sympathy for Black Lives Matter — he says what matters to him is a federal government he considers oppressive. In his view, Gov. Roy Cooper is a tyrant, and US Rep. Mark Walker, a staunch conservative, is too weak-kneed when it comes to Syrian refugees.
“You do realize the founding fathers would be done shooting by now,” he says, expressing the opinion that if Washington, Jefferson and Madison found the federal government as it is now they would have long since overthrown it.
But he justifies his friendship with Luxton, a self-described “national socialist,” in terms of personal loyalty.
“I like Manuel,” Campbell says. “He’s a very nice guy. And he’s very smart. There’s a lot we disagree on. A lot of his political affiliations I don’t agree with. I’ve had long conversations and disagreements with him. I know if there’s ever a situation, I could call him and he would be there to help me.”
To put an exclamation point on their divergences of view, Campbell adds, “The man believes the earth is flat. Come on now!”
Although Passmore didn’t go to Charlottesville, a week afterward he posted a photo of himself on Facebook carrying the Guilford Courthouse battle flag. In that time, anti-racist demonstrators had torn down the Confederate monument in Durham, and residents had staged a spontaneous anti-racist street party in reaction to a threatened Klan rally in the same city.
In that post, Passmore boasted that he had harassed “local Antifa commies” in Winston-Salem on Aug. 18. In the comment thread, he posted a meme that said, “Hospitalize your local Antifa scumbag.” Underneath, it read, “You will not replace us.” That slogan and a viler variant, “Jews will not replace us,” were chanted at the Unite the Right rally. The same image cropped up in fliers posted to telephone poles in Durham and Chapel Hill around the same time.
Passmore says his intended meaning was, “You will not replace us with socialism,” though he acknowledges that racist groups are typically referring to Jews when they say it.
Prior to an attempt to contact him for this story, Smith had blocked this writer from his Facebook page. Along with white nationalist sentiments, screen-grabs from Smith’s Facebook page also reveal an interest in wilderness survival skills.
On Nov. 26, 2017, Smith changed his Facebook profile to a photograph of Ted Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber, calling him a “genius.” A friend warned that Smith would probably be placed on the NSA watch list because of the post. Smith responded, “Dude…. I been on there a LONGGGGGGG time.” Smith went on to say that Kaczynski’s bombings, which killed at least three people between 1978 and 1995, delegitimized him — “at least to normied [sic] who can’t think critically.” Smith concluded: “Off the grid, self-reliant is my goal.”
Nikita Bone’s Facebook page also reveals explicit, white-nationalist sentiments. In late September 2017, the Davidson County resident posted as his Facebook cover photo the John Martin painting “The Destruction of Pompei and Herculaneum” accompanied by a quote from the fascist philosopher Julius Evola. A significant influence on both Benito Mussolini and the Third Reich in Germany, as well as post-World War II fascist movements, Evola advocated a kind of extreme traditionalism, including white supremacy and patriarchal subordination of women.
After the Unite the Right rally, Luxton’s social media posts increasingly took on a turn toward violence and extremism. One cover photo posted by Luxton, whose residence is unknown but identifies with Guilford County through his use of the “Guilford Network News” Facebook account, celebrated the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville with an image of a Dodge Challenger, the car allegedly driven by James A. Fields Jr. Another post depicts a grotesque caricature of a supposed Jewish man rubbing his hands together. A meme features a photo of an Orthodox Jewish man in miniature on a pizza peel being slid into a clay oven, with the words, “Come home, chosen man.”
In early March, Luxton updated his Facebook profile with a photograph of Luca Traini, an Italian fascist who went on a shooting rampage on Feb. 3 in Macerata, a small town in central Italy, wounding six migrants of African origin.
Luxton also shared a meme on Gab, a social media network favored by white nationalists, that appropriates an image of Al Pacino spraying machine-gun fire from the movie Scarface, along with the text, “Fucking kikes!”
Reached for comment, Luxton ignored a set a detailed questions, though he did reply: “I don’t remember the Scarface meme, but it sounds funny.”
‘Fight later, or separate spaces and mind our own business’
Since the Unite the Right rally, the far-right activists connected to Passmore and Campbell have for the most part managed to minimize or conceal their white-nationalist leanings and associations enough to go unchallenged in the larger patriot militia and Second Amendment advocacy communities. Their relative discretion, coupled with a lack of discernment among many patriot militia activists, allowed Campbell and Passmore to ingratiate themselves with a South Carolina Black Lives Matter activist named Andre Gregory in April. The encounter between Gregory and the two far-right activists potentially jeopardized the BLM activist while also escalating risks to Gregory’s associates in the left-wing, anti-racist militia Redneck Revolt.
Gregory, the leader of Black Lives Matter in Gaffney, SC, and then with South Carolina Antifa, had forged an unlikely relationship with American Pit Vipers, a militia active in western North Carolina and Upstate South Carolina that fielded armed personnel during the Unite the Right rally, but issued a statement beforehand rejecting white nationalism and pledging to protect public safety. The Pit Vipers had established a dialogue with Redneck Revolt in the weeks leading up to Unite the Right.
After the Unite the Right rally, American Pit Vipers continued to build relationships with groups on the opposite side of the political ledger, including Gregory.
African-American community leaders and far-right activists from a range of organizations took part in a series of dialogues in Upstate South Carolina in late August, motivated by a desire to avoid a repeat of the bloodshed in Charlottesville, with particular concern surrounding debate about the future of a Confederate monument in Greenville.
“I was the only BLM member out there, and they had the [Confederate] flaggers, and they were doing their thing,” Gregory recalls. “I stood toe to toe with the flaggers by myself. And one of [American Pit Vipers founder Chance Allen’s] members seen it, and reached out to me. And once us and the flaggers, we made common ground, we put our personal issues aside. We actually went and sat down and had a beer, had lunch, and we conversated like some adults instead of like assholes.”
In October, the two groups hosted a “Changing the Narrative Unity Rally” in Gaffney that drew representatives of the South Carolina Secessionist Party, the SC Light Foot Militia, antifascist groups and a local mentoring organization. During that rally, Gregory accepted an invitation from the South Carolina Secessionist Party to co-host a press conference to protest Greenville police Chief Ken Miller. They each had separate grievances: The Secessionist Party was unhappy about the police department’s enforcement of a local ordinance prohibiting them from publicly displaying the Confederate flag. Gregory, meanwhile, says that during a rally calling for the removal of the Confederate monument in Greenville, Miller told him, “Go back where you came from,” which Gregory took to mean Africa.
Miller, who previously served as chief of police in Greensboro from 2010–14, did not directly respond to these claims in a statement: “We must always consider potential threats to and provisions of safety for people in and around such assemblies, particularly where counter-demonstrators are present, and must be prepared to adapt as changing circumstances arise.”
Gregory says he took a neutral stance on public calls by progressive activists to remove the Confederate monument in Greenville.
“That issue is not what’s important in today’s world,” he says. “That’s the past.”
He declines to say anything negative about the South Carolina Secessionist Party or its veneration for the Confederate flag. He and Allen both emphasize the importance of looking beyond labels and getting to know people as individuals, suggesting the Confederate flag is no different than a “Black Lives Matter” shirt or Three Percenter patch.
“I can’t knock them because if I pick up the phone and say, ‘I need them,’ they [are] there in support,” Gregory says. “Everybody want to separate us. Why separate when the goal is to come together and stand against the government?”
(The Black Lives Matter Global Network noted in a statement that Black Lives Matter of Gaffney is not affiliated with the network and does not “have the authority to speak on behalf of the network or the work our activists are doing globally.”)
Chance Allen, the American Pit Vipers leader, has made it his mission to broaden the patriot militia movement. To that end, he brought Gregory and two members of Redneck Revolt to an April 14 Second Amendment rally in Raleigh that was dominated by militia activists and Three Percenters.
“Our welcome mat walking in was kind of tense for the first few minutes,” Allen recalls.
The next weekend, Allen brought Gregory and a small entourage of African-American activists from Gaffney to the Patriot Network Summit, a gathering outside of Winston-Salem that drew militia activists from as far away as New York, Illinois and Georgia. The two Redneck Revolt members, notably, were not part of the entourage.
As early as late January, Passmore had been monitoring social media to guard against the possibility of Redneck Revolt attending the gathering, because the group has a reputation for trying to shift militia organizations to an anti-racist or leftist stance.
Gregory’s reception at the summit was not altogether hospitable. Video that Gregory posted on Facebook shows two individuals, who identified themselves as “JW” from the Illinois State Militia and “Renee,” hectoring him about what his message was and on what basis he could claim to have unity with the patriot movement.
Gregory says the discussion was starting to draw a crowd and distracting attention from one of the event’s official speakers. Gregory was flanked by a security detail, and they hustled him away so he could put on a bulletproof vest. While Gregory was away, a man wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat approached Gregory’s friend, mistaking him for the Black Lives Matter leader.
That man, Jovanni Valle of Brooklyn, came to some national renown in July 2017 after his face was slashed in a bar in lower Manhattan by a man who took offense to his pro-Trump hat. Valle identifies with the Proud Boys, a street-fighting outfit that is described by its founder as a “pro-Western fraternal organization.”
Valle struck up a conversation with Gregory’s friend and goaded him to get on stage and give a speech. The speech, which struck soothing notes of unity and the importance of reaching beyond divisions for the sake of children, went over well, but Gregory says he thought Valle’s encouragement was a “trick.” (The friend, who was contacted for this story, asked that his name not be published.)
In an interview, Valle all but confirmed Gregory’s suspicions of his motives.
“I told him to speak because he was being very loud,” Valle says. “If you’re going to speak to me, everyone may as well hear it.”
Valle added that he was disappointed that Jason Kessler, who organized the Unite the Right rally, wasn’t given a platform to speak at the militia gathering.
“The guy they think is a white supremacist, they didn’t allow him to speak,” Valle said. “The guy with BLM was allowed to speak. I was bothered by that.”
In Facebook comments, Campbell defended Gregory’s presence at the summit. But Campbell’s friendly posture toward Gregory is at odds with his participation in a comment thread shortly after the summit calling attention to a photo of Gregory posing with members of Redneck Revolt.
“Notice the black guy in the photo,” a militia activist identified as Monk A. Lightfoot wrote. “He’s training with a communist militia the Redneck Revolt, so I was shocked and wondering why he was there with an armed guard. I guarantee no one did their homework on this guy.”
“Look at Redneck Revolt LOL,” Passmore chimed in. “Hardcore fighters. I wonder how many memes were made from this picture.”
Campbell noted in the thread that Dwayne Dixon — a Redneck Revolt member who has been accused without basis by Kessler and others of causing James Fields’ car-ramming attack — is standing to Gregory’s left in the photo.
Other alumni from the NC Shield Guard piled on. Luxton posted a meme mocking Dixon. Becknell fulminated, “Commie punk bitch!” The aggression directed at Redneck Revolt raises concerns about the potential for violent confrontation in a state with no shortage of such episodes, including the 1979 Greensboro Massacre, when a coalition of nazis and Ku Klux Klan members drove into a black housing project and opened fire on a group of anti-racists organizers. Similar to 1979, much of the hostility expressed by the far-right is expressed through anti-communist rhetoric.
Told about Campbell’s participation in Unite the Right and his association with white nationalists, Gregory expressed surprise.
“I never heard of him being involved in racism at all,” Gregory said shortly after the summit. “That’s new to me. He reached out to me. We talked on the phone about an hour. He wanted me to come up and go shooting with him.”
A few weeks later, Gregory had reconsidered his opinion of Campbell: “I think he’s full of shit. Don’t say you want to bring unity, and the whole time you’re part of a white-supremacist group, and you hang with white supremacists.”
On a separate thread on the final day of the summit, Passmore also defended Gregory’s presence, arguing that he had paid the entry fee and should enjoy the same right as anyone else to express his views.
“I will fight tyranny in government with anyone by my side, and if we have differences after the tyrants are gone, then there is two ways to handle that: One is we fight later, or separate spaces and mind our own business,” Passmore wrote.
“Blacks and whites have different cultures, there’s no denying it,” Passmore explains in an interview. “I did mean it in a racial sense. Or a political sense. I grew up in east Greensboro. The cultures are not the same. If people want to live separately, they should be able to live separately.”
Passmore quickly adds that he is dating a woman from Ecuador, while noting that he has mixed-race children from a previous marriage.
Asked how he could rationalize conducting firearms training with both a Black Lives Matter activist and white nationalists, Passmore doesn’t back down, mentioning Andre Gregory, Manuel Luxton, and Hunter Smith as people he would be comfortable fighting alongside.
“One goal would be to work together as a tactical unit, so you don’t oppose each other,” Passmore says. “If things go down in the streets of Greensboro, those groups aren’t my enemy. The tyrannical government is my enemy. I need to coordinate with these groups so I can walk the neighborhoods.”
Cast of Characters
Cody Beachy — Active with Guilford County Militia; present at June 2016 Trump rally in Greensboro and June 2017 Raleigh “anti-sharia” rally but did not go to Charlottesville; Facebook posts demonstrate admiration for Adolf Hitler, and hostility towards migrants; lives in northeast Greensboro
Casey Becknell — Civil War reenactor and self-proclaimed Three Percenter; joined NC Shield Guard at Charlottesville, and also attended May 2017 Confederate Memorial Day rally in Graham and June 2017 “anti-sharia” rally in Raleigh; lives in Lexington
Clyde Bone — Framing carpenter in Gaston County; attended Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville as part of NC Shield Guard
Nikita Bone — Davidson County resident; joined NC Shield Guard in Charlottesville; Facebook posts reveal an admiration for fascist philosopher Julius Evola, and hostility towards migrants
James Campbell — Active with Guilford County Militia and went to Charlottesville as part of NC Shield Guard; also June 2016 Trump rally in Greensboro, May 2017 Confederate Memorial Day rally in Graham and June 2017 “anti-sharia” rally in Raleigh; primarily identifies as a Constitutionalist and Second Amendment activists and denies being a white nationalist, but maintains a friendship with Manuel Luxton; lives in Browns Summit
Manuel Luxton — Self-avowed “national socialist,” or nazi, who is a sympathetic to Russia, also a flat-earther; longtime friend of Jason Passmore and James Campbell; active with Guilford County Militia and went to Charlottesville as part of NC Shield Guard; also June 2016 Trump rally in Greensboro, May 2017 Confederate Memorial Day rally in Graham and June 2017 “anti-sharia” rally in Raleigh; residence unknown, although he likely lives in Guilford County considering that he maintains Facebook and Gab social media accounts under the name “Guilford News Network”; Social media posts show extreme hostility towards Jews and migrants, and a casual celebration of violence; his identification with perpetrators of racist violence include celebrating the vehicle allegedly used by James A. Fields Jr. to murder Heather Heyer, and recently adopting a photo of an Italian man accused of shooting migrants as his Facebook profile photo
Jason Passmore — Former military contractor who founded Guilford County Militia; now lives in Stokes County and is a member of the Stokes County Militia; attended June 2016 Trump rally in Greensboro and May 2017 Confederate Memorial Day in Graham, but did not go to Charlottesville; espouses an extreme libertarian philosophy and supports racial separatism, although his children from a previous marriage are biracial; while he denies being a white nationalist, he makes no apology for conducting firearms training with Manuel Luxton and Cody Beachy; social media posts display an eagerness for confrontation with the federal government and “antifa”
Zach Smiley — Joined the NC Shield Guard in Charlottesville, while also appearing at the June 2017 “anti-sharia” rally in Raleigh; his Facebook page indicates he’s from Davidson County
Hunter Smith — Civil War reenactor and avowed white nationalist; carried a shield displaying the number “14” representing a popular white nationalist slogan in the NC Shield Guard in Charlottesville while also participating in May 2017 Confederate Memorial Day rally in Graham and June 2017 “anti-sharia” rally in Raleigh; Facebook comments have expressed admiration for the Unabomber; interested in self-sufficiency and living off the grid; currently lives in Denton
ACT for America — Organization founded by Brigitte Gabriel that promotes a hateful view of Islam as inherently duplicitous and violent, and bent on dominion over the United States
American Pit Vipers — Patriot militia group founded and led by Chance Allen with presence in western North Carolina and Upstate South Carolina
Black Lives Matter of Gaffney — Organization that addresses police abuses and institutional racism in Gaffney, SC; not affiliated with the Black Lives Matter Global Network
Guilford County Militia — Constitutionalist militia founded in 2016 by Jason Passmore, James Campbell that adopted the Guilford Courthouse battle flag; although the militia is no longer active, former members still use the Guilford Courthouse battle flag for various far-right activities
Guilford Network News — Name on social media accounts used by Manuel Luxton to promote white nationalism
Identity Dixie — Website and podcast curated by “Musonius Rufus,” “Mencken’s Ghost” and Ryan McMahon that advocates for a white ethno-state in the former states of the Confederacy
Identity Evropa — A white nationalist organization that advocates for European and Western cultural values and maintaining white demographic dominance in the United States. Orry Von Diez, a prominent member from North Carolina, liaised with members of the NC Shield Guard in Raleigh in June 2017, and then disappeared after Unite the Right
League of the South — Preeminent Southern white nationalist organization; deployed members in Charlottesville with shields alongside the NC Shield Guard
NC Shield Guard — Eight loosely networked activists from North Carolina who embrace a range of far-right ideologies, from extreme libertarianism and Second Amendment advocacy to white nationalism; participants generally embrace neo-Confederate, Southern white nationalist, Islamophobic and anti-migrant stances
Proud Boys — A “Western chauvinist” fraternity and street fighting formation founded by Gavin McInnes
Redneck Revolt — An antiracist far-left militia that opposes white nationalist groups and seeks to counter-recruit patriot militias; members armed with assault rifles secured a park used as a staging area by anti-racist activists in Charlottesville
South Carolina Secessionist Party — An organization that challenges the view that those who fought for the Confederacy upheld slavery and committed treason, and that promotes false stereotypes of undocumented immigrants as being criminals and unfounded fears of “Islamification growing in the West.”
Stokes County Militia — Militia led by Darrell Calloway that advocates limited government and provides emergency relief; members opted to not attend the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville
Traditionalist Worker Party — White nationalist organization that deployed with shields alongside the NC Shield Guard at Unite the Right; the organization recently disintegrated amidst revelations of infidelity by founder Matthew Heimbach and the wife of another prominent member
Vanguard America — White nationalist organization that fought alongside NC Shield Guard in Charlottesville; James A. Fields, who is accused of the murder of Heather Heyer, rallied with Vanguard America in Charlottesville. After Unite the Right, the group attempted to rebrand itself as Patriot Front