Discussion about the Greensboro Police Department’s role in intelligence gathering and policing civil strife spilled out into the open during a meeting of city council on Tuesday.
Although a handful of speakers raised concerns about the role of the department’s civil emergency unit’s activities during a tense protest at UNC-Chapel Hill in late August, it was the allegation by an antiracist activist named Mitchell Fryer that two Greensboro police officers are acting as control agents for a Ku Klux Klan imperial wizard that drew stunned silence from city council and a halting explanation from Chief Wayne Scott.
The allegation, first published by journalist Nate Thayer in March, holds a particular charge in Greensboro, where in 1979 a police informant named Edward Dawson led a caravan of Klansmen and neo-Nazis into a black housing project, where they fatally gunned down five antiracist activists. Dawson’s police handler, Detective Jerry “Rooster” Cooper, followed the caravan to the confrontation.
Nearly 40 years later, as tensions between white nationalists and antiracists continue to escalate under the presidency of Donald Trump, some on the left worry that history could repeat itself.
Fryer shared a copy of Thayer’s article, “Unmasked: Inside America’s most violent Ku Klux Klan,” with council members. While they read the document, Fryer itemized the extensive criminal history of Christopher Barker, the imperial wizard of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, who lives about 30 miles northeast of Greensboro in Caswell County. Barker became implicated in a domestic terrorism plot in 2012, and agreed to become an informant for the FBI, according to Thayer’s reporting, after which he brazenly violated the terms of his federal parole for possession of a firearm by a felon, and even saw his parole revoked and criminal charges dropped after he was involved in the stabbing of another Klansman at his home in Caswell County in December 2016.
“The people cited as providing this unusual legal protection were Barker’s FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force handlers,” Fryer told council members. “In the article, it turns out that two of those handlers are GPD officers. And according to article, those officers are Steven Kory Flowers and Robert Finch.”
Fryer concluded, “Greensboro already has a dark history with GPD’s relationship with the KKK. We worry that as GPD protects the KKK that they are simultaneously tagging people who oppose the KKK with illegal surveillance and creating a chilling effect on people’s First Amendment’s rights. And we are further concerned that the relationship with Barker has gone past mere protection, enabling the KKK’s activity.”
Councilwoman Goldie Wells, who represents District 2, called Chief Scott to the podium for an explanation.
The chief publicly acknowledged that Flowers and Finch are employed by the Greensboro Police Department, but stopped short of confirming that they are acting as handlers or control agents for Barker.
“I assure you that our officers — all of our officers — are acting well within the law and to the best outcome of the city of Greensboro,” Scott said. “We are a model agency in this state related to our criminal intelligence. And we are transparent up unto what the law allows. We have to maintain certain relationships to keep the people of this city safe.”
Pressed further, Scott said Fryer’s remarks included “misleading pieces of information,” but declined to address them in detail.
“Much of what was discussed I cannot discuss with you because of a security clearance related to the federal government,” he said.
“We have over 20 officers that are both Greensboro police officers and are a part of the federal task-force system, and they do a variety of things with every alphabet police you can think of — DEA, ATF, FBI,” Scott later elaborated. “That is a partnership that we experience and we actually benefit from here in the city. It’s longstanding. They do a multitude of things, which I can’t discuss with you — any relationship that they’re doing — but I assure you that everything they’re doing is within the law.”
Referring to Thayer’s article, Wells said, “I’m a little disturbed by it if this is the case.”
Flowers and Finch are nationally renowned for their work monitoring far-right and far-left groups, including white supremacists, sovereign citizens and anarchists. Thayer’s reporting indicates that the two communicate extensively with law enforcement in other jurisdictions.
Thayer’s article includes a June 2017 email from Greensboro police Sgt. Flowers to Charlottesville, Va. police Capt. Wendy Lewis, briefing his counterparts on what to anticipate during an upcoming rally planned by the Loyal White Knights for July 8, 2017.
“The LWK rally, which was originally planned for the court building has since been moved to the public park (unsure of the exact name), in order for LWK members to be able to carry concealed weapons and not be in any violation of any laws or ordinances against being armed on government property,” Flowers wrote. “Traditionally and recently across the country in clashes such as this one, I would anticipate 30-50 LWK members, and in excess of 500 antifa or criminal-minded anarchists, armed with surreptitious weapons and facial coverings. In the last 6 months in confrontations such as these, the result has been numerous assaults, injuries, property damage, and arrests.”
Roughly a week later, another email published by Thayer, shows Amanda Barker — Chris Barker’s wife and the organization’s self-identified imperial kommander — warning the Charlottesville police of a “bloodbath.”
“Because of the threats I will have my concealed weapon permit in the crowd,” Barker told Capt. Dave Shifflett. “Armed and waiting for anyone to shoot at us. I will not let my people die. So if I was you, I would check everyone in the crowd. If not, my people will hurt others for shooting us. This will be on you. So here is the question. What is going to be done? I want peace. My people want to be there in peace, but your chief is not putting his foot down. So a bloodbath will be on him!”
The Loyal White Knight’s rally in Charlottesville was overshadowed a month later by the Unite the Right rally, in which an antiracist activist named Heather Heyer was killed in a car-ramming attack by James A. Fields Jr. Following the violence, Chris Barker recorded a message praising Fields for the Loyal White Knights’ outgoing voicemail.
“Nothing makes us more proud at the KKK than we see white patriots such as James Fields Jr., age 20, taking his car and running over nine communist, anti-fascist, killing one n***er-lover named Heather Heyer,” he said. “James Fields — hail victory. It’s men like you that have made the great white race strong and will be strong again.”
Barker’s status as a federal informant has been widely known since at least 2015, when Thayer disclosed it in an article in Vice. Still, the organization Barker leads has managed to attract a constant churn of new members, many of them people with extensive criminal histories and attracted by the group’s violent rhetoric.
The Loyal White Knights attracted international headlines in November 2016 when they announced a “victory parade” to celebrate the election of Donald Trump. The event drew an international press corps to the rural community of Pelham, where the Loyal White Knights maintain a Post Office box. Roughly 100 antifascists, some wearing masks and armed with aluminum baseball bats, massed outside a community center to confront the Loyal White Knights. The Klan group was nowhere to be found, but hours after the scheduled starting time, members drove through the town of Roxboro, two counties over, flying Confederate flags, and chanting, “White power!”
Chris Barker didn’t make it to the parade.
The night before he had been arrested and charged by the Caswell County Sheriff’s Office with aiding and abetting assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury due to his involvement in an altercation at his house in which William Hagen, the California grand dragon, stabbed another Klan member. Richard Dillon, an Indiana resident who was the victim of the stabbing, refused to come back to North Carolina to testify against Barker because a warrant was issued for Dillon’s arrest.
The dismissal of Barker’s criminal charge provided a coda to a bizarre turn of events in his federal case. At the time of the December 2016 stabbing, Barker was on federal probation.
A federal court document on file with the US District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina outlines two conditions violated by Barker during the stabbing at a drunken Klan gathering at his house on the eve of the “victory parade.” Under the terms of Barker’s federal probation, he was ordered to not commit another federal, state or local crime. Also, Barker was ordered to “not associate with or be in the company of any gang member/security threat group member, including but not limited to the Ku Klux Klan.” The order went on to say that Barker “shall not frequent any locations where gangs/security threat groups congregate or meet. The defendant shall not wear, display, use or possess any clothing or accessories which have any gang or security threat group significance.”
The document, which is dated Dec. 15, 2016, retroactively revoked Barker’s probation. After Barker received a three-month sentence of home confinement and one-year extension of his court supervision beginning on Aug. 10 for an earlier violation of the prohibition against associating with the Klan, Barker’s probation officer said he realized that the defendant had already served the statutory maximum. “It is the recommendation of the probation officer that Mr. Barker’s supervision be terminated at this time and that his new pending charges be adjudicated by the state court system,” the probation officer wrote. “It is the belief of the probation officer that Mr. Barker served the statutory maximum term of supervised release.”
The defense attorney for Barker, a landscaper, was Walter C. Holton Jr., a former US Attorney who served under President Clinton.
During Tuesday’s Greensboro City Council meeting, Chief Wayne Scott defended the department’s civil emergency unit, which drew criticism when officers deployed pepper spray and rammed antiracist protesters with bicycles while escorting the neo-Confederate group ACTBAC NC from a rally in support of the Silent Sam monument at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Speakers at the meeting called for the civil emergency unit to be disbanded and expressed scorn for a statement by the chief praising the officers for their performance.
Councilwoman Sharon Hightower, who represents District 1, expressed misgivings.
“I’m concerned about that civil emergency unit as well, particularly as it relates to the most recent trip to Chapel Hill,” she said. “We got enough race issues in our own city.”
Scott said the department “formalized” the civil emergency unit through its involvement in security for the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, where it received uniform training with about 3,000 other officers from across the country. Later, referring the Ferguson uprising in response to the police shooting of Michael Brown, Scott said, “We dealt with civil uprising in this country in a way we hadn’t in over 40 years.”
Scott said he stands behind his praise of the civil emergency unit’s performance in Chapel Hill.
“The officers in Chapel Hill represented this city well,” Scott said. “I’ll tell you why, and I can say it very shortly. Because the same form of protest in Chapel Hill was exactly what happened in Charlottesville, but there was a different outcome. And at the end of the day, Greensboro Police Department used two one-second bursts of pepper spray by individual officers at knee level. That’s all. No one was sprayed in the face. There were a number of individuals that were pushed because our officers were pushed.
“What has happened is that the media has captured — the activist part of our media — has captured individual segments that have put us in a bad light,” Scott continued. “And we’ve reviewed each and every one of those, and continue to do so. I haven’t finished the entire summary…. Our folks did a fine job. If you look both before and after the Chapel Hill protest, when the Greensboro Police Department did not respond to that mutual aid agreement, you saw arrests, you saw brawls, you saw people drug through the courtyard. And none of that happened because of the tactics that we employed to keep both sides safe.” (In fact, three antiracist protesters were arrested during the Aug. 30 event, after the Greensboro police extracted ACTBAC NC.)
Earlier in the meeting, Signe Waller Foxworth, whose then-husband Dr. Jim Waller was killed in the 1979 Klan-Nazi massacre, detailed the history of surveillance carried out against left-wing groups by a unit of the Greensboro Police Department that activists at the time called the “red squad.”
“[Klan informant] Dawson told police which Klan and Nazi groups would be present on Nov. 3, 1979 to confront a pro-labor, anti-racist assembly that was scheduled to hold a militant but peaceful rally and then an educational forum about how racism is used to divide workers and defeat labor organizing,” Waller Foxworth said. “The upshot of this police activity, combining intelligence gathering and field operations, gave us the Greensboro massacre.
“You may not be accustomed to thinking about the Greensboro Massacre as an example of local police collaborating with a right-wing death squad, but that’s exactly what it was,” Waller Foxworth concluded.
Mitchell Fryer, the antiracist activist who named Flowers and Finch as Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard Chris Barker’s handlers, said the legacy of the 1979 massacre was on their mind when he decided to make his remarks.
Fryer said that since Barker has been exposed as an FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force informant for three years, they question the value of any intelligence his handlers are gleaning from him.
“They are continuing the relationship, which makes me question why they are protecting him,” Fryer said. “With the history of the Greensboro Massacre in mind, they’re using it as a platform to identify antiracist activists who come out to oppose the Klan.”
Considering the history of police involvement with the perpetrators of the Greensboro Massacre, Fryer said he worries that Barker’s handlers might, even unintentionally, provide information that would put antiracist activists at risk.
“The way it is in my mind with the ‘victory parade’ they had, I’m sure Kory and Finch are in communication with him about all of that,” Fryer said. “They know that antiracists are organizing to oppose that thing. Do they tell him where the antiracist organizations are going to be or how much opposition there is? Those are easy things to let slip.”