Photo by Alex Boerner
Dwayne Dixon brandishes a rifle during the anti-KKK rally.
Last summer, Dwayne Dixon was charged with bringing a weapon to a spontaneous anti-Klan demonstration that brought hundreds of people to downtown Durham. On Thursday, the charge against him was dismissed. Dixon, without hesitation, says he would do it all over again.
But, he hopes next time (if there is a next time) other people would join him—not necessarily by carrying a semi-automatic rifle, like he did on August 18—but by defending the people around them in their own way.
"They can do these things too," he told the INDY
. "They can participate in these really diverse, passionate, engaging, liberatory actions. It's powerful. There's a richness in being with people when you're not quite sure how things will break, but you can trust people to be there with you. That’s what's allowed me to go to sleep at night these past six months—it's not just me. Yeah, I can take a charge, and that’s going to be one more thing, but also that charge doesn’t mean anything in the ethical sense of who I am."
Dixon was one of four people facing charges related to the gathering, in which hundreds of people converged on downtown Durham after hearing about a possible demonstration
by the Ku Klux Klan. Charges against Gregory Williams and Elijah Pryor were also dropped on Thursday, and Christopher Brazil received a deferred prosecution deal. The news was first reported by The Herald-Sun.
Dixon had initially been charged with going armed to the terror of the public and bringing a weapon to a parade or rally. The prosecution only pursued the second charge, which was dismissed after attorney Scott Holmes argued it infringed First and Second Amendment rights.
Williams had been charged with wearing a mask on public property, and Pryor had been charged with bringing a handgun to the gathering. Both of those charges were dropped. Brazil was charged with the same offense, which will be dismissed when he completes a probation term, according to court records.
They have been united under the banner of Defend Durham with a dozen people charged in connection with the August 14 toppling of a Confederate monument. Eight people still facing charges
in connection with that incident are due in court February 19.
Since the charges were filed, Dixon has contended that he wasn't at a rally or demonstration, as required by the statute under which he was charged. Rather, with his experience counterprotesting a white supremacist gathering in Charlottesville fresh on his mind, he was responding to concerns about the safety of people downtown and left as soon as the crowd began to take shape and march. Law enforcement had cordoned off a stretch of Main Street, where the Confederate monument was torn down earlier that week, but not the block where people initially gathered amid the rumors.
Dixon is a member of Redneck Revolt, a community self-defense organization. He told the INDY in September
that he carefully choose the semi-automatic weapon—he was comfortable with it and it would be apparent to law enforcement—and never raised it.
Holmes says he first tried arguing before Judge James Hill that the statute under which Dixon was charged only applies to having a weapon on streets under the state's jurisdiction, but that move was unsuccessful. He then argued that the law was overly vague and placed a burden on the right to assemble and the right to bear arms.
The decision should give pause to law enforcement considering filing the charge, Dixon says.
"The fundamental thing for me is that it reaffirms what I and many others already know, which is that we have a right to assemble and in the context of that day, the double exercising of our constitutional rights was necessary,” Dixon says. “The statute as it's written is profoundly unconstitutional in that it protects some kinds of public assembly and not others in conjunction with the Second Amendment. In that sense, this is a huge victory against that kind of oppressive act by the state, which is fundamentally what this is."
Dixon, a professor at UNC, says that, although he believed he had not violated the law on August 18, he went into court Thursday prepared for a conviction.
"I had to be already at peace with, one, losing my life on August 18—that and my reputation, my job, my social standing, all those things could also be jeopardized," he says. “Some days I felt super hopeful. Other days, watching things that are happening in D.C. around the abuse of the law has caused me great despondency."
The prosecution called one witness, a lieutenant who described seeing the crowd gathered on Main Street from an unmarked van, according to Dixon. At the time, county buildings had been closed, and local government agencies were trying, via social media, to dispel "rumors" that the Klan would be demonstrating.
"What he did was actually reveal his own complicity in perpetuating the fear," Dixon says. "I wanted to talk to him and I kind of felt this yearning like, ‘Yo, why didn’t you just get out of the van?' If you had come and talked to people, it would have done so much to ameliorate the situation, but you didn’t, and now we find ourselves here. I'm behind the defense table and you're at the witness stand. What's the productive action in that?"