Last week, UNC faculty members received an email about a rally on campus Wednesday "to protest the continuing employment of several radical left wing subversives."
That rally didn't happen, but a crowd of more than one hundred people gathered on campus to stand up to them anyway. Speakers took turns at the mic calling for solidarity against fascism and hatred, which they said exists on the campus whether or not the rumored protest materialized.
"Resist constantly," said student Matt Lopez, "and realize that what needs to be resisted doesn't just come to this campus because it sends emails, it's here all the time."
Participants gathered in front of the South Building, holding signs reading "UNC students against fascism" and "Carolina blue, do like Durham do," a reference to a group of protesters who tore down a Confederate statue in Durham last summer. (Charges against them were dropped
Students and faculty called on the university to take threats of intimidation from hate groups seriously and to remove Silent Sam, a Confederate statue on campus.
Unify UNC, as the event was called, was organized after Dwayne Dixon, an assistant professor in UNC's Asian Studies department, says he was "pushed and restrained" by two men outside of his office. He later received the email saying white nationalist group Identity Evropa and another group referred to as Kool Kekistani Kids "will be there to #resist communism." The email was signed “CEO USNATS & VP Kool Kekistani Kids” with the subject “Rally for Nationalism.”
"I want to be really clear," Dixon told Wednesday's crowd, "this is not about me this is about all of us."
Dixon says he was confronted outside his office by two men on February 7.
“They were video recording me with a phone the whole time and were clearly trying to provoke a reaction they could use to smear me as a "violent antifa". I was in the curious and fraught position of fighting both an symbolic war and physical struggle simultaneously. A poor decision on either front would've been disastrous,” he wrote in an email to another faculty member.
Dixon identified one of the men as Noel Fritsch, a Triangle-based political consultant, including a tweet from Fritsch saying “I was just assaulted by gay vegan cultural anthropology professor / militia leader #DwayneDixon of #RedneckRevolt.” Dixon says the tweet was posted an hour and twenty minutes before the confrontation outside his office.
On February 12, Big League Politics shared a video of Patrick Hawley, the site's editor and a former Breitbart reporter, confronting Dixon outside of his office to ask whether he had chased James Fields with a rifle before Fields drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville last summer, killing Heather Heyer. The right has seized on statements by Dixon that he displayed the weapon to Fields to try to place blame on him for Heyer's death.
An email subsequently went out to department heads saying the university had not confirmed the "Rally for Nationalism" would take place, but was taking precautionary measures, the News & Observer reported.
Just before Wednesday's event, Identity Evropa tweeted it "is not planning an event at UNC in conjunction with 'Kool Kekistani Kids,' an organization that likely does not exist" and called the rally a hoax.
Dixon writes that he had been targeted prior to the incident. He is a member of Redneck Revolt, a group that advocates for community self-defense and was charged with having a weapon at a public assembly during an August 18 anti-Klan rally in downtown Durham (Those charges were dropped
earlier this month). His personal information has been posted on the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer, he says, and colleagues in the Asian Studies department received harassing phone calls.
"While in this moment, yeah, I'm being targeted and, yeah, I'm afraid, I am not being coerced by that fear because I'm surrounded by far more courage than fear." he said Wednesday.
Although there was no obvious, organized demonstration of white supremacists Wednesday, there were some quiet confrontations at the fringes of the rally, particularly once the crowd moved from the steps of the South Building to Silent Sam. Speakers called out university officials, including Chancellor Carol Folt, for not removing a statue that makes people of color at UNC feel unsafe, while touting diversity initiatives.
Students Joyce Malanda, Wyatt Woodsen, Veda Patil and Lauren Jurgensen came to the rally, despite thinking white supremacists would be there. All four are part of the Bonner Leader Program, a work-study program focusing on community service and social justice. Although none had met Dixon, they wanted to show support for him and the message of Wednesday's event.
Woodsen is an anthropology student. A member of that faculty also received the email sent to Dixon, who has a background in cultural anthropology.
"The anthropology department ain't having none of it," the freshman said, calling the targeting of anthropologists "perverse."
"They're some of the only people invested in trying to really understand everyone, including white supremacists," he said.
Patil said she was a little hesitant to come to the rally. Her parents are immigrants "and protests often end poorly where they're from," but she felt it was important to exercise her First Amendment rights and show solidarity.
"What brought me out is just the need to feel accepted and feel safe on campus," said Malanda, a sophomore. Malanda, who is African-American, said the statue represents racism, prejudice and violence and serves as a reminder that white supremacy is present on campus.
"Unless it's removed, I won't feel safe on campus," she said.
UNC students have been calling for the removal of Silent Sam for decades and, in the wake of deadly clashes between white supremacists and anti-racist counter-protesters in Charlottesville, protests have continued this year with fervor. Students staged a sit-in
at the very beginning of the Fall semester and have since held boycotts, rallies and flooded university officials with comments about the statue. University officials, though, say their hands are tied by a state 2015 law that prohibits “objects of remembrance” from being permanently removed.