For thirty-one years the North Carolina Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans has sponsored annually Confederate Flag Day, an event commemorating our state’s rich history and Southern heritage, held in the House of Representatives chamber of the historic 1840 Tar Heel State Capitol. First proclaimed by former Governor James G. Martin in 1988, the day has served as an occasion to host a number of major guest speakers: including former Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court Beverly Lake Jr., distinguished historians Clyde Wilson and Lee Congdon, and internationally-known authors such as Don Livingston and Paul Gottfried.
For all those years, the event has been peaceful and gone off without problems. Indeed, the Sons of Confederate Veterans has been a major contributor to the programs of the State Capitol, providing funding for restoration and preservation projects, and supplying volunteers for Capitol activities.
This year was different.
This year the commemoration, on March 2, was beset and harassed by dozens of—perhaps around seventy or eighty—screaming and frenzied demonstrators, a mob that surrounded the Capitol, shouting the vilest profanities at women and children as they made their way to and from the event, and threatening physical violence towards all attendees.
Online the organizing umbrella group responsible for the demonstration was titled #SmashingRacism, a loose coalition of members of several far Left and Marxist elements centered in central North Carolina, including Antifa NC, Democratic Socialists of North Carolina, Hillsborough Progressives Taking Action, and other such groups.
Given what has happened in recent months in the Tar Heel State, such a reaction might have been expected, but not on the scale witnessed on March 2. In recent months violent mobs have destroyed the monument to Confederate veterans in Durham, followed by the toppling of the “Silent Sam” monument on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a monument erected a century ago to honor university students who went off to war in the 1860s.
The threats to Flag Day were such that nearly 200 members of law enforcement—State Capitol Police, Raleigh City Police, and, finally, State Highway Patrol—were summoned to maintain order and to prevent the hysterical protestors from attacking attendees. Indeed, at the end of the event, police were compelled to form protective corridors to permit attendees to safely reach their automobiles. On each side of the corridors were unhinged screaming demonstrators, many holding placards denouncing “racism” and “white oppression”—some declaring “F – the Confederacy.” Prevented by the police from physically engaging the exiting attendees, the mob shouted in unison: “Cops and Klan, go hand and hand!”
It cannot have endeared them to the members of law enforcement attempting to maintain order—who were viewed as protecting the “white supremacists” as they tried to leave the event!
You would think that local news media would have covered the event thoroughly, that 200 members of law enforcement present, most of the streets in central Raleigh closed down to traffic, and the necessity to physically protect event participants would have been a major story on WRAL-TV’s 11 o’clock news—but it wasn’t: barely a brief twenty seconds of coverage. That was it.
Could it have been that the constant, very audible shouts of “Cops and Klan, go hand and hand,” and the obvious violence directed at the peaceful attendees did not make for good, politically correct television, that it did not serve the correct political slant?
There was one short interview with a black man…he seemed not to have been actually a part of the demonstration. The reporter for WRAL-TV had to chase him down for his comment.
And therein lies the rest of the story: the mob was almost entirely white, mostly millennials and college-aged white students, uniformly from upper middle class families. Indeed, tuition at nearby Duke University now costs nearly $74,000 a year, and at UNC at Chapel Hill the figure is equally jaw-dropping. How many average middle class parents can afford that? No doubt many of the students receive handsome grants and scholarships; and the non-students also have few worries about finances—pass-through funding reaches them via a variety of progressivist foundations, including from the myriad of George Soros-related organizations.
As I exited with other attendees I looked into the faces of the mob: what I observed was a very real madness, an unleashed fury, eyes filled with uncontrolled hatred—if they had not been restrained, no doubt they would have physically attacked us.
To read their Web sites and their tweets these revolutionaries are consumed by “the fight against white supremacy” and against “historic racism.” Their entire existence is wrapped up in that struggle, a struggle which has become increasingly violent and which has discarded any concept of belief in “freedom of speech” or “free expression of ideas”—if you dissent from their advancing narrative, if you seek to express a different point of view, you are obviously a “racist” and a “white supremacist,” and have no right to express your views.
Indeed, in reality you have no right to exist, as a grad student at Chapel Hill, the son of a upper middle class white family I know, told me a couple of years ago. After finding out that I had voted for Donald Trump in 2016, he—let us call him Mark—informed me that his generation would soon dominate this country, and that “your generation will die out in a few years, and then we can completely change things!” His parents don’t share his university-learned opinions but seem helpless or incapable of responding.
What is so apparent about Mark and hundreds of thousands like him is that his hatred for “white privilege” and “historic racism” is directed at his own history and inheritance, and in a very palpable and real way expresses his own personal self-loathing. His reaction—like the reaction of the frothing mob on March 2—is an effort to virtue signal, to in a way expiate for the sins of his ancestors of whom he is the latest miserable representative. He bears the weight of millennia of “whiteness” and all the accumulated wrongs and sins associated with it, and if his parents or other white people will not grovel and apologize and make reparations for that, then he must do it for all of them—and he must remind them in stentorian voice of the centuries of evil and oppression, by expiating his own self-hatred as a very comfortable white grad student, attending one of America’s most prestigious universities…a recipient of that very same “white privilege.”
Mark’s penance, then, like that of the seventy or so Leftists who assembled outside the 1840 North Carolina State Capitol, is to accuse and assault—if possible—the rest of us who do not see what he sees, who do not understand what he understands, who do not support the burden he supports, and attempt to shut us down and extinguish any dissent from his raging ideology, the burning fire that consumes him. And in so doing, he tries to expiate his own imagined heavy burden, inflicted on him in large part by such prestigious institutions as Duke and UNC which serve as incubation facilities for frenetic post-Marxist Leftist revolutionaries. And by a culture that now facilitates and encourages that posture, or, at best, coddles it like the man who thinks he can tame an angry rattlesnake.
Those angry faces—those glaring and fierce eyes—I saw on March 2 betrayed ruptured souls, corrupted and demonized, existing in a kind of counter-reality with their own set of always-advancing rules, but dedicated in a fearsome and unambiguous way to the destruction—salvation through destruction—of Western Christian civilization, of mankind as we have known it.
In the end, like all incendiaries they will burn out, but their unhinged and violent praxis may well end in something far, far worse for us all.
This piece previously appeared on My Corner on March 6, 2019.
Boyd D. Cathey holds a doctorate in European history from the Catholic University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain, where he was a Richard Weaver Fellow, and an MA in intellectual history from the University of Virginia (as a Jefferson Fellow). He was assistant to conservative author and philosopher the late Russell Kirk. In more recent years he served as State Registrar of the North Carolina Division of Archives and History. He has published in French, Spanish, and English, on historical subjects as well as classical music and opera. He is active in the Sons of Confederate Veterans and various historical, archival, and genealogical organizations.