Photo: “Silent Sam” statue is toppled and covered with dirt on August 20, 2018
By Gabriel Roshan
Over the past week, a $2.5 million deal between the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) and Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) has come under increased scrutiny as the confederate group’s ties to white nationalists and outlaw biker gangs have come to light.
On November 27, the UNC school system agreed to give the SCV the statue known as “Silent Sam,” a monument dedicated to UNC alumni who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. The public school system also allocated $2.5 million for the transportation and preservation of the statue and added an additional $75,000 on the condition that SCV would not use Confederate flags in counter-protests on any UNC system campus.
Activists have criticized the school system for funding white supremacy by cutting a deal with CSV. The financial ties between the University and the judge who brokered the settlement have further worsened the public image of the expensive decision, and a national civil rights group is suing UNC in response to the settlement.
This deal has seen the return of protests on campus against Confederate monuments that had died down after Carol Folt, then-UNC chancellor, permanently removed “Silent Sam” in January 2019, citing public safety concerns.
Protests against Silent Sam began in the 1960s, with the statue being vandalized repeatedly during that time. In the mid 2010s the country-wide movement against Confederate monuments saw a resurgence, leading to large demonstrations on college campuses and elsewhere between assorted reactionary and neo-Confederate groups and student protesters and activists.
After the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville on August 12, 2017, during which the fascist James Fields murdered Heather Heyer and injured scores of other protesters, several universities including the University of Texas Austin and Duke decided to remove Confederate statues on their campuses and the protests subsequently intensified.
On August 23, 2017 a thousand activists protested the Confederate monument, beginning the year-long escalation towards Silent Sam’s eventual toppling. During this period, regular actions occurred ranging from sleep-ins and banner drops to graffiti actions. On August 20, 2018 several hundred protesters covered the statue with a banner reading “For A World Without White Supremacy” to cover the ropes being attached to the statue. These ropes subsequently pulled down the monument to loud cheers. During this time the struggle was fronted by the Real Silent Sam Coalition and was headed by anarchists in Defend UNC and the crypto-fascist Workers World Party (WWP).
SCV is a nonprofit which advertises itself as a heritage organization comprised of direct descendants of Confederate soldiers; sister organization Daughters of the American Confederacy was responsible for erecting “Silent Sam” in 1913.
Kevin Stone is the face of SCV and the main negotiator of the $2.5 million deal. Stone, Commander of the North Carolina SCV, has been accused by members of tolerating and promoting white nationalists within the organization as well as recruiting from the Hell’s Angels and Outlaws (two violent and reactionary motorcycle gangs).
Stone is also the leader of the “mechanized cavalry,” a faction within the SCV that operates like a neo-Confederate motorcycle gang. Bill Starnes, one prominent member of the mechanized cavalry, reportedly drew a firearm to intimidate another member who had criticized Stone. Critics within the SCV see the faction as becoming increasingly radicalized by the infiltration of white nationalists and other fascists, who are exerting their influence over the larger organization. According to reports, Stone saw the $2.5 million settlement as an opportunity to further expand this faction of the SCV.
Opposition within SCV attributes the rise of its radicalized politics largely to Boyd Cathey and his control of leadership positions in the North Carolina chapter. Cathey has emboldened the fascist base, which is controversial even within the already reactionary SCV. In the past, he worked for a white nationalist presidential campaign and served on the editorial advisory committee of a pseudo-intellectual journal published by the Institute for Historical Review, a notorious Holocaust denial organization.
“Self-government,” “southern heritage,” and “states’ rights,” common in the lexicon of neo-Confederates, are ways to obscure the goal of SCV leadership: the advancement of white nationalism. Opening the gate for even further reaction by ceding grounds to Nazi nostalgia, SCV is becoming a breeding ground for fascist recruitment.
Folt’s removal of “Silent Sam” and the deal with the Confederates were tactics to stop further protests and keep up symbolic appearances while directly funding dangerous white supremacists. Students and activists have shown that they will not rely on the University’s mis-leadership and concessions to fight racism and by continuing to demonstrate against the University’s deal with the SCV.
The tailism of the anarchists and WWP, while able to influence public opinion, is not capable of exposing the class character of these concessions or leading a united front against the white nationalists, fascists, and the university. The statue’s toppling demonstrates that actions done without the permission of authorities bear fruit and should be applauded, but struggle must continue to destroy all remnants of the Confederacy and the fascism emboldened by it. This is only possible through the patient organizing of students and workers, especially the Black masses who are most affected by the legacy of racism and slavery, into paramilitary anti-fascism capable of defeating fascists and neo-Confederates.