Tempers flare as pro-Confederate and anti-racist demonstrators clash in Chapel Hill

Silent Sam supporters and anti-racist activists met again in Chapel Hill on Saturday, moving across the street from campus this time but bringing the same insults, arguments and chants that have animated their clashes for months.

Heirs to the Confederacy, a pro-Confederate monument group, had a permit from Chapel Hill to demonstrate in front of the post office on Franklin Street downtown. Since last fall, the group has held gatherings in and around McCorkle Place on campus, where Silent Sam stood until activists toppled it in August 2018.

But recently, at least three members of the Heirs group have been ordered to stay off campus or face trespassing charges.

So about a dozen members of the group took to the steps of the post office, several of them holding Confederate flags. They were immediately swarmed by at least twice as many anti-racists who were preparing for a counter-demonstration and potluck meal on McCorkle Place across the street.

After two incidents in which opponents pushed each other, Chapel Hill police brought in portable plastic barriers to separate the two groups.

“You are evil and nasty,” Wendy Hayslett, a “Confederate” protester told the students and their supporters, shouting into a bullhorn. The anti-racists answered with chants of “Go home, Nazis.”

Wendy Hayslett, right, and Ryan Barnett, left, pull Richard Hayslett Sr. away from a scuffle on the steps of Peace and Justice Plaza in Chapel Hill, NC on Saturday, May 4, 2019. Barnett has been charged with misdemeanor vandalism and ethnic intimidation in connection with the vandalism of UNC’s Unsung Founders Memorial, which is dedicated to slaves and African-American workers. Julia Wall jwall@newsobserver.com

Drivers in some passing cars occasionally honked their horns in support of one side or the other.

One protester arrived late with a handgun holstered on his hip. He carried a Confederate flag and a sign that said, “WARNING. LEAVE SOUTHERN MONUMENTS ALONE.” A member of the Heirs group invited him to join them, but police cautioned him he could not come onto the site with the gun. He left and came back without it.

The Heirs group left just before 2 p.m. and the anti-racist students and supporters returned to their gathering. Police reported no injuries or arrests.

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Martha Quillin is a general assignment reporter at The News & Observer who writes about North Carolina culture, religion and social issues. She has held jobs throughout the newsroom since 1987.