Who is the group getting $2.5M in ‘Silent Sam’ settlement? – WRAL.com

Posted By on December 20, 2019

By Travis Fain, WRAL statehouse reporter, & Laura Leslie, WRAL Capitol Bureau chief

Chapel Hill, N.C. The University of North Carolina system's $2.5 million deal to get rid of the "Silent Sam" Confederate monument will be back before a judge Friday.

A pair of attorneys once attached to UNC, along with several students and a professor, hope to have the agreement tossed and the university's money returned.

The whole thing begs a question: Just who has the UNC system set aside $2.5 million for?

In their latest filing, attorneys for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law calls the Sons of Confederate Veterans "a neo-confederate white supremacist group." The group disputes that, and academics that study white nationalism said the description goes too far.

But some of the SCV leadership is "certainly brushing elbows with people who are ardent supporters of white nationalism," according to UNC-Chapel Hill history professor Fitzhugh Brundage, who studies American history since the Civil War.

Spokesmen for UNC didn't respond Thursday when asked what university leadership, including the Board of Governors, thinks of the SCV or what vetting was done before the deal was struck.

That agreement put $2.5 million in trust so the SCV won't push to return Silent Sam, which was toppled by protesters last year, to the Chapel Hill campus under a 2015 law written to protect Confederate monuments.

A spokesman for House Speaker Tim Moore also didn't respond Thursday. Moore, along with Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, is the person most responsible for appointing the Board of Governors.

Berger's spokesman said leadership wouldn't "Monday-morning quarterback the actions of people who are empowered to make decisions," adding that Berger learned of the Silent Sam deal only a day before it was announced.

Repeated calls to individual members of the Board of Governors have largely gone unreturned. Black students quoted in the court filing that will be before a Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour say the connection between white supremacy and the SCV is clear.

"UNCs $2.5 million payout to a white supremacist organization dedicated to cultivating ignorance and racist beliefs is a slap in the face to me as a black student at a university that claims to support racial diversity and scholarship," Alyassa Boyd said in an affidavit.

"The clear message of that monument is that I am inferior because of the color of my skin, that I deserve and my ancestors deserved to be enslaved, brutalized and exploited to enrich white people, and that white supremacy is celebrated by my university," De'Ivyion Drew said in his affidavit.

Kevin Stone, who heads the SCV's North Carolina Division, said his group exists "to honor the memories of the soldiers who fought in the Confederate military." He compared it to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, but some of the symbols he's been pictured with online raise questions about his ties to troubling organizations.

"These slurs being thrown at the SCV are done by individuals who are pushing their own radical politically correct agendas," Stone said in a statement. "These same people were quiet when the mob of protesters illegally tore down Silent Sam in the first place."

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks white nationalist and other hate groups, doesn't consider the Sons of Confederate Veterans a hate group because they "have no declarative or mission statement where they say that black people (or any race) is inferior," spokeswoman Kimberly Allen said Thursday via email.

"Further, this group does not vilify or demonize groups of people solely on the basis of their immutable characteristics, such as race or ethnicity,"Allen said.

The SPLC considers the SCV "a neo-confederate heritage group that tries to "gloss over the legacy of slavery in the South," she said.

One of the concerns with the Silent Sam agreement is that the SCV will build a new headquarters to house the statue and present it with a revisionist history on the Civil War. The group says on its website that the "preservation of liberty and freedom was the motivating factor in the South's decision to fight the Second American Revolution."

Brundage and other academics WRAL News spoke to said the SCV may not be a white supremacy group, but that doesn't mean it was a good idea to set aside $2.5 million for it.

Adam Domby, a Civil War historian at the College of Charleston, said the membership overlap "between Neo-Confederates and hate groups like the Klan, Neo-Nazis, etc., is striking."

"There is a spectrum of views within the SCV," Domby said in an email. "Many are no doubt honestly sincere in that they don't hate anyone. But the historical narrative pushed by the SCV is a false one that is used to uphold a worldview that supports white supremacist ideologies."

Board of Governors members who worked on the deal said in a recent op-ed that it was the best way to resolve years of controversy, keep the monument off campus and avoid potentially violent protests. Their agreement forbids the SCV from displaying the monument in any of the 14 counties with a UNC campus, and there's an extra $75,000 to keep the group from demonstrating on campus with the Confederate flag for five years.

Brian Levin, head of the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism in California, said the fact that UNC won't share a county with the statute any more "tells you something." Exhibiting this sort of monument, he said, "should be done in a context that involves Ph.D.s, not people who are trying to intimidate people with Confederate flags."

"There's difference between a World War II museum in Washington and folks who'd like to refight it," Levin said.

Stone is also a probation officer in Chatham County and head of the SCV's "Mechanized Calvary Heritage Defense," a group of motorcycle riders within the SCV.

Their slogan is "Ride As You Would With Forrest," a reference to Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate calvary general and an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

Since the settlement, some have questioned Stone's connections to clear white supremacy groups, pointing to a motorcycle vest patch he's worn, as well as a hand signal he gave in a recent picture with the Silent Sam statue.

The symbol is an upside down "V" and the patch is similar to the symbol for the Shield Wall Network, an openly white supremacist group based in Arkansas. Shield Wall's "Lambda" symbol is common with white supremacy groups, according to the Anti-Defamation League, which classifies it as a "general hate symbol."

Stone said in written answers to WRAL News' questions that he'd never heard of the group or its founder, Billy Roper, before left-wing protestors started questioning the issue. Roper is no relation UNC Interim President Dr. William Roper, according to a university system spokesman.

Stone said he designed his Lambda patch around 2011 after seeing the movie "300," a fictionalization of the Spartan battle against an invading Persian army in 480 B.C.

"I was struck by the small number of Spartan soldiers involved in the Battle of Thermopylae," Stone said. "I give it out primarily to members of the SCV motorcycle group of which I am the current national commander. This small group does lots of charitable work, and I give it to people who have done lots of service toward this group."

The Anti-Defamation League says the Spartan explanation is a common one for the symbol, and that Billy Roper "once claimed to have chosen the symbol because of the Spartan defense at Thermopylae against the Persians, which is supposed to signify the defense of Europe against 'nonwhite hordes.'"

As for the hand symbol Stone flashed standing next to Silent Sam, he said that's a greeting he gives close friends and other motorcyclists. He said it's a common greeting in the motorcycling community and that "I know of no white supremacist connotation to this greeting, and I do not use it as a white supremacist gesture."

A number of online descriptions indicate it's a common greeting for motorcycle riders, though it typically involves the left hand pointing two fingers down at the road as riders pass. Stone was using his right arm, in front of his chest, standing next to Silent Sam.

Brundage, the UNC history professor, said there's a lot of symbol "cutting and pasting" between white nationalist and heritage groups.

"They are looking for ways to have a nod, a wink, a secret handshake that lets everybody know that you're part of the inner circle," he said, "even though you don't have to say anything that someone who doesn't know the secret handshake would recognize."

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Who is the group getting $2.5M in 'Silent Sam' settlement? - WRAL.com

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