This past Saturday, the Loyal White Knights, a branch of the Ku Klux Klan in Pelham, North Carolina, vowed to hold a Donald Trump victory parade. Thanks to roughly a hundred counter-protesters that never happened — well, not exactly.
When word spread about the KKK rally about a month ago, activists immediately began organizing peace marches. Hundreds gathered in Raleigh for the NC Justice and Unity Rally, while a smaller group of counter-protesters attempted to intervene the KKK in their home base of Pelham — a rural town, just south of the Virginia state line in Caswell County.
The 2016 election made clear that North Carolina isn’t as red as it used to be, largely because of its changing demographics. Latinos have significantly diversified the state, and so have interracial marriages. While the majority of voters in North Carolina voted for Trump, they also voted for a Democratic governor. (The current GOP governor waited until today to concede.)
John Roberts, an “exalted cyclops” of the KKK, told the Times-News the night before the planned event that the group would be holding a car parade in “the general vicinity of Pelham” sometime around 9 a.m. Roberts also called it a “national event,” and that people who couldn’t make it out to their “normal rallies and meetings” would be flying or driving in to attend.
The counter-protesters, a majority of them wearing all black with their faces partially covered, waited for the KKK at the Pelham Methodist Parsonage Church but the KKK never showed. Organizers were informed that the group had moved their rally to Danville, across the state line, 10 miles away.
When I arrived in Danville a couple of minutes before the demonstrators, only one truck bearing several Confederate flags and Trump/Pence bumper stickers could be seen driving around downtown. A female anti-KKK demonstrator approached that truck and began yelling, “No hate, no fear, the KKK is not welcomed here!”
Moments later, they drove away.
An organizer then announced that he had been informed the KKK was actually back in Pelham, at the visitor’s center. When we arrived, only truck drivers and tourists making pit stops could be seen, but no sign of the KKK. Demonstrators remained there for at least 40 minutes, and they were clearly frustrated. “There’s no fucking plan,” one male demonstrator said to no one in particular.
The anti-KKK group consisted of mostly white people, a few African-Americans, some children, and at least two lawyers from North Carolina who were there just in case anyone got arrested.
One man, while looking at his phone, said that he got word from one of his people “out there” that the KKK was actually holding a rally that very second in Danville. “The address is 527 Main Street,” he told the crowd.
“They’ve been giving us the runaround, and things are starting to fall apart a little bit,” the organizer (who refused to disclose his name) told the crowd. “So we’re going to go to Danville now, get situated, and see if they show. If they don’t show, we will be holding our own rally, and then we’re going to head back home.”
According to a press release from the Danville Police Department, the Caswell County’s Sheriff’s Office informed the Danville police that dozens of anti-KKK protesters were heading toward the city because “they believed a KKK rally was supposed to occur there, and their intent was to engage in a counter protest.”
Once again, the KKK was nowhere to be seen. So the anti-KKK group went on with their march. The group walked along Main Street through the Old West End neighborhood. Several Black residents could be seen coming out of their homes and encouraged the marchers by raising their fists and chanting along with them. The Census reports that 48% of the population in Danville is Black.
In a press release, the Danville Police Department and the Virginia State Police called the protest “spontaneous and peaceful.”
I asked a spectator, who simply went by Earl, what he thought about the anti-KKK march. Initially he was initially speechless. Then he said that he was “scared to say.” He then asked me what I thought about the march. I replied that I loved it. “I love it, too,” he said with a huge grin.
A couple of hours later, the KKK did finally show up. A reporter for the Burlington Times-News said that a 30-car motorcade did drive through the streets of Roxboro, a town 36 miles from Pelham, with at least one person chanting “white power.”
While KKK parades and rallies are nothing new in the state of North Carolina, they’re not as accepted as they once were. Last year, the same group held a rally against undocumented immigrants, though no speech about the topic was ever given. Again, they just chanted “white power.”
It’s not clear why the KKK didn’t hold their event at the location and time that they had planned to. Reporter Natalie A. Janicello tweeted that the KKK had experienced a “snafu.”
Richard Dillon, 47, of Indiana, was stabbed at a KKK pre-rally meeting in Yanceyville, a town neighboring Pelham.