UPDATED Sept. 28, 9:40 a.m.
In what is becoming something of a pattern, a far-right event slated to take place just after Christmas in Charlotte, North Carolina lost support even before planning really got underway.
Infighting, mistrust and the dark stain of August’s deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia appears to have derailed a “March Against Communism” rally scheduled for Dec. 28. At least one slated headliner already pulled out earlier this week, while other white nationalist figureheads warned their followers not to participate.
On Thursday morning, just two days after telling TPM it planned to move ahead with the event, the group Anti-Communist Action (Anticom) announced the rally was cancelled due to “safety concerns.”
“In light of safety concerns, we’ll no longer be holding an event in Marshall Park,” the group said in tweet pinned to the top of its page. “This was agreed upon by both organizers and guests.”
An Anticom spokesman who identified himself only as Seth declined to elaborate on the tweet, saying the group wanted to “keep future planning private.” On Tuesday, he had described his high hopes for the rally to TPM.
“A good way to describe this is what ‘Unite the Right’ should have been, in the non-violent sense,” Seth said, referring to the Charlottesville rally.
Though the spokesman acknowledged he was “sad to see” white nationalist leader Richard Spencer, whose name was listed on an initial announcement circulated by Anticom, pull out of the event, he expressed confidence that his relatively low-profile group could still draw a big coalition of white nationalists, militia groups, libertarians and far-right icons to North Carolina.
The parallels between Anticom’s planned rally and Charlottesville were clear. Aside from the name of the city where the “March Against Communism” will be held—Anticom’s Seth said it was “just an unfortunate coincidence”—there was a planned torch rally through the city’s streets, and many of the exact same participants who showed up to “Unite The Right” were invited.
Those similarities kept some would-be participants away. The Charlottesville rally led to the slaying of counter-protester Heather Heyer; to companies cutting off access to white nationalist and other extremist groups’ social media accounts and funding sources; to days of damning news headlines; and to a number of participants getting fired from their jobs or winding up in jail.
Spencer confirmed to TPM in a text message that he had pulled out of the Charlotte event, expressing concern about the outdoor venue.
“Cville proved that we simply can’t fully trust mayors and chiefs of police,” he said. “I don’t want to simply repeat Cville. We’ve got to learn from Cville and create better models.”
Others who Anticom said were invited to the event were out in force at Charlottesville, including animal-sacrificing former Florida Senate candidate Augustus Sol Invictus; white nationalist group Vanguard America; neo-Confederate group League of the South; and Matthew Heimbach, head of the white nationalist Traditionalist Worker Party. None of those invitees responded to TPM’s requests for comment.
Some in the community called for a boycott of the event, suggesting that it might be a setup and questioning the motives of the low-profile Anticom organizers. White supremacist Andrew Anglin, who has apparently resuscitated his Daily Stormer website on an Icelandic domain after being booted off a number of U.S. hosting services, told readers: “Urging people to attend a purposefully provocative event with unknown planners who have openly called on people to bring guns to the event is, in our view, utterly irresponsible.” White supremacist hacker Weev echoed those warnings in his own blog post, accusing Spencer of “trying to get some of your fool asses killed” by initially agreeing to participate in an event with weapons organized by “virtually unknown parties.”
Outrage and accusations flew with even more fervor on the 4chan /pol/ message board, where many Charlottesville attendees and supporters had once coordinated planning. Posters speculated that Spencer was “a plant of some sort”—a “Bolshevik” or undercover federal agent trying to undermine their movement:
Much of this festering suspicion stemmed from the wording of the original invitation from Anticom, which encouraged attendees to bring their “torches, guns, armor, gear, and flags” to the “nonviolent” event in the Charlotte, which has a growing minority population.
Unlike in Virginia, visible and, in most cases, concealed firearms are forbidden at protests in North Carolina. Seth, Anticom’s group’s spokesman, told TPM that he had provided updated guidance on carrying firearms an that the group would closely follow police instructions on whether attendees could bring other weapons, like flagpoles, and shields.
While Seth told TPM the group had been in conversation with the Charlotte-Mecklenberg Police Department about those issues, police spokesman Rob Tufano told TPM that “no one from the organization” had been in touch with the department. If Anticom moves forward with the rally, all it’ll need to do is file for an amplified sound permit to use a speaker system and stick to city streets during the torch march, offering advance notification to the local Department of Transportation.
The “March Against Communism” also will face some competition for media attention. A counter-rally coordinated in response to the event is seeing a flood of support, according to “Charlotte Against Racism/White Supremacy” organizer Jibril Hough.
“I’ve never tried to organize something that’s gotten so much interest so early,” Hough, an activist and spokesman for the Islamic Center of Charlotte, told TPM of his interfaith event, which also will be held in the city’s Marshall Park.
Hough said he plans to hold his rally, which will feature live music and politically-oriented speeches, “even if they don’t show up,” saying it will “allow us to show our diversity and a united front.”
Already, hundreds of people have added themselves to Facebook groups for Hough’s event and for a similar one organized by Indivisible Charlotte.
For now, it looks like the counter-protesters will be the only ones there.
Pictured above: In this Friday, Aug. 11, 2017 photo, multiple white nationalist groups march with torches through the UVA campus in Charlottesville, Va. (Mykal McEldowney/The Indianapolis Star via AP)