“Outside Agitators” Rhetoric in North Carolina: A History of Civil Rights Slander

25 Jun
from the June 17 Moral Monday outside the North Carolina General Assembly. Credit: Franklin Golden

Protestors rally outside the North Carolina General Assembly at the June 17 “Moral Monday.” Credit: Franklin Golden

Alex Kotch | June 25, 2013

Approximately 600 protestors have been arrested while railing against conservative state politics in North Carolina. Over eight “Moral Mondays,” the Forward Together Movement’s arrestees include North Carolina NAACP President Reverend Dr. William Barber, doctors, clergy, university professors, local politicians, students, seniors, workers and veterans, people with disabilities, and even a reporter. The movement has garnered national attention from The Nation, The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, The Associated Press, Melissa Harris-Perry’s show on MSNBC, The Guardian, The New York Times, The American Prospect, and The Atlantic. Recent Mondays have drawn thousands of supporters.

An Ultra-Conservative Agenda

These Moral Mondays, led by the North Carolina NAACP, began in opposition to the hard right turn the state’s government has taken in recent years. In 2010, Republicans, many of them bankrolled by millionaire businessman and current state budget director Art Pope, took control of the State House and Senate or the first time since Reconstruction (1870). With Republican Pat McCrory’s election to the Governor’s Mansion in 2012, the Republican super majority, which includes a large number of Tea Party members, has been pushing possibly the most extreme conservative agenda in the country, an agenda full of American Legislative Exchange Council legislation. In fact, Speaker of the House Thom Tillis, a 2011 ALEC “Legislator of the Year,” is a national board member of that organization, and Gov. McCrory’s legislative lobbyist, former Rep. Fred Steen, used to be the state ALEC chairman. Demonstrators are protesting a wide range of issues, including the state’s rejection of the Medicaid expansion, funded almost entirely by the federal government, which would have placed 500,000 low-income North Carolinians in the program; rejection of $650 million in federal unemployment funds – the only state to do so – and reduction of current unemployment benefits, affecting 155,000 people; the repeal of the Racial Justice Act; a tax plan that offers a windfall to rich and profitable corporations while reducing revenue; vastly cutting pre-kindergarten education and teaching assistant positions, expanding class sizes, and transferring $90 million from public school funds to private school vouchers; and an assault on voting rights, including a photo ID requirement, vastly fewer early voting days and sites, and elimination of same-day voter registration and Sunday voting. This attack on voting is what Rev. Dr. Barber calls “James Crow, Esquire.” Unlike the more conspicuous Jim Crow laws of the past, “James Crow, Esquire comes along in a suit, gets a computer, goes in a back room, and very slyly uses a computer model, and uses the geographic information on race to divide and undermine not only black power, but the power of fusion politics.” Rev. Dr. Barber refers to the radical redistricting enacted by Republicans in 2011; judges have yet to rule on a lawsuit challenging the maps’ constitutionality.

On top of these and many other major issues, the GOP has also proposed various bizarre legislation that has made a national mockery of the state, such as essentially banning modern climate science, the “nipple bill,” establishment of a state religion, outlawing the sale of Tesla automobiles and an extra tax on hybrid cars, and most recently, a gun bill that does away with handgun permits and allows concealed handguns on all educational property and at places that serve alcohol.

The Rev. Curtis Gatewood, left, and the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, center, at a Moral Mondays demonstration organized by the N.A.A.C.P. in Raleigh, N.C. Credit: Travis Dove, The New York Times

The Rev. Curtis Gatewood, left, and the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, center, at a “Moral Monday” demonstration organized by the NAACP in Raleigh, NC. Credit: Travis Dove, The New York Times

An Effort to Discredit

With just a 25 percent approval rating and a growing, weekly protest movement earning national press, the GOP-controlled state legislature is attacking its critics instead of defending its policies. State Senator Thom Goolsby penned the now-infamous column in the Chatham County Journal in which he slandered his own constituents, including Rev. Dr. Barber, calling the protests “Moron Mondays,” and its participants “the Loony Left,” “circus clowns,” and “aged former hippies.” Many have spoken out against these remarks, which he has since claimed were merely “humorous.” Greensboro Rep. John Blust compared the protestors to Duke’s Cameron Crazies.

But the most haunting comments came from Gov. McCrory and the new, McCrory-backed state GOP chairman, Claude Pope, who is a relative of Art Pope. At the recent state GOP convention, the governor invoked Tom Petty, saying he “won’t back down” to “outsiders…coming in,” people who are “going to try to do to us what they did to Scott Walker in Wisconsin.” Gov. McCrory called the demonstrations “unlawful” and a distraction. State Sen. Harry Brown echoed these assertions, saying he was getting “reports” that “a lot of these people are from out of state.” Claude Pope has called the protests “prefabricated direct partisan attacks” and claims the movement is bringing in “outside groups…union organizers, protesters, basically, professional agitators.” He says, “The planned arrests being fueled by outside influence is [sic] not ‘moral’ at all.”

Echoes of the Old South

The North Carolina NAACP has called out these epithets in a press release as “an effort to delegitimize the broad and diverse coalition of people speaking up on behalf of North Carolina’s poor, working poor and vulnerable.”

“It’s Old South politics. It’s the same language and line Governors of the Old South in the 1960′s and before used rather [than] address the legitimate concerns about injustice and inequality. It’s an attack line because [Gov. McCrory] and the extreme members of his party cannot answer the serious criticism of their immoral policies that violate so egregiously the constitutional values and directive to govern only for the good of the whole and the common good as well as the sacred moral instructions to care for the least of these and to do justice.”

The press release continues, reminding readers of moderate Republicans who once helped to aid rural North Carolina, fund public education, and even make civil rights progress, in contrast to the current, regressive conservatives running the state.

from Brent Sirota (Twitter)

from Brent Sirota (Twitter)

Sue Sturgis from Facing South compares their comments to those of segregationist Alabama governor George Wallace, who, in the midst of expanding protests over segregation, “sent a telegram to his state’s congressional delegation in which he said that Birmingham had been ‘set upon by outside agitators who have done everything within their power to create internal strife and turmoil.’” Weeks before these North Carolina politicians made their comments, Rev. Dr. Barber had compared the state’s right-wing extremists to Wallace.

And more history validates their claims. Gov. McCrory and the GOP are using falsehoods to try to discredit their critics, as did southern segregationist leaders of the 1960s. A New York Times article from May 14, 1963 details how Jackson, Mississippi’s mayor, Allen Thompson, rejected a request by the NAACP to openly negotiate racial discrimination and segregation in public facilities and businesses – on the same day as George Wallace’s telegram. Thompson, “backed by 75 business leaders,” refused a “biracial committee,” saying it would only lead to “compliance with the demands of racial agitators from outside.” McCrory and Tillis have recently said they are willing to meet with constituents, yet these meetings haven’t happened; Thompson claimed “his door was ‘always open’ to Negro citizens,” yet he refused to meet with any member of the NAACP, or the Congress of Racial Equality. Thompson was a member of the white supremacist Citizens’ Council. Less than one month later, on June 12 (just 50 years ago), NAACP Field Secretary for Mississippi Medgar Evers was murdered outside his home in Jackson by a white supremacist, who was not convicted for 30 years due to all-white juries. The following year, the Civil Rights Act was passed, and in 1965, the Voting Rights Act. Jackson was the site of numerous boycotts, demonstrations, and major voter education and registration in the early 1960s.

The year before, in August, another Times article, “Mayor Bars Talk with Dr. King,” describes a similar situation to that of Jackson: desegregation proponents in Albany, Georgia wanted to meet with the City Commission. Members of the Albany Movement had been demonstrating since the previous year in hopes of direct negotiations with the Commission. Meanwhile, city officials sought a federal injunction to ban such protests by African Americans, and 1100 had been arrested between October 1961 and the day of printing, August 2, 1962. Mayor Asa Kelley said the city “will never negotiate with outside agitators whose avowed purpose is to create turmoil,” referring to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – originally from nearby Atlanta – and others who were in Albany, taking part in the demonstrations. Rev. Dr. King had recently served a short jail sentence there. Kelley would not even guarantee a meeting if Rev. Dr. King left town. President John F. Kennedy called the mayor’s refusal to arrange a meeting “wholly inexplicable.”

More than 2500 people rally outside the North Carolina State Legislative Building on Halifax Mall Monday, June 24, 2013, prior to an act of civil disobedience opposing the Republican legislature's agenda. About 120 activists were arrested by General Assembly and Raleigh police. About 600 have been arrested over the course of 8 "Moral Monday" demonstrations. Credit: Travis Long

More than 2500 people rally outside the North Carolina State Legislative Building on Halifax Mall Monday, June 24, 2013, prior to an act of civil disobedience opposing the Republican legislature’s agenda. About 120 activists were arrested by General Assembly and Raleigh police. About 600 have been arrested over the course of 8 “Moral Monday” demonstrations. Credit: Travis Long, Raleigh News & Observer

Claims Debunked

Republican claims that outside agitators spurred the Moral Monday protests are simply wrong. WRAL determined that of the first 388 people arrested in Raleigh, only eight, or two percent, claimed out-of-state addresses. Sen. Brown didn’t care, though, saying this revelation made no difference to him. At the June 17, 2013 protest, one week later, a team of researchers surveyed 316 attendees, finding 311, or 98 percent, to be from North Carolina – the same percentage of North Carolinians as that of the first 388 arrested. Approximately 80 percent were white, 17 percent African American, 2 percent Latino, and a little over 1 percent Asian/Pacific Islander/Indian; this data roughly mirrors the 2011 American Community Survey estimates for the state, meaning the protestors roughly parallel the state’s race distribution. 61 percent were women, the average age was 50 years old, and 50 percent were at a Moral Monday for the first time. Read the full report here. The Advancement Project, a non-profit based in Washington, D.C., has helped organize the protests, and some demonstrators have traveled from out of state to attend, but the claim that protests are primarily “outsiders,” or they don’t represent the will of real North Carolinians, is completely unfounded.

A conservative organization was thwarted by the facts, though, like the politicians, it tried to spin them in its favor. The Civitas Institute, which is almost entirely funded by Art Pope’s family foundation and chaired by Pope, put out a controversial database of the arrestees, including a “Pick the Protestor” exercise that asked players to match protestors’ mug shots with basic demographic and residency information.President Frank X. De Luca claims that the identities of the protestors are surprising, yet the database reveals similar statistics to the other studies: those involved are almost entirely North Carolina residents, represent a wide range of professions, and parallel the racial demographics of the state. Civitas is now calling them “tax payer funded protestors” and listing the salaries of public employeesinvolved in the protests.Sue Sturgis again contextualizes this tactic of intimidating the protestors, relating it to how White Citizens’ Councils published the names of NAACP supporters and signers of anti-segregation petitions, encouraging retaliation against them. Rev. Dr. Barber responded to Civitas in a speech, saying,They want to sucker us into a back-and-forth about people on a website so they can take the focus off the policies being passed and signed by them in the General Assembly and in the governor’s office, but it will not work.”

Civitas: Diverting From Issues That Matter | Moral Monday

In spite of the data, Claude Pope continues his dishonest argument in a News & Observer opinion piece. And the governor’s credibility is also on the line. Democracy North Carolina has outlined an ongoing investigation into a shady sweepstakes poker entrepreneur from Oklahoma, who siphoned over $235,000 in campaign donations to Republicans, including Gov. McCrory, through the governor’s former law firm, as well as his dependence on millions of dollars in campaign funds from the Republican Governors’ Association. On top of relying on out-of-state, potentially criminal wealth, Gov. McCrory, instead of greeting a group of 50 public education advocates who were there to deliver him a petition, was apparently playing catch just feet away.

Forward Together

Despite these tactics, the movement continues to gain momentum. On Wednesday, June 12, the North Carolina NAACP launched its “Wednesday Witness” series in Raleigh, in honor of Medgar Evers, and a voter registration campaign that will last until August 28, 2013, the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington. Eight were arrested that Wednesday, including Durham City Council member Steve Schewel and Guilford County Commissioner Carolyn Coleman. June 19 marked the second such event, this time led by students and young people and honoring the martyrs and heroes of civil, human, and labor rights. June 24th’s Moral Monday was the biggest yet, with crowds estimated at 2500 to 3000 and 120 arrested.

“We are agitated, but not from the outside. We are agitated because of what’s happening inside our state, inside the Governor’s office and inside the NC General Assembly that will harm so many so deeply so unnecessarily inside our state.” –North Carolina NAACP

Supports gathered along Lane Street cheer on 57 demonstrators in custody following the fourth "Moral Monday" action organized by the NAACP at the State Legislative Building on Monday, May 20, 2013. Credit: D.L. Anderson

Supports gathered along Lane Street cheer on 57 demonstrators in custody following the fourth “Moral Monday” action organized by the NAACP at the State Legislative Building on Monday, May 20, 2013. Credit: D.L. Anderson, Indy Week

4 Responses to ““Outside Agitators” Rhetoric in North Carolina: A History of Civil Rights Slander”

  1. Kristen K Hz June 25, 2013 at 3:35 pm #

    If you are in agreement with the protests taking place at the Capitol building in Raleigh, and cannot get out to the actual protests, please, please consider signing the petition to support the Moral Monday protestors! Thank you for your support! http://www.change.org/petitions/north-carolina-general-assembly-pay-attention-to-the-moral-monday-protestors


  1. Blogger provides free history lessons to NC conservatives « The Progressive Pulse - June 27, 2013

    […] here and here to read two of Kotch’s most informative recent […]

  2. scraping metadata from Civitas’s creepy “Moral Monday” database | Topologic Oceans - July 2, 2013

    […] The Civitas data record a total of 457 arrests. Of these, all but 8 gave their residence as in North Carolina. That is to say, 98% of the arrested are clearly locals. This data reinforces an earlier survey which found the same proportion in the protesters as a whole. This matters because some, including governor Pat McCrory have tried to dismiss the protests as the work of outside agitators. […]

  3. Monday morning quarterbacking on Moral Mondays « The Progressive Pulse - July 6, 2013

    […] but none on the conservative squad wanted to listen, only commenting on the protests in order to spread lies about the protestors who paid their salaries. Each week, a diverse group of former fans, 98% from Team Pope’s […]

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