What follows is a personal reflection on demonstrations in Durham, North Carolina following Unite the Right in Charlottesville.
by Dwayne Dixon
Durham, NC, has been a crucial locus for activist energy with a storied history of queer, feminist, Black, and anarchist fervor enlivening Southeastern networks of radical organizing. More recently Durham is contributing to our collective understanding of tactics and providing sharp examples of solidarity in action.
“a biker, wearing a vest emblazoned with a large Confederate flag, swerved on his motorcycle at people standing along the row of parked cars. I immediately parked and reached for my AK-47.”
Eschewing factionalism, Defend Durham coalesced around the 11 brave people arrested for allegedly toppling the Confederate statue on August 14, 2017, days after the Nazi riot in Charlottesville, Virginia. Freedom-loving people from different political spaces rapidly organized themselves to maximize the pressure on the county government and intensify popular mobilizations against white supremacy across the city. What Durham activism offers is a compelling model of concerted, sustained actions based on consensus, rigorous planning, tactical diversity, and the unwavering belief that through solidarity and militancy we can all win. To extend the complex narrative of Defend Durham, I want to share my own story of armed resistance to the Klan and my subsequent trial in the hope that new ideas can be germinated, new possibilities imagined. and new critiques developed.
On August 18th, 2017, the KKK threatened to converge on the city, days after the Confederate monument had been courageously toppled. Less than a week after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, where Heather Heyer was murdered and many injured by a white supremacist, the Klan was assumed to be mobilizing in retaliation not just for the toppling of the Confederate statue but for the larger public and militant defiance to white supremacy sweeping the United States.
“Acting in concert with other activists and at the request of many community members, I went downtown, armed with a rifle, intent on preventing the Klan and their supporters from terrorizing the people of Durham.”
Acting in concert with other activists and at the request of many community members, I went downtown, armed with a rifle, intent on preventing the Klan and their supporters from terrorizing the people of Durham. In the streets the situation seemed dire. I saw armed Sheriff’s deputies escorting civilians to their cars amid a mass evacuation from the County Courthouse. A major crisis seemed to be unfolding but with an erratic and highly concentrated LEO presence focused on county employees and not on the city’s population more broadly. What I saw looked very much like a government jumping ship before a coup or disaster. I was struck by the similarity to the recent events in Charlottesville.
In front of a local queer, punk bar on Main St. a biker, wearing a vest emblazoned with a large Confederate flag, swerved on his motorcycle at people standing along the row of parked cars. I had barely arrived to where my friends were gathering and I had just witnessed someone with white supremacist symbols using his vehicle to threaten people. I immediately parked and reached for my AK-47. I rallied people together and they mobilized to blockade ends of the street for their own collective defense. Within thirty minutes, a large, improvised march set off down Main St, initiating a joyful day of resistance, culminating in a massive street party.
A little over a week later, on August 27th, I was arrested by Sheriff’s deputies and charged with two weapons misdemeanors, including “going armed to the terror of the people.” The charge should more accurately read “going armed to the terror of the Klan” and thus underscore the complicity of the sheriff and the State more broadly in facilitating and exacerbating white supremacist violence.
Huge thanks to everyone who reached out with support today for our North Carolina member who was facing charges for carrying his rifle against the KKK. Dwayne Dixon was acquitted of all charges today! Stand together, hold the line, and continue to build accountable community defense networks. Please continue to support the Durham folks who are still facing charges for taking down the Confederate monument in their town, at doitlikeDurham.org.
Posted by RedneckRevolt on Thursday, February 8, 2018
Two more comrades were later arrested and charged identically for their actions that Friday in Durham. We joined the larger bloc of defendants charged in the alleged toppling of the Confederate statue, confronting the State with a unified front of activists, utilizing different tactics but all in unison against white supremacy and in legal solidarity with one another, represented by radical Quaker lawyers who came to our aid to defend us.
The District Attorney offered me a plea deal which I rejected without consideration. On February 8th, 2018, I went to trial.
With one charge dropped by the assistant DA from the outset, the court found the other charge to be unconstitutional for violation of the First and Second Amendments. With my case won, the other two comrades on trial that day for their part in the anti-Klan mobilization had in one case their charges thrown out, and in another, got one year probation with community service.
We were victorious: in the streets against the Klan, and in the courts against the sheriff and the D.A.
“A little over a week later, on August 27th, I was arrested by Sheriff’s deputies and charged with two weapons misdemeanors, including “going armed to the terror of the people.”’
While I and other armed comrades were arrested and charged, we know the real threats that day were white supremacists. We are in the midst of a very unusual and unprecedented time in American history—socially, legally, politically, spiritually, and ethically. Broader questions of social accountability persist and I do not claim to have answers to all of them. What concerns me is how we develop a collective sensibility and will to act that does not depend on the state when the state repeatedly shows itself to facilitate far right and racist violence—on the streets, in the prisons, in the courts, in the legislature, and beyond. My act was one of determined intervention, placing myself between my community and the real possibility of white supremacist violence. I did this not through some kind of egotistical hubris but because people I love and care about asked me to be on the streets of Durham that August day, and to be armed. I realize not everyone will agree with this act but right now what is required is a diversity of tactics and a lively debate about how we go about creating the world we want, including the freedom from fear so crucial to that world.
Whether my actions were legal that day is ultimately a useless question to me because I am not interested in how the law constrains my ethics and my anarchist politics. My actions were not unilateral, but were carried out because of, and with, the support of the people around me, the community I am accountable to. My armed actions only accounted for a small part of the event. I helped to catalyze a sense of collective defense and once that happened, I faded back to let others and their tactics take the lead. On that day in Durham, everyone demonstrated the power of trust and radical solidarity with one another and a shared ethics apart from simple legality. Cowardly liberal concern over “optics” was tossed to the wayside as people took to the streets in a day-long demonstration of direct resistance.
“We can no longer constrain our desire for liberty within the abstract bounds of liberal discourse and polite debate. We now have to organize and fight as if our lives depend on it. For indeed they do.”
I was given the courage to confront white supremacist threats by the people who love me and the community that supports me and insists on my responsibility to our shared project for liberation. That same support sustains me as I confront the State every day, taking the struggle from the streets to the courts. From legal help to financial support to ideological engagement and ethical debate, so many people have become allies and acted as part of an ongoing and growing bloc of resistance.
My actions on that August day build directly from the examples of the queer, Black, trans, immigrant, Latinx, Asian-American comrades who faced trial for the destruction of the Confederate statue – and who ultimately had their charges dismissed or were acquitted on February 20. My actions are also part of a historical and inspiring lineage of people dedicated to the direct, armed defense of others and unflinching defiance of white supremacy. These comrades testify to the strength found in a diversity of tactics and often stood the line right here in North Carolina, including Robert Williams who confronted the KKK with his own weapons in Monroe, NC, in 1957. These ordinary people risked their lives for their beliefs and their communities and successfully stood against the combined forces of the State and the Klan. Some lost their lives in this endeavor. I recall the sacrifices of the five protestors murdered by the KKK in Greensboro, NC on November 3rd, 1979. Their deaths and the suffering and struggle of countless others is not in vain. Durham does not forget them and we celebrate their fight by continuing it daily and by any means necessary.
What’s right may not always conform to what is legal and we need to nurture our collective courage to put our jobs, our reputations, and even our lives on the line for the freedom of every single one of us. We can no longer constrain our desire for liberty within the abstract bounds of liberal discourse and polite debate. We now have to organize and fight as if our lives depend on it. For indeed they do.
Do it like Durham!