A counterprotest against a rumored march by the Klu Klux Klan is breaking up, with organizers saying white supremacists who were planning to march on downtown Durham on Friday have turned back.
“This is a victory that we will claim today,” said Serena Sebring, of Southerners on New Ground.
Hundreds of people had gathered on East Main Street Friday morning in anticipation of a march.
“No KKK!” they shouted. “No Fascists USA!”
The Sheriff’s Office shut down East Main Street. Many downtown businesses, county and other offices closed.
Local government leaders could not confirm the rumors, widely circulated on social media, including by Scott Holmes, the attorney for the eight protesters arrested in the toppling of a Confederate statue on Main Street Monday night.
At 12:05 p.m. City Councilwoman Jillian Johnson, who said she was not downtown but that she was in touch with others who were, tweeted:
“Have received information that there are armed white supremacists in downtown now. Several trucks have been seen as well. #DefendDurham”
Sheriff Mike Andrews tried to stem the social media tide, urging people Friday morning to “wait for verified information from officials monitoring the situation.”
By mid-afternoon, with the counterprotesters leaving, Andrews released another statement, thanking the Durham community for a peaceful demonsration.
“Throughout the day, we have received numerous reports of potential counter protests in the Durham community,” Andrews said. “The Sheriff's Office has been gathering and reviewing information related to potential counter protests throughout the week. We have taken steps to ensure public safety. At this time, law enforcement continues to monitor the area and has not confirmed reports of activity. We are urging residents to avoid joining the crowd in the downtown area as law enforcement continues to monitor the situation. Residents are encouraged to rely on verified information."
By early afternoon, the counterprotest had begun taking on an almost-carnival feel.
There was drumming and intermittant chanting. Someone burned a Confederate flag. People passed out bottled water.
Hunco Kyng, 23, a Durham native, said as soon as he heard about the march he dropped a friend off at the airport, ran home and made a black T-shirt with the words “(expletive) TRUMP.”
“If they don’t come we know y’all (KKK) are scared,” he said.
Courtney Woods, 38, a professor of environmental health at UNC, said it didn’t matter if white supremacists did not march.
“I think this is a real concrete example of people ready to tear down racism and white supremacy,” she said. “This people showing up in body. I don’t think it matters if the KKK doesn’t come.”
Day of disruption
Durham attorney T. Greg Doucette was at the Durham County Courthouse at 9:30 a.m. when he said deputies informed the judge that the courthouse was closing.
“The judge pulled us aside and recalendared our case for another day,” Doucette said.
He then left the courthouse after speaking with Durham assistant district attorney Clayton Jones.
Scratch Baker Manager Thurmond Buckelew said they made the decision to close because of “growing anxieties.” A representative of the nearby Suntrust Bank came in to the restaurant and said the bank also would be closing early, he said.
“We just wanted to be home and not be in the middle of it,” Buckelew said.
Suntrust Bank officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
The Downtown Durham YMCA and the YMCA at American Tobacco closed and all programs at both locations were canceled.
Eight people have been charged in Durham this week after a Monday protest tore down a Confederate statue in downtown Durham. The protest was a response to last weekend’s violence at a white supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Staff writers Joe Johnson and Ray Gronberg contributed to this story.
This is a developing story. Come back for updates.