A Pattern of Racial Hatred and an Unconcerned Sheriff and Newspaper
Writer's note: The source for this story wishes to remain off the record. When she contacted me, she asked that I protect her identity, as she is afraid of harassment and retaliation. She provided me with pictures of the banner and also a copy of a text message string that proved that she found the banner, removed it from the overpass, and reported it to the Moore County Sheriff's Department.
Late Sunday morning (December 18), the Moore County Community - still struggling to recover from an act of domestic terrorism on the county’s infrastructure that left over half of its citizens without electricity for five days - began seeing news reports that someone had hung a huge racist banner over an overpass on US 1 near Vass. The message on the banner featured swastikas and antisemitic language “BRING IT ALL DOWN” and “1488.” The timing is concerning, as the banner was discovered just hours before the first night of Hanukkah.
The Town of Vass released the following statement to the press:
"Mayor Callahan, the Vass Board of Commissioners and staff; unequivocally denounce antisemitism and hate in any form. All forms of hate against any group will not be tolerated in our community. The disgusting antisemitic sign that was hung on a bridge near Vass does not reflect the beliefs of our community. The Town of Vass will rise above this hate. The United States of America is a land of inclusion and opportunity, not a place for antisemitism and hatred. The Town of Vass Police Department is available to assist the Moore County Sheriff's Department in their investigation into the culprits behind this vile sign."
Governor Roy Cooper made the following public statement:
"Violence and threats against Jewish communities are on the rise all across the world. White supremacy and antisemitism will not be tolerated in North Carolina, and our state stands strong against this hate.”
Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields and his department made no strong statement or condemnation regarding the banner. Instead the Sheriff's Department told members of the media that they were “in possession of the banner and are working to find out the meaning behind it and how it got there.”
The Moore County Sheriff’s Department’s lackadaisical response shouldn’t be surprising. After all, this isn’t the first time racist banners have been hung on bridges around Vass, and they have never taken it particularly seriously. Having said that, the fact that deputies are “looking into” what the banner “means” is so insulting that it’s almost comical. Even if no one in the Sheriff’s Department understood the symbols and words on the banner were clearly antisemitic, a quick Google search would have cleared that right up for them.
In July 2016, (when the Moore County Sheriff was Neil Godfrey), several highway overpasses in the Vass area were vandalized with racist graffiti. The graffiti featured the terms KKK, the N-word, and obscenities. The Sheriff's Department investigated briefly, but no arrests were ever made.
Moore recently, On July 1, 2022, a Moore County citizen was driving in the area and saw a racist banner being hung on an overpass in Vass. She turned around and removed the banner herself, then reported it to the Moore County Sheriff’s Department. The banner read “Defend the White Race” and displayed the social media account of a known white supremacy group on the social media site gab.com (a picture of this particular banner was provided to Moore Voices and is displayed at the end of this commentary), The woman took the banner to the Moore County Sheriff’s Department and asked to file a report. She insisted that she be allowed to report it as a hate crime. She took a deputy to the overpass where she spotted the banner. The deputy never asked her for a description of the man she saw hanging the banner. He never asked her for a description of the vehicle the man was driving (she recalls a late model 4 door jeep). The deputy also expressed doubt that the incident rose to the level of a hate crime.
As far as the woman who reported the banner to the Moore County Sheriff’s Department knows, that was the end of the “investigation.” The deputy never contacted her again. The social media account displayed on the banner (WLM_NC@gab.com) is no longer available. The public was never made aware of the incident and no one knows if there was any real effort to investigate or to find the owner of the banner or the social media account.
The woman reached out to Moore Voices on Monday evening to report the incident and share her perspective on it. Her children were in the car with her at the time she spotted and removed the banner. She was disturbed that they had been exposed to such hateful, racist rhetoric and that she was forced to have a serious conversation with them about why such language and public displays are “never okay.” She did not feel that her report was taken seriously by the Moore County Sheriff's Department.
Perhaps the most alarming piece of her story to me - as a member of the media - is that she reported the incident and emailed a picture of the banner to “The Pilot” last week - in case it was somehow connected to the attack on Moore County’s electrical substation. “The Pilot '' declined to report it - or even mention it in their coverage of the latest, anti Semitic banner found in that same area on Sunday morning. “The Pilot '' did mention the 2016 vandalism in its report, but not THIS banner - that was hung in the SAME PLACE and CLEARLY establishes a pattern of racial hatred and targeting of the Vass Community.
So it seems - on the surface anyway - that not only is the Moore County Sheriff’s Department not taking these incidents seriously, but neither is Moore County’s local newspaper.
***Commentary by Cheryl Christy. Cheryl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org