In September, a group that expresses white supremacist and neo-Nazi sentiments announced it would hold a torchlight rally in uptown Charlotte. The group calls itself Anticom. A counter protest was quickly organized. All of this was to take place this Thursday night.
Anticom soon canceled its rally, citing unspecified security concerns. But the counter protest was still held. And although everyone there was officially on the same side, there were still tensions.
Thirty or so people gathered around the Martin Luther King statue in Marshall Park. A collection of men and women clad in black with their faces covered. Some held banners. Others waved red flags. They identified themselves as members of the anti-fascist group known as antifa. It's a loose coalition and many of them believe in fighting Nazis, quite literally.
"Love doesn’t trump hate. Punch a Nazi in the face," they chanted.
No Nazis were punched. They knew the torchlight rally had been canceled. But the man working the bullhorn said they came prepared for the worst just in case.
"Just because [Anticom] had radio silence doesn’t mean that they weren’t going to be there," said one man who wouldn't give his name, but said he was from Charlotte. If the hate group did show up he added, "We didn’t want to be caught like sitting ducks."
That group was the largest and most visible contingent of the demonstration Thursday night. But they weren’t alone. At one point Bill Dudley, clad in a blue parka, strode up to the front of the antifa crowd and calmly held a sign which read "Hate is not an American value."
The 74-year-old Dudley is from New Hampshire, but he winters in Charlotte. He was one of the twenty or so protesters not aligned with antifa.
"They have their agenda," he said,."This is a loose affiliation. We're with the peaceful march and just making a stand."
Jibril Hough was one of the organizers of that peaceful march. And he was disappointed that antifa members had become the headliners of this protest. "What can you do?" he asked rhetorically. "You can't make them leave. They are on our side, just their strategies are different than ours."
And, he added, their shared enemy. Anticom was nowhere in sight.
"You know no matter how chaotic some of the moments may be today, you can say that we won today. It was a victory," said Hough.
The most notable of those moments came as the official organizers were thanking the crowd for braving the cold. They then handed the mic to one of the protesters in all black.
"In order to be anti-white supremacy, we also have to call it for what it is. The same police department that protects Nazis and KKK members every single day are the same people we're up against," he said.
That was too much for Charlotte City Councilwoman LaWanna Mayfield.
"These people that we see standing up here in this blue, they're out here to protect all of us. So if you want to see a change," she said in a stern voice, "than you figure out what you need to do to be one of them."
As she continued the antifa member grabbed his bullhorn for an expletive-filled anti-police chant.
Soon after, the demonstrators formed a column and marched down to the corner of Trade and Tryon with a police escort.