Shots fired incident cited as central point in “Fame” relocation arguments. Who is the man charged in the incident?
Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 18, 2020
SALISBURY — On Sunday, May 31, at 5:36 p.m., a post by the Facebook page Fame Preservation Group stated, “BREAKING: Protesters are gathering in front of Fame at this very moment, defend her!”
Eight “monument guards” went to the protest downtown that night with the intention of defending “Fame” against any potential vandalism or destruction, the local group told the Post. But the group also said Jeffrey Long, the man arrested for shooting off a gun during the peaceful protest that evening, had “no connection” to the Fame Preservation Group or the North Carolina Liberty Guard. His alleged actions, however, have been a focal point in now-successful arguments to move the monument.
Who is Long, then, and what happened that evening?
Long, 49, is from Kernersville. A report June 2 by the Southern Poverty Law Center names him as a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Montgomery, Alabama, was founded in 1971 by civil rights lawyers to continue in working towards civil rights. Their work includes litigation, education and the tracking and identification of hate groups. The Sons of Confederate Veterans is not defined as a hate group by the center.
Long was contacted for this story at the number listed in a Salisbury Police report. The man who answered the phone said he wouldn’t talk for the story and then said it was the wrong number. The North Carolina Sons of Confederate Veterans did not respond for comment by press time. But in a general news release issued Saturday, the organization said it would take every action necessary to prevent the removal of Confederate statues.
“We cannot and will not stand idly by as a small, noisy, organized group of Marxist revolutionaries terrorize the majority of our citizens and manipulate local governments into submission,” the N.C. Sons of Confederate Veterans said in its statement.
The Facebook page of Lt. F.C. Frazier Camp #668, Sons of Confederate Veterans identifies Long as a member and “compatriot” in various photos. A July 2018 newsletter for Sons of Confederate Veterans identified “Jeff Long and Nathaniel Long” as “members of the Frazier camp.” An October 2018 Frazier Camp newsletter also named Long as an attendee in of a Sons of Confederate Veterans dinner. A leaked membership list for Sons of Confederate Veterans by Charlies McGee also included Long, the Southern Poverty Law Center found.
Within the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a Confederate heritage group, Long was also identified as a member of a Mechanized Cavalry, a special group of members who ride motorcycles.
The refrain of defending the heritage, such as monuments and Confederate flags, is often a big part of the Sons of Confederate Veterans Confederate heritage, said Megan Squire, a professor of computer science at Elon University and a data scientist who studies online right-wing extremist movements.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans is not classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, said Howard Graves, senior research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center. But a key part of Confederate groups that are classified as hate groups is the adherence to the Lost Cause, Graves said, although that alone would not justify a listing as a hate group.
The narrative of the Lost Cause centers on the Civil War. The idea is that the South was right in fighting the Civil War and should look to secede again, Graves said. According to this narrative, the main motive behind secession was states’ rights, not slavery, Squire said. The entire project of the Lost Cause is to whitewash the South’s decision to secede in order to maintain the institution of chattel slavery, Graves said.
“Today, most professional historians agree … that slavery and the status of African Americans were at the heart of the crisis that plunged the U.S. into a civil war from 1861 to 1865,” states a brochure on slavery and the Civil War produced by the National Parks Service and available on the website for Shiloh National Park in Tennessee.
A May 2019 photograph by photojournalist Anthony Crider at a United Daughters of the Confederacy event shows Long with James Shillinglaw, a member of both the Mechanized Cavalry and the League of the South, which has historically been one of the largest organized Confederate groups, Graves said. It was first listed as a hate group in the early 2000s.
The Southern Poverty Law Center report also referenced a Facebook account identified as Long, which is under the name of “Jeff Long” and features photographs of a man resembling Long. That account is friends with Gary Williamson, the leader of ACTBAC (Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County), which is another Confederate group. That group has perpetrated racist rhetoric towards a local mosque community, Graves said.
It isn’t clear whether or not Long was a lone actor on Sunday, Squire said. She did not see any chatter about Sunday in the far-right, online chatrooms she studies. The Fame Preservation Group told the Post there were multiple groups present during the shots fired incident besides Black Lives Matter protesters.
A Fame Preservation Group administrator declined to provide his name to the Post for this story.
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Mahogany Koontz was an organizer of several of the initial protests downtown. They were in response to George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter movement, she said, as opposed to being directly about the “Fame” Confederate statue in downtown Salisbury.
The protests on May 31 were located downtown because it’s a central part of Salisbury, she said.
“A lot of cars were going to see us downtown,” she said.
Around 10 Confederate monument supporters stood near the statue during the protest, Koontz said. Their number ranged from seven to 15 people as some came and left, said Anthony Smith, who was also in attendance at the protest.
Words were exchanged back and forth between the protesters and those there for the statue. Koontz remembers one person threatening to use a stun gun on the protesters.
Smith was in attendance to help with safety and to offer guidance to the protesters, many of whom were children, middle schoolers and high schoolers, he said. Koontz, herself, is 19 years old. Smith says that he tried to keep the protesters and statue supporters separated. He also tried to remind Long and others that these protesters were young.
“Do you actually believe that these children are going to take down your statue?” he recalled saying. “These are kids.”
At some point, Salisbury-Rowan NAACP President Gemale Black said he asked police officers to come closer to the area on account of rising tension. Long pointed his finger at individual protesters and threatened to kill them, said Smith and Koontz.
“I’ll shoot you. I’ll shoot you. I’ll shoot you,” Long said as he pointed at protesters, according to Smith and Koontz.
Then, there were gunshots in the air.
At 7 p.m. Long allegedly fired two rounds into the air from a pistol after pulling it out of his waistband, according to a police news release from June 1.
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Smith isn’t sure what would’ve happened if he and Black weren’t there. After Long shot off the gun, they went on either side of him to keep him and the protesters separated, and they guided him over to the police, Smith said.
To him, Long’s actions aren’t the only problem. They forced the larger question about the statue’s presence downtown.
To Smith, the answer is clear: the statue makes the area around it volatile. Confederate statues and flags have long been sites of confrontations, which has been escalating over time, Smith said. The fact that Long came to Salisbury from Kernersville to protect Fame shows the power and danger of the statue.
“Children were endangered exercising their First Amendment right,” he said.
What a person thinks about the statue is at least partly wrapped up in their understanding of the past and its relation to the present, he said. That often includes whether or not a person believes in the Lost Cause. Smith does not.
The Fame Preservation Group offered an assessment that differs from Smith, saying that “11 states legally seceded to defy economic oppression from the federal government’s tariffs on the agrarian south’s economy.” And comments during Tuesday’s Salisbury City Council meeting ranged in viewpoints. Some agreed the monument should be moved. Others said it should stay where it is to remind people of history. Still others said it appears to be an angel cradling a soldier.
Smith said before Tuesday’s council vote that the city would be faced with a question of what t0 do, in part, because of Long’s actions. And on Tuesday, they opted to take steps toward removing the Confederate monument via two resolutions — one without concessions for the United Daughters of the Confederacy and another that declares it a public safety issue that must be resolved by July 16.