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Politics & Government

GOP lawmaker fears ‘civil war’ after Silent Sam toppled

Republican state legislators angry that a mob toppled the Silent Sam Confederate memorial on UNC’s campus are worried about the type of precedent it will set.

A group of protesters on Monday night used a rope to yank down Silent Sam, which the university spent $390,000 to protect during the 2017-2018 fiscal year. Some Democrats argue the statue should stay down because it can be considered offensive, but some Republicans have invoked a “slippery slope” narrative when pushing back against that argument.

“Once a right is gone, it’s gone forever. This is more than just statues,” state Rep. Brenden Jones of Columbus County wrote in a Facebook post about preserving history.

“If someone is offended by Thomas Jefferson, would it be permissible for them to vandalize or destroy the Jefferson Memorial?” state Rep. Jon Hardister of Guilford County posted on Facebook.

State Rep. Larry Pittman, a Concord Republican, took it a step further.

In a post on Rep. Michael Speciale’s Facebook page, Pittman suggested that chaos will be the result if nothing is done.

“I contacted a friend on the UNC Board of Governors and told him that whoever decided that nothing would be done to stop this from happening should be summarily fired and any UNC students who were involved should (be) expelled,” Pittman’s post says. “I called the Chancellor’s office and left a message to that effect, as well. If we don’t stand up and put a stop to this mob rule, it could lead to an actual civil war.”

A screenshot of comments posted on Facebook by state Rep. Larry Pittman. N&O Screenshot

Pittman is one of several who suggested that law enforcement, UNC officials and North Carolina politicians should be held accountable for the downed statue.

In a telephone interview Wednesday, state Rep. Bob Steinburg of northeastern North Carolina said he was appalled at law enforcement officers — he’s not sure which agency they work for — standing back, “even smiling” as protesters took down Silent Sam.

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“Whoever was on that security detail that allowed this to take place and are seen in this video and can be identified ... need to lose their jobs. Whoever gave the directive to stand down, then these folks need to be fired,” Steinburg said. He added that he’s heard from many constituents, even Democrats, who want to keep the monuments in place.

Several Orange County Democrats in the legislature who issued a statement Tuesday had a different view.

“It was past time for Silent Sam to be moved from a place of honor on the campus of the University of the People,” Rep. Verla Insko tweeted on behalf of her and Sen. Valerie Foushee and Rep. Graig Meyer. “It is unfortunate that state legislators chose not to hear and pass the bill we filed earlier this year to move the monument to an indoor site where it would stand as an reminder of the bitter racial struggle that continues to burden our country.”

Steinburg said the movement by North Carolina progressives to remove Confederate statues is “a huge political miscalculation.” Polls by Civitas and Public Policy Polling last year found that more people support the monuments than oppose them.

“If there were something on the ballot this year in regard to keeping our monuments, people would turn out in droves,” Steinburg said.


State Sen. Ronald Rabin of Harnett County, for his part, blamed Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein.

“Responsibility for law enforcement falls to the executive branch — the Governor and (Attorney) General. Unfortunately they are liberals and liberals only enforce laws they like. It is the job of the Governor and Attorney General to arrest the perps and start the process of administering justice,” Rabin posted on Facebook, adding: “Contact the Governor and AG and demand they do their job and enforce the law.”

Neither Stein nor Cooper has direct authority over town or campus law enforcement.

In a thread on Rabin’s post, Pittman suggested he wants to retaliate.

“Some funding cuts might be in order, and public officials who refuse to do their jobs can face legal consequences other than electoral defeat,” Pittman posted.

The UNC Board of Governors said Wednesday that it will hire an outside firm to look into how the university and local police responded to the incident.


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Specht: 919-829-4870 @AndySpecht
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