Two arrested for trespassing at Confederate rally in Graham
GRAHAM — They drove hours from their homes in Eastern North Carolina, hiding out on a roof last weekend to play a mysterious part in a pro-Confederate demonstration in Alamance County.
No one seems to know what activist organization the two men represented, or what they ultimately hoped to accomplish with the unfurling of a vague banner over the side of downtown building.
What’s clear, though, is that both men — arrested for trespassing May 20 during a Confederate rally in Graham’s Court Square — are active members of the Marine Corps and were displaying a banner with symbolism associated with modern white nationalist movements.
Though the USMC hasn’t yet taken action in connection with the incident involving Michael Joseph Chesny, 35, of Havelock, and Joseph Warner Manning, 32, of Jacksonville, the military branch has publicly come out against the cause for which the two men apparently stood.
“Of course we condemn this type of behavior,” Maj. Clark Carpenter said. “We condemn any type of behavior that is not congruent with our values or that is illegal.”
Carpenter described the pair’s actions and potential involvement with questionable activist organizations as “not representative of the rest of the Marine Corps,” a group of some 185,000 individuals.
“This is two Marines that behaved inappropriately,” Carpenter said. “That’s going to be investigated, and ultimately it’s an isolated incident.”
The two men, charged with misdemeanor first-degree trespassing, were released the same day from the Alamance County jail on $1,500 bonds. The sheriff’s office previously said the two men were released on a written promise to appear in court.
According to public affairs representatives with Chesny’s and Manning’s respective units, the incident is still being investigated by military personnel, who are awaiting more information from local authorities in Alamance County.
Manning, a staff sergeant stationed at the Marine Corps Combat Engineer School at Camp Lejeune, is an instructor in the program, said Capt. Joshua Pena, a public affairs officer in the training and education command.
Manning joined the USMC in 2002, and has been a staff sergeant since 2014, earning a number of awards — including a Purple Heart — as well as good conduct, Afghanistan campaign and Iraq campaign medals.
Chesny is a sergeant stationed at Cherry Point, where he serves as an explosive ordnance technician. He enlisted in November 2007 and became a sergeant in May 2013, said Mike Barton, director of public affairs at Cherry Point.
Chesny has received three Marine Corps good conduct medals, as well as multiple medals related to his deployment in Afghanistan.
The arrests have generated quite a bit of attention among personnel inside the fence, a USMC representative said.
Manning and Chesny are accused of climbing on top of 101 N. Main St., a building adjacent to the historic courthouse, prior to Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County’s Confederate Memorial Day rally. They allegedly brought a ladder, which they pulled up behind them after reaching the top of the building.
Graham police Capt. Steve McGilvray told the Times-News the men explained to officers they were at the rally to film protesters with the Industrial Workers of the World to “show they weren’t peaceful.”
At one point during the rally, the men let down a banner that read, “He who controls the past controls the future,” a quote from George Orwell’s novel “1984,” and also featuring an Identitarian symbol and “YWNRU” on the side. The acronym stands for “You will not replace us,” the slogan chanted by demonstrators carrying torches May 13 in Charlottesville, Va., at a protest surrounding the removal of a Confederate monument and, according to its leader, an affirmation of being white.
It’s also a slogan used recently by white nationalist activist group Identity Evropa, an online application for which asks candidates to confirm they are of “European, non-Semitic heritage.”
Though investigators with the sheriff’s office and Graham Police Department said they are unsure of which organization Chesny and Manning were representing — or whether they were with a particular group at all — Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, said the black and yellow Identitarian symbol on the banner “goes hand in hand” with the “YWNRU” slogan.
Beirich, who oversees the SPLC’s tracking of extremist activity across the United States, said the Identitarian movement, which originated in Europe in response the immigration of Muslims and people from the Middle East, has gained traction in the United States recently.
“In the last year, we’ve seen this Identitarian thinking go across the Atlantic into the U.S.,” Beirich said, adding that the spread of Identitarian literature has picked up. “It’s in the last year that it’s gotten really aggressive.”
Though in Europe the Identitarian focus is “the idea that Muslims are coming and replacing historic populations and Christianity,” Beirich said, the emphasis may be even wider in the United States.
“In the U.S., the immigration that most white supremacists are concerned about — they don’t like Muslims, but they’re really concerned about immigration from Latin America, which they see as the browning of America and the takeover of our culture and a demographic threat, literally. The census says in 2040, whites will become a minority.”
For its part, ACTBAC, which organized and obtained a city permit for the Confederate rally, posted on its Facebook page that they were still unsure from what organization or cause Manning and Chesny came.
As Graham police officers pulled up the banner, ACTBAC members cheered “because we assumed it was another ‘IWW banner,’” the group wrote in a Facebook post about the incident. “We thought by the wording it was 110% some anti-everything slogan,” the post continues, alleging that ACTBAC members had tried researching the sign’s meaning but “still can't figure out what these guys were there to express.
“Either way who ever they are, they are not us. If anyone comes to a event of ours and breaks the law and shows disrespect, you will be escorted out just like these fools wearing a new pair of bracelets.
“And the scary part is, they are both Marines,” ACTBAC posted.
According to an SPLC report, after the organization put pressure on the Pentagon and Congress related to findings that a number of white supremacists were joining the U.S. military to receive training ultimately to support their own causes, in November 2009, the Pentagon clarified its policy on the issue.
Though the earlier policy prohibited only “active participation” in extremist activity, new regulations say military personnel “‘must not actively advocate supremacist doctrine, ideology or causes’ or ‘otherwise advance efforts to deprive individuals of their civil rights.’ The new rules specified that “active participation” includes activities such as recruiting, fundraising, demonstrating or rallying, training, organizing and distributing supremacist material, including online posts, according to the SPLC Intelligence Report story.
Beirich said the SPLC regularly reports to the military members of the armed forces they come across who are affiliated with extremist groups.
“They are taking action on things,” Beirich said. “I know that. We report the stuff, and they say ‘thank you.’”
The SPLC is unsure how many military personnel have been disciplined or removed from the service after military investigations into extremist activity.
Beirich said the activity demonstrated by Chesny and Manning at the rally in Graham should warrant severe punishment by the Marine Corps.
“Those people should be tossed from the military immediately,” Beirich said. “That’s outrageous, and it’s scary.”
When reached by phone Friday, Manning said he appreciated the opportunity to speak about the incident, but said he wasn’t allowed to comment. Chesny didn’t immediately respond to a voice message seeking comment.
Pena, echoing other USMC representatives’ statements, said straying from the organization’s tenets could result in consequences.
“Anyone who is a member of the Marine Corps that demonstrates a lack of good order and discipline and a lack of respect of our core values of honor, courage and commitment will be looked at and investigated,” Pena said. “Action will be taken on an individual, if necessary, if there are any sorts of allegations that substantiate failure to adhere to those things.
“We don’t know the outcome right now for the current situation. We’re waiting on details to come in.”
Carpenter maintained that Chesny and Manning’s behavior was an exception.
“This is only newsworthy because these are Marines doing something we don’t expect military to do,” he said.