The #DurhamHoax or How a Rumor Shut Down a Major NC City

On Friday, August 18th, a large portion of a major city in North Carolina was shut down over a rumor – that the KKK was going to march on the city at noon.  What follows is an outline of the events of that day as well as questions about what has turned out to be the #DurhamHoax.

A rumor was started about a KKK protest in Durham at noon on Friday. It never happened. This is what did happen.

The Rumor Begins

Two individuals seem to be at the origin of the #DurhamHoax rumor: Lawyer for the Durham statue vandals, C. Scott Holmes, and Durham Councilwoman Jillian Johnson.

Holmes appears to be the first to tweet out the rumor at 9:44 a.m. I tweeted to Holmes asking for his source of this claim. Holmes has not responded.

Within one minute, at 9:45 a.m., Durham Councilwoman Jillian Johnson retweets Holmes.

It is worth noting that Councilwoman Johnson has a personal interest in these protests and is affiliated with several of the groups involved in raising money for legal expenses for those arrested for the toppling of the statue.

Johnson, through Southern Vision Alliance and the Durham Solidarity Center, has affiliations with groups involved in the “counter protests” held during the #DurhamHoax as well.  How these have not been seen as a conflict of interest up until now is unknown.

Helping to further Holmes and Johnson’s rumor was the progressive liberal publication, Indyweek, who publishes an article online by 10:37 a.m. The article’s opening paragraph is literal hearsay, with no verification from the source. Emphasis added below.

This morning, INDY reporter Sarah Willets was at the Durham County Courthouse, where she heard that Sheriff Mike Andrews had confirmed that a hate group—possibly the Klan—was going to hold a demonstration at noon.

Ms. Willets heard this from what source? The article doesn’t say.  This is irresponsible and loose reporting at best.

American Lens has reached out to the Durham Sheriff for comment on the Indyweek article but did not receive a reply by publishing time. Since then, the Sheriff’s office has responded.

Spokeswoman Tamara Gibbs responded to our inquiry and expressed that the Sheriff wished to convey neither Holmes nor Johnson reached out to him for explanation prior to tweeting their concerns.

“Thanks for reaching out for clarification. The sheriff has posted a statement on Facebook in response to the concerns raised by two Durham attorneys and a Durham City Council member on social media,” wrote Gibbs.  “He would also like you to know that none of those parties contacted him directly to share their grievance or to seek an explanation. His statement is also provided in full below.”

Gibbs also provided the text of a statement by Sheriff Andrews that was posted to Facebook:

“We’re aware of the concerns posted on social media; however, our critics were not sitting in the Command Post monitoring and reviewing incoming intel throughout the day, which included rumored Klan sightings with the potential of putting lives at risk. Furthermore, the Sheriff’s Office had a duty and obligation to take precautionary measures, including notifying leaders in the community of the potential of a counter protest to the demonstrators on Monday evening.

Sharing that information with key individuals, including a representative of demonstrators who were staged outside the courthouse Friday morning, was in no way a signal for them to independently sound the alarm ahead of law enforcement, potentially triggering needless panic and anxiety. Our goal was to avoid the possibility of groups with opposing viewpoints violently clashing in the streets of Durham. A tornado watch is not the same as a tornado warning. My Agency was still in the process of verifying the information that was shared as a courtesy and in an abundance of caution with key individuals.

We’re grateful those who gathered in the streets were able to do so safely while law enforcement and other emergency officials worked hard to ensure their safety. Had my Office never said a word and the Klan never arrived, it would’ve been a normal Friday in the Bull City. Had it never given key leaders advanced warning and the Klan arrived, my Agency would’ve been criticized for being silent with prior knowledge, albeit unverified.”

The second Indyweek paragraph attempted to lend credibility to the first:

A few minutes ago, Durham City Council member Jillian Johnson and Scott Holmes, the attorney representing the eight who were arrested for toppling a Confederate monument Monday, tweeted that it’s happening.

Are you following this so far? The lawyer for the vandals who ripped down a Confederate statue and a Durham Councilwoman tweeted out allegations and rumors as fact.

Following those tweets, a sympathetic media outlet bolstered their claims – even after the Durham Sheriff tells them in a statement that there is no specific threat of a KKK march or any other for that matter planned. Here’s the statement that was given to Indyweek:

“The Sheriff’s Office is thoroughly researching the potential of several groups with opposing viewpoints holding demonstrations in Durham. This is partly why the Sheriff’s Office continues to remind demonstrators to first obtain a permit and most importantly, abide by the law. I expect demonstrators to conduct themselves in such a manner that is legal and respectful of the Durham County community. Again, I call upon city and county leaders to establish rules for demonstrators.”

Within an hour of the rumor first being tweeted, an alphabet soup of progressive activists begin showing up in Durham carrying signs and banners. Roads are blocked off. Businesses closed early. Local media cover the event non-stop.

The day proceeds and there isn’t a single verified report of a KKK member or white supremacist. The only ones who did show up, illegally and without a permit, were “counter-protesters”.

It isn’t unreasonable to offer the possibility this was not spontaneous. The rumor was a purposeful lie and quite possibly was a PR stunt aimed at distracting from the charges filed against activists from a communist organization who ripped down a Durham statue.

This whole chain of events smells from top to bottom.

All Reports of KKK “Unverified”, No Permits Issued

The City of Durham verified that not a single event permit had been issued for Friday the 18th.  The city’s official account used the hashtag, #StopTheRumorsDurham.

At no time did the Durham Sheriff’s office acknowledge that a ‘hate group’ had plans to march on Durham. In fact, the only protest to be monitored that day according to the Durham Sheriff was that of the “counter-protesters” as it was not legally permitted.

The Durham Sheriff’s Twitter account also asked citizens not to spread rumors and used only “VERIFIED” information.

At 1:42 p.m., the Durham Sheriff tweets out that there have been “numerous reports” of the KKK coming to Durham and they are “all unverified.”

Yet the rumors persisted and even escalated.

From #DefendDurham to #DurhamHoax

About 10 minutes after Holmes and Johnson tweet out the rumor the KKK and white supremacists were coming, #DefendDurham and #KKKAlert are showing up in feeds on Twitter.  Here are a few of the first tweets found.

One early tweet of note is that of D’Atra Jackson, a BLM activist.  D’atra claimed in a tweet that she was the ‘queer black woman’ responsible for pulling down the Confederate statue in front of the Durham Courthouse.

Within the hour, far left activists including Antifa, Black Lives Matter, BYP100, World Workers Party, Industrial Workers of the World, Triangle Indivisible Group, Triangle SURJ and more were converging on downtown Durham.

More #DurhamHoax Rumors Fly

Claims that the KKK had shown up and unverified rumors that there were armed white supremacists roaming around Durham were spread around on social media just minutes before the alleged ‘noon hate march’ was supposed to happen.

Once again, Councilwoman Johnson appears to have been tweeting unverified information and asking people to just ‘trust her’.

I tweeted directly to Johnson about her claims in the above tweets. The Councilwoman has yet to respond.

More false information followed, including a tweet from Loan Tran – the organizer of the Communist World Workers Party. Tran arrested for helping topple the Durham statue last week.

It appears these reports were either false or the persons were misidentified as being alleged white supremacists. Most of these reports of alleged white supremacists turned out to be the counter-protesters, such as this image circulated on Facebook:

Alleged-White-Supremacist-International-Workers-DurhamHoaxThis is actually a counter-protester carrying the Industrial Workers of the World flag. The hat the person in the photo wears is a Maoist red star of communist China. That is not something you’d typically see a KKK member wearing.

The flag seen in the above photo can be seen being waved in the middle of the street later in the day outside the Durham jail.

A member of the NC media working for WUNC tweeted out that a “Motorcyclist with confederate flag on jacket just drove down Main Street.” The tweet did not offer context, an image nor corroboration.

The same reporter, Jason deBruyn, would also tweet an image of a black man walking up the middle of a road wearing an ad-hoc executioners hood and carrying an ax.



To deBruyn’s credit, he identifies one of the alleged ‘armed white supremacists’ as being one of the “counter-protesters.”

deBruyn would later tweet that these 2 armed protesters, who were not KKK or white supremacists, were “not representative of this anti-protest.”

One Guy = The KKK Are In Durham

Also circulated on social media as evidence that the KKK or white supremacists were in Durham was a video clip of one man in a grey sleeveless shirt being yelled at by a mob. The man appears to give the finger to some of the protesters as they scream “No Trump, No KKK, No Fascist USA!”

It is unclear if this man was affiliated with any organization and the footage seems to indicate he perhaps disagreed with the protesters was just trying to get through the crowd.

In particular, the man is seen literally being screamed at by Triangle Indivisible Group leader, Elena Ceberio.  A second man in a blue tank top seems to intervene and hugs Ceberio.

Ceberio led the failed protest of a Pro-Trump rally in March of this year in Raleigh and another arguably failed protest in June. She also has been arrested at Moral Monday.

053017 Ceberio, Elena

Ceberio is the woman dressed in black with the red bandana and the white hair in the clip below.

A slightly larger, clearer version can of the clip can be viewed here.

“Mostly Peaceful” Protests?

The media’s favorite go-to line since the covering of Occupy Wall Street has been that of “mostly peaceful” protests.  In the case of the #DurhamHoax, that description would be accurate.

However, once the bulk of the protesters started to leave, a group of about two dozen decided to start a confrontation with Durham police in riot gear.

The protesters refused to comply with police instructions to disperse, protesters yelled and chanted at police and one threw a bottle of water at police. All of this was broadcast live on CBS North Carolina.

#DurhamHoax Overshadows Other Events

While the #DurhamHoax sucked all of the oxygen out of the air, four protesters were arrested in Asheville trying to remove Confederate monument.

Those arrested include, Nicole Townsend, age 24, Amy Cantrell, age 45, Hillary Brown, age 30 and Adrienne Sigmon, age 34. All of the women are from Asheville and were charged with damage to real property.

Duke University removed a Robert E. Lee statue from the entryway to Duke Chapel during the middle of the night.

In neighboring Chapel Hill, the mayor called on UNC to take down Silent Sam statue.

Editorial Note: This article has been updated to include a statement from the Durham Sheriff’s office.

About A.P. Dillon

A.P. Dillon is a reporter currently writing at The North State Journal. She resides in the Triangle area of North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_ Tips:
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