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Armed Protesters Take To Historic Downtown

Randall Moore, center with tan pants, spoke with Raleigh police about the rules about openly carrying firearms during a protest.
Jason deBruyn

Nine protesters armed with military-style weapons and clothing gathered at the entrance of Oakwood Cemetery in downtown Raleigh Friday morning. Some of those protesters joined with a slightly larger group Friday afternoon to march around the downtown government district in protest of Gov. Roy Cooper's orders to slow the spread of the coronavirus. They said the measures infringed on their Constitutional rights.

The protesters are ideologically aligned with the ReOpenNC protesters who have gathered at the Governor's Mansion and the General Assembly building to protest the stay-at-home order.

The individuals made clear they were not a group – just a collection of like-minded people. They gathered shortly after 8 a.m. Raleigh police officers stationed themselves within a quarter mile of the cemetery and explained city rules that applied to openly carrying weapons while protesting, and on state property. The all-white group of individuals were told that they were not allowed to openly carry weapons while actively protesting, leading to sarcastic remarks by protester Stephen Wagner about not being allowed to use the "First and Second Amendments simultaneously."

Stephen Wagner says his constitutional rights have been infringed by Governor Roy Cooper's orders intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Credit Jason deBruyn / WUNC
Stephen Wagner says his constitutional rights have been infringed by Governor Roy Cooper's orders intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Exchanges with police were largely civil, though one of the armed individuals did raise his voice with an officer who was explaining state laws about carrying weapons on state property.

"I don't give a damn about your state law," the man said. "What about, 'Shall not be infringed' do you not understand?"

This protester did not provide his name.

The individuals stayed at Oakwood Cemetery for about two hours, talking with reporters and listening to music; the playlist included hits from Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, and Rage Against the Machine.

Later, some from the group joined with a protest organized by American Revolution 2.0, which was one of dozens across the nation Friday.

The armed protesters in front of the Historic Oakwood Cemetery.
Credit Jason deBruyn / WUNC
The armed protesters in front of the Historic Oakwood Cemetery on May 1.

The earlier meetup was organized through a Facebook group called Blue Igloo. Randall Moore, one of the protesters, said the name is a play on the word "boogaloo." That term is "often used by libertarians, gun enthusiasts, and anarchists to describe an uprising against the government or left-wing political opponents," according toThe Network Contagion Research Institute (NCRI), a group whose mission statement is "to track, expose, and combat misinformation, deception, manipulation, and hate across social media channels."

While the term is often used jokingly, according to NCRI, "an increasing number of people employ the phrase to incite an apocalyptic confrontation with law enforcement and government officials or to provoke ethnic warfare."

There were few confrontations with residents of Historic Oakwood. One resident named Jim Schaeffer approached the group to demand they remove their facemasks so he could take a picture of their faces.

"I don't view this as friendly. I view this as hostile," he said. "We didn't ask for this. We didn't ask for your participation. If you were here without your weaponry – good on you. No problem. … I don't want militia-style knuckleheads demonstrating in my neighborhood with their weaponry."

Jason deBruyn is the WUNC health reporter, a beat he took in 2020. He has been in the WUNC newsroom since 2016.
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