Nine men gathered at the gate to Oakwood Cemetery near downtown Raleigh Friday morning, most of them in paramilitary garb and carrying guns, on a day when groups had vowed ongoing protests against North Carolina’s stay-home order. The group then marched through downtown in the afternoon.
Raleigh police who were at the cemetery explained that under state law, people cannot simultaneously carry weapons openly and stage a protest. The men countered that they were not affiliated, in many cases did not know each other, and planned to demonstrate peacefully.
Steve Wagner, who said he has attended all ReOpenNC rallies but said he was not there on the group’s behalf, carried a sign that read, “Still Here, Still Healthy.”
“I specifically brought a sign instead of my twin revolvers and now you’re telling me I can have the sign but no twin revolvers?” he asked, carrying an American flag.
At noon, many of the same protesters, moved downtown, many of them with guns out. Wagner, who was then wearing two revolvers in holsters, was among them.
The protesters numbers varied between eight and a dozen.
Police lined the sidewalk around the Capitol, keeping the armed marchers away, so they walked across the street past the Supreme Court and back to the legislative building.
“We were told we can’t use our 1st Amendment and our 2nd Amendment at the same time,” Wagner said. “We’ll be back on Tuesday to do the 1st.”
The streets were nearly empty as protesters passed. Most businesses and offices were closed. But the march drew a few responses.
A lone woman stood holding a sign: “God is Essential.”
“When the liquor stores are open and churches close,” Wagner said, applauding her. “I know we’ve got problems.”
Sarah Woodard David, though, took a different tack. A downtown resident, she walked around the governor’s mansion carrying her child’s Nerf gun, mocking the marchers.
Randall Moore, who was unarmed at the cemetery, said Gov. Roy Cooper’s order is unlawful. Asked how it related to the Second Amendment, he said all rights are important.
“It’s more important now because people are exercising their First Amendment rights and they’re getting handcuffs slapped on them,” he said, referring to four arrests at Tuesday’s ReOpenNC protest.
One resident who lives near the cemetery confronted the protesters, insisting they take off their masks and put away their guns.
“If you’re trying to make a point in my neighborhood, do it without the weaponry and the militia style,” said Jim Schaefer. “If you’re really from this neighborhood, let me know who you are. ... I hope you knuckleheads get out of here soon.”
The men thanked him for his opinion and said they were trying to spark dialogue.
As they did, another man drove past with his middle finger raised.
Oakwood Cemetery is among the city’s oldest, a private burial grounds that includes graves for North Carolina governors, NC State basketball coach Jim Valvano and many Confederate soldiers.
It is popular with runners, walkers and children riding bicycles. Asked why they chose it, the men said they heard it was a nice spot.
Cooper’s stay-at-home order, in place to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, is in effect through May 8.
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