Gastonia — Several dozen people showed up to a Gastonia outdoors store on Saturday to mount a counter-protest against an Antifa rally that didn’t happen.
A recent Facebook page called Gaston County Antifa, which is a portmanteau for “antifascist,” had posted earlier in the week that group members “from at least 10 states” were planning to gather in front of the Gander Outdoors in Franklin Square. Other than the Facebook page, there’s no evidence of any such group actually existing in Gaston County, but that didn’t stop those spreading the rumors. Even local website CharlotteStories ran a widely shared article about the fake rally.
The dozens of counter-protesters stood in front of the Gander store waving flags, including American and Trump flags. Some, like Terry Pennington, came from out of the county to be at the outdoors store.
A massive American flag flies from the parking lot in front of the store, and Pennington said he’d heard that Antifa members were going to light it on fire.
“They ain’t here because they’re still in their momma’s basement,” Pennington said.
Pennington made the trip to Gastonia from Locust. He said the Gaston County Antifa post was “most likely” a prank.
“But you see the true supporters,” Pennington said. “We don’t care if it’s a prank. We’re going to show up because what’s going to happen is they’re going to call this and then we ain’t going to show up and then they’re going to really burn down an American flag and it’s going to cause someone to seriously have problems.”
The Gaston Antifa post claimed the point of the rally was to start a petition to remove “the Nazi statue at the Gaston County Courthouse and recruiting new members.” There’s no Nazi statue in front of the courthouse. There is, however, a Confederate statue in front of the courthouse, and some of the people who showed up at the store Saturday were members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Some online responses to the Gaston County Antifa Facebook posts threatened violence.
Police at the scene said there had been no problems reported by about 10:30 a.m.
Gastonia officer B. Syboutlan said police presence was “just precaution, pretty much.”
The Gaston County Antifa page posted a photo of a group of people in the woods, claiming it was taken recently in Asheville, but the same photo had been used before, including by a Colorado Antifa page. The local Facebook page also claimed its members had been “training and preparing” from “the gym to the gun range” and posted a video in which a masked figure called the NRA “basically a terrorist organization” and claimed that the Civil War was fought against “the Britons.”
Earlier in the week, Cleveland County Sheriff’s Maj. Joel Shores posted to Facebook that local law enforcement had no evidence any such group actually exists here. The Gaston Antifa page had also made posts about that agency.
“We believe at this time there is no such group in Gaston County,” Shores wrote. “Unfortunately, social media can be a platform for one person to cause concerns and try to entice violence and hate.”
Pennington told The Gazette he and others planned to stay at Gander Outdoors “until we know Antifa ain’t coming.”
People were still outside of the store close to noon.
You can reach Dashiell Coleman at 704-869-1819 or on Twitter @DashiellColeman