“Join us as we honor all the Americans heros [sic] who paid the ultimate sacrifice for OUR FREEDOM,” states a pinned post at the top of the public Facebook page for Reopen NC, the activist group formed in opposition to Gov. Roy Cooper’s stay-at-home order.
The post, made at 4:28 p.m. on May 20, includes a link to a Facebook event page proclaiming that that simultaneous “Freedom Rallies” will be held May 25 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Greensboro, Raleigh, Charlotte, Asheville and Wilmington. The Greensboro event is in Governmental Plaza at 110 S. Greene St.
“Together in 5 cities across our great state, We will rally and march for freedom,” states the event description. “We will honor the 2.8 Million (Wikipedia) Americans [sic] Military Heroes who paid the ultimate price for Freedom. Let their sacrifice not be in vain. Will you take a stand against Roy Cooper and his Unconstitutional Executive Order? Will you stand up for Freedom and the Freedom of generations to come?”
In a Zoom press conference on Thursday, Ashley Smith, one of the founders of Reopen NC, said “Safer at home Phase Two is not good enough for us.” ReOpen NC's co-founder Kristin Cochran left the organization on April 29 after accusing Smith of “nearly inciting a riot” in Raleigh.
A mass email from the group’s organizers on Thursday lists speakers at the Greensboro event as including Republican candidate for Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson and N.C. Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey.
When contacted by YES! Weekly last night, Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan was aware of the upcoming rally, but Jeff Phillips, Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners, said that he was not. In a 6:30 p.m. text, Vaughan explained that the necessary permit was issued by Guilford County rather than the City of Greensboro, as Governmental Plaza is county property. At 9:45 p.m., minutes after the meeting of the Board of Commissioners was adjourned, Phillips said that he was unaware of the event.
“I have no knowledge of that, but thanks for the heads up.”
City council representative at-large Michelle Kennedy was very much aware of the rally. Kennedy told YES! Weekly that she was concerned by reports that the Greensboro Police Department expects approximately 200 protesters. But, she said, despite its expected size, the rally is legal under Section 6 of Gov. Cooper’s Executive Order No. 138. That section states that the mass gatherings “for worship, or exercise of First Amendment rights” are not prohibited.
Later that evening, Kennedy texted the following statement:
“While I fully support first amendment expression, it is unclear to me how an anticipated group of 200 people will be able to maintain social distancing recommendations. This is a significant concern, particularly while Greensboro continues an upward trend in the number of COVID-19 cases.”
Kennedy also responded to the statement on the Reopen NC Facebook page that the rally was to honor those “who paid the ultimate sacrifice for OUR FREEDOM” with, “here’s hoping they don’t have to pay the ultimate sacrifice by ignoring health experts’ advice.”