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Death threats and train whistles

White supremacists harass Triad woman

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White supremacists harass Triad woman

*Editor's note: A name was misspelled and Maya Little's pronoun was incorrect in the print version of this article. The "Unsung Founders" statue did not replace "Silent Sam," as was misreported by another source. All have been updated in the online version.

When an alleged neo-Confederate counter-protester saw a University of North Carolina graduate student on the street in Graham, he began singing a Johnny Cash song with gruesome new lyrics mocking her brother’s death in a train accident.

Lindsay Ayling, who moved to an undisclosed location in the Triad after white supremacists doxxed her, sent YES! Weekly her video of this encounter. (She identified the man in it as Robbie Butler. This writer, who has witnessed Butler yelling insults at anti-racist demonstrators, also recognized him from the video.) Elon University professor Tony Crider, who researches neo-Confederates (and has been assaulted by them), stated that the man in the video is “definitely Butler.”

Butler has not responded to YES! Weekly’s multiple requests for comment. 

In late August, I sent multiple messages and emails to people who had been filmed mocking Ayling’s family tragedy on social media, seeking an understanding of their motives. Almost immediately, screenshots of my queries were circulated on Facebook and Twitter by neo-Confederates, who called me “a communist brown shirt journalist” and warned their fellow “patriots” not to reply to me.

Neo-Confederates and white supremacists across the nation weaponized the death of Ayling’s brother after details of it were posted by self-styled “Antifa hunter” and convicted cyberstalker, 32-year-old Daniel McMahon.

As the Washington Post and other national outlets reported at the beginning of September, McMahon —operating out of his parents’ home in Brandon, Florida— was sentenced to three years and five months in federal prison for intimidation and interference with a Georgia candidate for elected office. In September 2019, the Tampa Bay Newswhich interviewed Ayling about McMahon’s harassment of her and other female activists, reported that McMahon was a “close online ally” of Pittsburgh synagogue shooter Robert Bowers.

“Jack Corbin,” “Pale Horse” and “Defend Silent Sam” were pseudonyms used by McMahon in his social media harassment of Ayling and other North Carolina activists. Under those names, he told members of organizations such as League of the South, Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County, the Proud Boys, and Heirs to the Confederacy not only how Ayling’s brother had died, but that she was “head of Antifa in North Carolina.” Ayling said that McMahon’s followers made death and rape threats, shared her personal information in their social media posts and shouted it over megaphones at rallies and counter-protests in Chapel Hill, Winston-Salem, Pittsboro, Salisbury and Graham.

One person who may have been influenced by McMahon’s false claim that Ayling is a “head of Antifa” is Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson.

As previously reported, when Ayling approached Johnson in downtown Graham last month and asked why he wasn’t wearing a mask, Johnson replied: “You’re breaking the law” and “we know you’re with Antifa,” then laughed while unmasked neo-Confederates threatened Ayling and shouted directly in her face. 

(The video of this encounter was later shared by Newsweek.)

“I did not know for sure that Terry Johnson knew who I was until he said ‘we know you’re with Antifa,’” wrote Ayling in an August email. She said she’d previously encountered Johnson at the Alamance March for Justice in Graham, at which Johnson personally arrested a Black activist for “language,” an event she captured on video.

“I tweeted that I would send the video to the activists’ lawyers. It is possible Johnson got my name from surveilling social media and seeing my tweets about that rally (though, of course, I never wrote that I was ‘with Antifa’). It is also possible he got my name from the racists.”

Ayling stated that another neo-Confederate, who made public posts from a Facebook account with the name “Lynn Smith,” has claimed to have sent daily emails about Ayling to local law enforcement.

“She has been posting about me obsessively, doxxing my dead grandfather, and posting photos of my siblings when they were under 18. She is currently using a photo of my chest as her profile picture, and she posted the address of the UNC History Department to a Confederate Facebook page along with a screenshot of my page on the History Department website.”

Several other activists told YES! Weekly they believe the “Lynn Smith” account belongs to a female neo-Confederate counter-protester who used to post under her real name. These activists shared their email correspondence with the Human Resources department of that person’s employer, in which they presented evidence suggesting that “Lynn Smith” and the employee were the same person. Shortly after they contacted the employer, the “Lynn Smith” account disappeared, but the last time I saw it, every single profile picture was of Ayling, and dozens of vitriolic posts were addressed to “Lindsay.”

How did Ayling become one of McMahon’s targets, and what caused him to not only be particularly obsessed with her but to pass that obsession on to his local followers?

Before becoming a graduate student and teaching assistant at UNC, Ayling was a Senior Writer in the White House Office of Presidential Correspondence. 

“I had worked on the Obama campaign while I was in college, and later took a full-time job in the Correspondence Office while I finished my undergraduate degree as a part-time student at George Washington University.”

In Chapel Hill, Ayling began taking part in protests against “Silent Sam” and other Confederate monuments after the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville. 

“I saw videos of anti-racists getting attacked by Nazis during the torch march. I admired their bravery and was outraged that anti-racists would ever be outnumbered by Nazis. I decided to get involved in protests against Silent Sam because I did not want anything like that to happen at UNC.”

She said that McMahon began harassing her a few days after a crowd of activists toppled the “Silent Sam” statue in August 2018. 

“He posted my photo on Gab, a social media platform popular among Nazis, and wrote that I was friends with Little (he used extremely racist language to describe this friendship).” 

Little is the activist convicted of a misdemeanor for smearing ink and their own blood on the statue.

“He also directed Nazis to keep a look-out for me at UNC. I became aware of that almost immediately because McMahon was already cyberstalking many anti-racists by that point, and one of them forwarded a screenshot to me. Over the next weeks and months, McMahon began posting about me with increasing frequency, often claiming I was an ‘N.C. Antifa leader.’”

When I asked Ayling about her alleged “Antifa” affiliation, she replied: “There is no local group that calls itself ‘Antifa.’ You can’t sign up to become a member of Antifa because it is not an organization. It is a series of tactics for de-platforming fascists. In the sense that I oppose fascism and I’m willing to take to the streets to say hate is not welcome in our communities, I am Antifa. So is anyone who participates in a protest against fascism, warns their community about local Nazis, tears alt-right propaganda off lamp-posts, or infiltrates white supremacist networks to gather information. That’s why it’s so dangerous to declare Antifa is a terrorist organization; it criminalizes any active opposition to fascism.”

She also stated that, while she helped organize demonstrations at UNC, both against Silent Sam and white supremacist groups, “I am generally not involved in organizing demonstrations in other towns, but I’m happy to show up in solidarity with anti-racists anywhere.”

Ayling said that McMahon’s harassment extended outside of North Carolina. 

“He would also post on Gab when he got any information about where I would be. If a rally was coming up, he would try to get Nazis to find me at the rally. When I presented a paper at the American Historical Association in Chicago in 2019, another scholar in my panel tweeted about it so as to gather an audience. McMahon almost immediately found the thread and started hounding Nazis in the Chicago area to crash my panel. It was clear he was trying to get them to harm or kill me. He would post about me and then egg on anyone who posted death threats or threats of violence in the comments (which happened frequently). He occasionally slipped up and posted death threats himself. On one of his posts about me, a Nazi asked ‘what should be done about communists,’ and McMahon replied, ‘what happened to Trotsky?’ When the other Nazi didn’t know, he added ‘ice pick.’”

Ayling said she never spoke publicly about McMahon until she learned that he had regularly interacted with the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter. 

“After I discovered he was in contact with a mass shooter, I wanted to inform the public of how hate organizes on Gab, so I started tweeting about him and did interviews for newspaper articles about Gab and the shooting.”

In response, McMahon stepped-up his attacks. 

“He started posting the names and photos of my friends, especially targeting those in inter-racial relationships. McMahon also wrote about my family members and posted photos of them. When we found out that my younger brother, Blake, was killed in a train accident, he started mocking his death. McMahon contacted local neo-Confederate groups via Facebook. He told them I was the leader of ‘UNC Antifa’ and instructed them to find me at rallies and mock my brother’s death.”

Ayling stated that McMahon would also tag the leaders of various Nazi organizations or Nazi podcasters in his posts about her, falsely stating that she is Jewish. She provided YES! Weekly with screenshots of the resulting comments, containing statements such as “I’d like to take her to lampshade factory” and calling Ayling “Lampshade Lindsay,” a reference to how 1940s Nazis made lampshades from the skins of Holocaust victims. Not all the threats were so veiled, Ayling added. 

“One Nazi responded to McMahon’s post about me by commenting ‘why hasn’t this communist been killed? Visit her at home.’ McMahon often promoted racist and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that Jews were secretly controlling Black Lives Matter, and developed a similar but more specific conspiracy theory that I was controlling all anti-racist activity in the Research Triangle.”

Ayling said that McMahon never publicly posted her home address, “as that was that was one of the few things that could get him kicked off Gab,” but she strongly suspects he shared it in direct messages to other white supremacists.

“The first group that posted my home address online was Deplorable Pride, which was upset that I had counter-protested the Proud Boys in summer 2019. Later that fall, during a rally in Pittsboro, one member of the Proud Boys claimed he had been to my house, and another described what it looked like from the outside. In February 2020, a member of League of the South said my address aloud several times. This summer, neo-Confederates have been posting it on Facebook with increasing frequency, sometimes attached to threats of violence.”

Other activists allege Ayling’s address was announced over a megaphone at the January 2019 Heirs to the Confederacy counter-protest in downtown Winston-Salem. An organizer of that rally was Nancy McCorkle Rushton , one of two people arrested for desecrating the "Unsung Founders" statue.

Ayling alleged that made comments about Ayling’s brother in a Facebook livestream on May 4, 2019. 

“McMahon wrote comments telling her to ask me about my brother, which she did. At a Pittsboro rally in October 2019, Jay Thaxton of the Proud Boys delivered a long monologue mocking my brother. In November 2019 in Pittsboro, Steve Marley from ACTBAC was blowing a train whistle and making many terrible remarks about Blake’s death.”

As previously reported, Marley is a member of both ACTBAC and ReOpen NC, who posted a “Call to Arms” asking “hundreds of Patriots” to “stand against” July’s Alamance March for Justice. Crider told YES! Weekly he’s seen Marley with the train whistle at multiple neo-Confederate counter-protests. 

(Marley did not respond to YES! Weekly’s multiple requests for comment.)

Ayling said even a year after McMahon’s arrest, North Carolina neo-Confederates continue to mock her brother’s death and make threats against her. But she was quick to stress that she’s neither the only one they harass nor the one in the most danger.

“I would not say I face a greater threat from these groups than most people. As a white cis-woman, I am in a position of privilege. These people are white supremacists, so they are more likely to attack a Black person they don’t know than a white person they intensely hate.”

Ayling stated that hundreds of activists across the Triangle and Triad had been threatened or doxxed. 

“I receive a high volume of harassment and threats because the racists have come to believe a lot of what McMahon wrote. Rhetoric from the White House fuels these fantasies; when Donald Trump equates anti-fascism with terrorism, he emboldens fascists and white supremacists.”

Ian McDowell is the author of two published novels, numerous anthologized short stories, and a whole lot of nonfiction and journalism, some of which he’s proud of and none of which he’s ashamed of.

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