THE BLOG
06/25/2013 07:02 pm ET Updated Aug 25, 2013

Moral Monday Protests Swell to 1,500 in Raleigh, Conservative Think Tank Publishes Mugshots of Arrestees

The crowd at the Moral Monday protest in Raleigh, NC, was the biggest so far with 1,500 attending and 120 being arrested on June 24 according to WRAL. The crowd started to gather in the late afternoon under the threat of rain on Halifax Mall outside of the NC legislature building. As the protests are growing in size, so has the national coverage of the protests. NPR covered the protest on June 23 in a segment during which Willie Jennings, a professor at Duke who was arrested on June 17, and Thom Goolsby, NC state senator from New Hanover County who had penned a mocking op-ed piece about Moral Monday (see my piece here) were interviewed. The Atlantic has also published a report on the protest, filed from the protest ground on June 17. The reporter followed a United Methodist minister who was arrested during the protest.

The most interesting development, however, came last week. Civitas Institute, a think tank based in Raleigh, that dubs itself North Carolina's conservative voice, published a website that shows the mugshots, profiles, employment, affiliations among others, of those arrested during Moral Monday protests in Raleigh, NC. The website even includes a "Pick a Protester" game that viewers can play along.

The think tank is funded about 94 percent by the family foundation that Art Pope, Gov. Pat McCrory's budget director, chairs. It is a well known fact that Pope spent millions of dollars in North Carolina to help Republicans get elected during the 2010 and 2012 elections. Art Pope's influence in North Carolina has only grown since the Republican supermajority took over in January and may even reach far beyond what was once thought. Raleigh's News and Observer has reported that, during the discussion of the repeal of the public financing of judicial races, Art Pope may have influenced the vote of the lone holdout, Rep. Jonathan Jordan. Rep. Jordan had offered a compromise to preserve the public financing, but changed his mind and withdrew the amendment after having a discussion with Pope behind closed doors. Jordan had received in excess of $90,000 in funds from Pope during the last cycle.

According to a statement given to The Institute for Southern Studies, Civitas's goal of the database project is "to shine a light on the growing protest movement." Because the "recent media reports have suggested that the protesters disrupting the General Assembly at 'Moral Mondays' represent a cross-section of North Carolina citizens," Civitas' website declares, "we decided to investigate that claim. Using arrest records and other public documents, we investigated who really is involved in these protests -- the results may surprise you."

Indeed, Gov. McCrory had stated repeatedly in the previous weeks that the protests are instigated and carried on by "outsiders." However, the database contradicts what McCrory and other conservatives have mockingly suggested. It reveals that the overwhelming majority of those arrested are from North Carolina and from all ages and walks of life. About 80 percent are white, the average age is in the mid 50s, 98 percent are from North Carolina, and they are teachers, professors, doctors, students among others, and about 20 percent of them were unemployed. These numbers are close to the state's demographics.

As the Institute of Southern Studies warns, however, the website is only too reminiscent of the intimidation tactics used by those opposing Civil Rights during the '60s and '70s in the South. In fact, "Civitas' database brings to mind another troubling episode of mid-20th century U.S. history: how in some Southern cities at that time the white-supremacist White Citizens' Councils (WCC) would publish in local newspapers the names of NAACP supporters and those who signed anti-segregation petitions in order to encourage retaliation against them. The WCCs, like Civitas, also had close ties to powerful government officials."

James Protzman, the founder of BlueNC.org, a liberal blog, who has declared candidacy for governor for 2016, has publicly called on Art Pope to shut the website down and also posted a diary entry on Daily Kos.

The Charlotte Observer has published an editorial in which it decried the think tank's website. Calling the website "repulsive," the editors warn that the think tank has gone too far. It observes that the website is threatening in tone, using intimidation by making public the arrestees' employers.

While the Republican legislators have done nothing but mock the protesters without giving any indication that they want to talk to the constituents, calls to join Moral Monday protests continue to come loudly across the state from many groups and individuals, from NC NAACP to the clergy, from teachers to retirees.

As this battle for the soul of North Carolina continues between those who want to bring progress back to North Carolina and those who want to stop them and to restore the state firmly back into the grip of the Southern voting block, it sure will be interesting to see what the future holds, especially in 2014 and 2016.

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