Winston-Salem mayoral candidate Kris McCann makes clear his opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement in provocative Facebook posts, but some who see his page accuse him of trying to stoke racial division.

Visitors to his page could, until McCann took it down, see a post in which a video is shown of a black man attacking a white man who lies on the floor begging not to be hit. The caption reads, “This is the behavior that Black Lives Matter is promoting.”

Some people reading McCann’s page have accused him outright of racism. That’s a charge McCann vigorously denies.

“I am not a racist,” he said. “I have never been associated with any white supremacist group or any other group. It offends me beyond what you would even understand to call me a racist. They are coming after conservative people, and I am conservative.”

McCann is the Republican candidate for mayor, running against incumbent Democrat Allen Joines.

Miranda Jones, one of the founders of the Hate Out of Winston group, called McCann “an unmasked racist” for using the All Lives Matter slogan, and called the Confederate flag a symbol of oppression.

“We see as the greater problem the persons in office who made poor decisions regarding African American people,” she said, referring to council members who would not shift money away from the police department budget.

McCann said he posts a lot of things on his site that are opposed to racism: He has a photo of Martin Luther King Jr. with a paraphrase of King’s 1967 remarks about how he looked for the day when no one would talk about white power or Black power, but God’s power. McCann has a post that shows Jesus surrounded by children of all races.

A lot of what McCann posts about race is along the “All Lives Matter” slogan that many have made in response to Black Lives Matter. McCann sees that as egalitarian, though many others see the All Lives Matter slogan as trying to downplay the injustices that have marked the Black experience in America.

It is clear from McCann’s Facebook posts that he sees the police as getting a raw deal from protests. His postings include a photo of a black man holding a sign that says “Cops Lives Matter,” and another in which a different black man holds two signs: one that says “All Lives Do Matter,” and another in which letters from the phrase “United Means All Races” spell out “USA.”

In a video McCann re-posted to his site, conservative black comics Keith and Kevin Hodge (the Hodgetwins) talk about the police killing of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, and say they believe the police were justified in firing at Brooks. The two officers involved have been charged, one with felony murder.

On the other hand, McCann said he has no sympathy for the officer who kept a knee on George Floyd’s neck until he was dead.

“That officer was so nonchalant, just looking around,” McCann said. “They ought to take him and hang him, because that is not a police officer that we want. But I can’t judge all police officers based on what the one did.”

Polarized response

Reactions to McCann’s postings are as starkly different as opinions are on the matters that McCann posts about. He gets both strong agreement and pushback from people who differ.

Tony Ndege, who is active with Black Lives Matter in Winston-Salem, said he obviously doesn’t know whether the video that McCann posted of a black man attacking a white man is authentic.

“I don’t even know what the context of this is,” he said. “It could be staged, I don’t know. Obviously this is not what the movement is promoting. The fact is that black and brown human beings have had to suffer unimaginable violence, slavery and genocide over hundreds of years … obviously we are not promoting a race war. What he (McCann) is trying to do is manipulate fear among a certain level of the white population.”

But Reginald Reid, a black Republican who has run unsuccessfully for the state Senate and House, said he didn’t see anything wrong with what McCann has posted on his Facebook page.

“I don’t think that is too far off the mark: All lives matter,” Reid said. “When you start putting one race above another race, that is an issue. I don’t see that all lives matter is controversial.”

Reid dismissed accusations of racism against McCann: “I think anything a Republican says is going to be called racist. Anytime someone talks about race, I tune them out because it is not the issue.”

Mayor Allen Joines, McCann’s opponent, said he doesn’t read McCann’s Facebook page because “I don’t think it is worth looking at.” Joines said McCann “is an individual who is seeking to divide our community rather than to bring us together.”

Asked to comment on McCann’s posts, Aaron Berlin, the chairman of the Forsyth County Republican Party, said the party implores all members to support making the party inclusive “for all races, genders and religions.” He said it is “more than ever to stand together and create a sense of unity and understanding among the community.”

McCann said a lot of things he shares on his Facebook page are things he saw elsewhere and thought were news or interesting, but that he doesn’t necessarily agree with the opinions expressed.

“Unless I wrote it, I don’t think you can tie it to me,” he said. “I don’t agree with everything in the paper, but I still read it.”

McCann said he didn’t produce the video of the black man beating up the white man, and that he was not trying to make some point about black violence against whites.

At the same time, McCann is unapologetic in his belief that violence is associated with the Black Lives Matter movement, and he posts videos and news stories that he says confirm his belief.

McCann posted a link to an interview a New York-area Black Lives Matter leader gave in which he said he neither condones nor condemns rioting.

“I didn’t try to portray them as violent,” McCann said. “That is what the video showed.”

Underdog candidate

McCann is no stranger to the local political scene, although his runs for office have been in contests where his chances of victory were slim. He first appeared on a local ballot in 2012, when he ran against Democrat Evelyn Terry in N.C. House District 71, a heavily Democratic district. Running as a small-government conservative, McCann received 22% of the vote. McCann tried again in 2014 and did slightly better, with 24% of the vote.

McCann’s race against Joines might seem even more quixotic. McCann raises no campaign donations and he’s in a contest with a well-financed mayoral candidate who’s never gotten less than 78% of the vote in a general election.

Whether speaking to the City Council or blasting people on Facebook for criticizing police officers, McCann employs a pugnacious tone of opposition to the powers that be.

McCann condemns the current City Council and mayor as socialist, and poses this question to readers on his separate campaign Facebook page: “Are we going to let socialism take our country, or rise to the occasion and stop it in its tracks?” Elsewhere, he tells readers, “Don’t take a knee. Stand up and vote!”

That provoked a response from one Facebook reader who called McCann “a Trump wannabe running for mayor!”

A reader claiming to be part of an anti-racist group sent the Journal a screenshot depicting McCann as responding to a man who had posted “F--- the KKK” on a website. McCann was quoted as saying “FYou,” leading the reader to ask whether McCann was defending the Klan.

That’s not the case, McCann said, saying that in fact his response was not made specifically to a man commenting about the Klan, but was a remark about the site in general: McCann said he was angry that the site bore the message “F--- your God” statement on the site.

“I responded to that page with the words that I said,” McCann said, adding that he has no screen-shot proof.

McCann said he made the remark on the site of a Facebook group he had joined promoting a boycott of NASCAR. He said the group was “hijacked” by people who made obscene comments about flag supporters.

One Facebook reader flagged as problematic a post on McCann’s page that featured a statement expressing shame over white people who feel guilty “because they were born white.” The slogan is superimposed over a background that had American and Confederate flags. McCann himself did not create the image, which appears to be no longer present on his page.

McCann said he doesn’t remember posting the image to his site. When asked if such an image might offend a black person, he replied that he did not want to do anything to make people uncomfortable, and wouldn’t want to see a rebel flag used to try to “bully someone.”

“My feelings on the Confederate flag probably don’t match that of everyone else,” he said. “I don’t see anything wrong with the flag. I see that some people might not like it, but I have never used it in a way to hurt anyone with it. It is a symbol that if you choose to like it, you like it, and if you don’t, ignore it. There is nothing you can do about history.”

David Singletary, a pastor who was a GOP member of the local public school board until 2018, said that while McCann has strong opinions, people are living in a time that requires people to “step back and think twice before they comment.” Some of the things McCann has posted have been inappropriate, he said.

“We are living in a day and time where we need cool heads and reasoned thinkers,” Singletary said. “Statements that pander to one side or the other are counterproductive and don’t do anything but add division to our community. I don’t know Kris’ heart, but the advice I would give him is don’t post some of this mess.”

wyoung@wsjournal.com

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@wyoungWSJ

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