Police for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have arrested two members of a group called Heirs to the Confederacy for allegedly defacing a slave memorial on campus with racist graffiti.
Police charged Nancy Rushton McCorkle, 50, and Ryan Francis Barnett, 31, with vandalism and ethnic intimidation on Monday, according to UNC police. Barnett was also charged with public urination, and both were charged with larceny for stealing a university flag.
On March 31, the Unsung Founders Memorial on the UNC campus was found to have been defaced with racial slurs and urine. The memorial, which was installed in 2005, honors enslaved and free black people who participated in the building of the campus. A separate outdoor art installation was found similarly vandalized.
The Chapel Hill campus has been embroiled in protests and counterprotests over the past couple years, ever since students, in part inspired by the 2017 removal of a statue by Robert E. Lee by protesters in Durham, North Carolina began demanding the removal of a Confederate statue known as Silent Sam. According to the New York Times, the Unsung Founders Memorial has served as a rallying spot for protesters opposed to Silent Sam, which was toppled by protesters and removed last year. The statue is currently being stored at an undisclosed location on campus as the university awaits a decision about its fate from the Board of Governors.
Heirs to the Confederacy, a group dedicated to preserving Confederate memorials and otherwise promoting the Confederacy and its symbols, has rallied in support of Silent Sam in the past. A co-founder of the group confirmed to the Times that McCorkle and Barnett were members. He also disavowed the vandalism to the Raleigh News & Observer.
The university has warned that if either suspect returns to campus, the university will pursue trespassing charges. The suspects will stand trial later in the month.