Culture war crusaders in a North Carolina county have escalated their battle against an imagined enemy—“critical race theory”—with a disturbing campaign of racist and misogynistic threats against Black public school administrators.
Guilford County Superintendent Sharon Contreras, a former top contender for the role of education secretary in President Joe Biden’s cabinet, has been relentlessly targeted in a trail of nasty messages that have landed in the laps of school administrators.
Guilford County Schools Board Chair Deena Hayes, who was included in at least one of the messages obtained through a public records request by the Triad City Beat, noted that in recent weeks the messages “started to take a really, really ugly, violent turn.”
On June 13, one message directed at Contreras, who is Black, joked that she was an expert on “BLM thugs” and urged for a petition for her to be fired over so-called critical race theory. (Critical race theory isn’t actually part of school syllabi in North Carolina.)
“WHAT KIND OF A FAR LEFT, ANTI-WHITE RACIST, INDOCTRINATION GULAG ARE YOU RUNNING?” the message said in part. “ARE YOU AN AFICIONADO OF BLM THUGS?”
Hayes, who is also Black and runs a diversity and inclusion training company, told The Daily Beast that she has found it at times “unnerving” to come and go from the school board’s administrative office. Protesters banged on the windows outside the boardroom where administrators huddled for a June 10 meeting, demanding an end to a pandemic-related ban on members of the public attending meetings. (People could attend virtually and, a week later, board members voted to resume in-person public participation from July).
Nora Carr, the chief of staff at Guilford County Schools, said that the June 10 meeting was the first time employees had expressed to her that they “didn’t feel safe going to their cars in the parking lot,” after more than a decade of working in the county’s school system. Some protesters tried to get into the building as staff were leaving that night, she said.
Video footage from that day was later published by the conspiracy-hawking site Gateway Pundit, under a headline that claimed “NC Superintendent Shut Parents Out Of School Board Meeting Using Emergency Powers So She Didn't Have to Hear Arguments Against Critical Race Theory (Video).”
Days later, a conservative conspiracy-driven YouTube channel called “The Next News Network” made a similar claim alleging that parents and community members who make up the group “Take Back Our Schools,” were denied entry to a school board meeting because administrators opposed pushbacks to their concerns about critical race theory.
Some of the abusive messages received by the school board via its “Ask The Superintendent” portal appeared to be in response to the false stories, which “Take Back Our Schools” posted on its Facebook page and on Twitter.
“I think these are very real threats. I think the incitement and the emboldening of people and frightening them with these dog-whistles and then not disassociating yourself with that is reckless, and it’s unacceptable,” Hayes said of the apparent failure by Take Back Our Schools to acknowledge the misuse of the footage.
“I’m concerned at the school board office,” Hayes added. “I am concerned about the superintendent. I’m concerned about our employees all over the district.”
On June 16, a message sent through the school community’s “Let’s Talk” feedback tool questioned how “the lowest IQ demographics in the world” could end up comprising the majority of the school board.
The correspondence appeared to unironically string together a series of racist and misogynistic questions to offer justification as to why certain discussions of race should be left out of the classroom.
“How is it our schools are failed, but you people keep doubling down on this critical hood rat theory garbage?” the message said, adding: “Please answer these questions and fire yourselves or else.”
The message was attributed to an email address that included a reference to the Proud Boys, the far-right hate group whose members have been associated with both the 2017 white supremacist torch-bearing rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol attack.
Among the series of messages, one appeared to fantasize about creating a day that would celebrate the “enormous generosity” of white people and might be called “Thank You White People Day.” Another referred to former President Donald Trump as the nation’s “REAL PRESIDENT.”
The messages are just a sliver of what appears to be a misguided campaign on the right, leveraged largely by GOP lawmakers who have introduced legislation in at least two dozen states—including North Carolina—to ban certain topics on race and racism from being discussed in the classroom.
Carr said the county’s school board had received about 100 inquiries through its messaging system since May and roughly a third were about critical race theory or related concerns including “anti-white racism, Marxism, inaccurate history, 1619 project, affirmative action.” Nearly all of the comments came from people who remained anonymous or selected aliases like “Concerned Citizen,” “Good Father” or “Combat Vet.”
But school board administrators said the vitriol against critical race theory is ill-informed.
“‘Eradicate CRT from the classrooms’ is a completely false crisis,” the county school board’s vice chair, Winston McGregor, told The Daily Beast, noting the theory isn’t actually part of North Carolina’s course of study.
Still, she said, the anti-CRT initiatives and attacks against Contreras and others, were “feeding the appetite for some groups who are in a kind of outrage loop.”
“I think they’ve got some dangerous tools in their toolbox,” McGregor said. “We have requested and are working on security for our superintendent.”
The chief of staff had also approached Greensboro Police Department to review the abusive messages to see if any constituted criminal offenses.
According to McGregor, the police chief had suggested “these folks know how to walk right up to the line and not cross it,” and that it would be hard to prosecute.