“The Stanly News & Press” is reporting that one of the organizers of a rally being held tonight to support cheerleaders at North Stanly High School who were placed on probation by the N.C. High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) for posing with a Trump 2020 banner has ties to the Proud Boys, a far-right group identified as a general hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
The photo with one cheerleader and a male student holding a banner has received national attention and stirred controversy in the small town of New London where the school is located.
The paper identified the rally organizer as Jay Thaxton of Cabarrus County, who is putting on tonight’s event with Jeremy Onitreb.
Thaxton didn’t deny being a Proud Boy supporter, but took issue with critic’s characterization of the group as a “white nationalist” organization.
Here’s what the SPLC has to say about the Proud Boys:
Their disavowals of bigotry are belied by their actions: rank-and-file Proud Boys and leaders regularly spout white nationalist memes and maintain affiliations with known extremists. They are known for anti-Muslim and misogynistic rhetoric. Proud Boys have appeared alongside other hate groups at extremist gatherings like the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville. Indeed, former Proud Boys member Jason Kessler helped to organize the event, which brought together Klansmen, antisemites, Southern racists, and militias. Kessler was only “expelled” from the group after the violence and near-universal condemnation of the Charlottesville rally-goers.
The cheerleaders were not punished by the school because they didn’t violate the student code of conduct.
But NCHSAA Commissioner Marilyn Que Tucker placed them on probation, punishment tantamount to a warning, after a teacher posted the photo on Facebook.
Tucker told the paper that she decided to reprimand the cheerleaders because the incident caused a negative athletic environment.
“One of the rules we have is that every contest should be conducted in a wholesome, athletic environment,” Tucker said. “We take that to mean that it’s in an environment where good sportsmanship is shown, where people feel safe … that respect for all people participating is being shown.”
Earlier this week, U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, a Republican whose district includes Stanly County, sent a letter to Tucker expressing disappointment at the decision to place the cheerleaders on probation.
“As the representative of Stanly County, I’m appalled these students are being punished for exercising their First Amendment right to free speech,” Hudson wrote. “As leaders we should be encouraging America’s youth participation in our democracy and political process – not punishing and silencing them.”