An afternoon of disagreement: Conservative group and Black Lives Matter advocates clash on Sanford Mall


Max Correa

Protests and counterprotests related to the 2020 presidential election ensued on Sanford Mall Friday afternoon after several days of ballot counting.

Jackie Park and Jake Markland

What started as a “post-election solidarity event” turned into a political debate between liberal and conservative groups on Sanford Mall Friday afternoon.

Black in Boone, a Black-led advocacy group, organized an event alongside Young Revolutionaries of Boone to “show up and make sure everyone knows that we and our voices matter” according to a post from Black in Boone.

Mary Lyons, an App State alumna and organizer with Black in Boone, said she wanted the event to demonstrate community in a time of division.

As of Friday afternoon, the 2020 election has not yielded a winner, and President Donald Trump’s response to delayed election calling has prompted debate between Republicans and Democrats.

Gracie Stacer, a freshman and organizer of Young Revolutionaries, says that no matter the result of the election, she and others will still have work to do regarding social justice, equality and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Some time into the event, where Stacer and others gathered on Sanford holding signs and discussing hate speech and Trump, members of the group Today is America came to the mall with Trump 2020 flags and “blue lives matter” flags.

Today is America is a conservative nonprofit that creates content on TikTok with a mission to spread conservatism to Gen Z voters and “inspire generations of free-thinking Americans.”

After the Today is America group began circling Sanford Mall on skateboards, an App State Police officer led the group to the circle outside Belk Library and Information Commons to continue their event.

Lyons said that despite Today is America showing up, she wanted the group to stay focused on solidarity.

Back on Sanford Mall, Today is America set up post with poles hoisting “Trump 2020” and “blue lives matter” flags five high with larger versions hanging over their shoulders. Most members of the group, with the exception of one, are not App State students.

The nonprofit’s CEO, Liam Rafizadeh, was on Sanford and said that he wanted to bring “conservative culture” and “things that are American” back to the table. He said they came to App State to engage in civil discussion. 

“Anything that supports (the) dismantling or destruction of America — we don’t support,” Rafizadeh said. 

Although the event flyer was posted on social media on Thursday, Rafizadeh said his group did not coordinate being there alongside Black in Boone and Young Revolutionaries of Boone. He added, however, that they do not support Black Lives Matter. 

Rafizadeh said nobody knows what is happening in terms of the election. “It’s a clusterf**k,” he said, but believes that God has a plan as to who the winner will be. 

Andrew McKenzie, a sophomore, said he attempted to engage in a civil discussion but was told by the Trump supporters that his argument was “fake news.” 

Fellow sophomore Sophie Brown was in the crowd on Sanford with a Black Lives Matter flag draped over her shoulders and a speaker in her hand playing music. 

“I am a strong believer in joy as a form of protest,”  Brown said. “I’m going to have a good time and rub it in their faces. They’re losing, they’re throwing a tantrum. So I’m going to come and party at their tantrum.” 

Brown said it is laborious as a woman of color to explain anything to a Trump supporter, but she would be inclined to talk “when they decide to not hold values that are against my existence.” 

Brown and others exchanged verbal arguments, with one side shouting “Black Lives Matter” while the other countered with “all lives matter.”

Though none of the arguments became physical, App State Police and Office of Student Affairs faculty monitored the event.

Later, arguments dissipated into conversation between the two groups and their respective bystanders, with some moving away from the crowd and dancing to music.