A rally against racism in Craftsbury last week was interrupted by an armed man and two teenagers who drove by the crowd waving Confederate and Don’t Tread on Me flags from the back of a pickup truck.
That prompted some attendees to swarm the truck. The driver, Jasper “Jay” Wright, stopped when people blocked the road. A 40-second video, provided to Seven Days and shared on social media, captured some of what happened next.
“Do you not think black lives matter?” a woman is heard asking Wright, who tries repeatedly to say something. “Do you not think black lives matter?” the woman asks again.
“Listen to m—,” Wright responds, before he yells, “No, I don’t! OK? Is that what you want? There!”
“Why don’t you get the fuck out of here?” another woman responds.
“Because she won’t fucking listen!” Wright says. “I didn’t start this conversation.” As the video ends, Wright says that he “does not have a problem with Black Lives Matter. I have a problem with what most of it stands for,” adding, “It should be about all lives matter.”
Several attendees at the June 10 rally said they were shocked, scared and disgusted by the incident. It got tense enough, according to organizer Pablo Coddou, that he and some students of color from nearby Sterling College discussed leaving the demonstration, which was at Craftsbury Common.
Coddou, a Latino mental health counselor who grew up in New York City, said he’d previously heard from students of color “very sad stories, pretty awful stuff around not feeling safe at times” while living in rural Vermont.
“You don’t know the situation,” Coddou said. “Some people, like my wife, she grew up here, and some people have been here forever, and they might assess the situation with a different kind of perspective, through a different lens. And they might know that [the counterprotesters are] just some ignorant, harmless racists or whatever. But that’s not the case for someone who’s not from here.”
Jasper "Jay" Wright
A confrontation earlier at the rally involving the teenagers preceded the flag-waving incident.
The teens had driven near the gathering in a van with a poster attached to the exterior that read, “Small Dicks Matter.” Some attendees ripped off the sign and had a short confrontation with the teens, who then left.
The rally went off as planned, though it was much bigger than expected, said Anne-Marie Keppel, who organized the event with Coddou, her husband. Some 200 folks, including a handful of people of color, marched around the Common waving posters and signs before stopping by a wooden bandstand in the middle of the grass. The group then kneeled silently for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in honor of George Floyd, a black man whose killingin Minneapolis on May 25 set off this most recent reckoning with racism in America.
Several audience members got up to make impromptu speeches. Amid them, Wright and the boys showed up in their truck, waving the flags and yelling at the crowd. One of the teens wore a Trump 2020 T-shirt. Laura, a black woman who lives in North Wolcott, said she and some others ran to the truck to confront the trio. She asked that Seven Days not use her last name because of fear of retribution.
Much of the conversation with Wright began with “idle chatter” about farming and other small talk, Laura recalled.
“I just thought, This is not OK. This is not the time to talk about your crops. We’re not here to entertain racists and make racists feel comfortable,” Laura said.
Wright told the protesters he isn’t a racist, saying he’d served in the military with black people, Laura recalled. He said that the Confederate flag represents freedom to him.
That’s about when the video begins. Laura said her wife filmed Wright as she herself confronted him.
Seven Days did not attend the rally. In the days since, the newspaper has worked to contact those who were there, including Wright, who responded to an interview request Tuesday afternoon.
He confirmed much of the protesters' account. He said he is always armed, as are the rest of his family members, including his 17-year-son, who had a pistol and waved the Don't Tread on Me flag at the protest. The other teenager in the truck was his son's friend.
Wright said he found it hard to believe the protesters were scared of him as they ran up to his truck and stopped him from driving by. He said he just wanted to make a statement of his own.
"I think the Black Lives Matter flag is racist to me," Wright said, calling the anti-racism coalition a "terrorist group." "I didn't go out to start trouble. It's their constitutional right to have a peaceful protest, just as it is mine. And I disagree with what they're doing. All lives matter, not just black, white, yellow, green, whatever."
He added: "It starts with one peaceful protest and then everybody else comes in and starts a whole bunch of shit. We don't need that."
Wright also spoke out against an event over the weekend in Montpelier, where volunteers painted "Black Lives Matter" on the street in front of the Statehouse.
"Really? Do you think that's really necessary?" he said. "I think that just causes trouble."
Wright went on to say that he is not a racist: "The color of your skin don't mean nothing to me. I could care less."
"Was it the right thing to do?" he said of his counter-protest. "Probably not. But if I piss people off, I really don't care. I don't lose any sleep over it."
Asked if he regretted what he'd done, Wright replied, "Not a bit."
While Laura said she was relieved that Wright left without further issues, she was disappointed that more people in the crowd did not confront Wright. Laura said some of those gathered just encouraged attendees to ignore Wright and the teens.
Courtesy of Matt Allen
A banner at the event
“You can’t be silent, faced with this,” Laura said. “You can’t tell me, as a black woman, that I have to talk to them quieter, that I was not talking to them nicely enough, that I should have engaged in a quieter dialogue.”
Coddou, the event organizer, agreed.
“My translation of anti-racism is, fuck racism,” he said. “And that includes fuck racists.”
By this Monday, community members were ready to talk about it, according to Keppel. About 50 people gathered for a workshop on racial literacy, one of several events planned around issues of race. Laura said a Juneteenth celebration, the date marking the end of slavery in 1865, is planned for this Friday at Blackbird Bistro in Craftsbury.
Some community members hope the conversations continue.
“It certainly is discouraging when folks deliberately bring racist symbols to a gathering to provoke and make people feel uncomfortable,” said Katherine Sims, a speaker at the rally, during an interview afterward. “It did serve to highlight that this is not an issue that is going on just somewhere else, that this is an issue right here in our community of Craftsbury. "