UPDATED: Occupy Charlotte may split following flag-burning incident at campsite Friday morning



After four men from the Occupy Charlotte campsite on the grounds of the Old City Hall on East Trade Street were arrested last night on arson charges when they reportedly burned two American flags, a spokesperson for the group's legal team said some members had decided to splinter off into a new movement.

However, after receiving the press release below, CL talked with a member of Occupy Charlotte and learned that the group's break-up may not be imminent, after all. That member said the group plans to bring up the issue at its general assembly tonight at 7 p.m.

The legal team member, Deanna St. Aubin-Bridgwood, issued the following press release just before 1 p.m. today:

Official Press Release 12/30/11 Occupy Charlotte Movement

We, the members of the Occupy Charlotte Movement are no longer affiliated with the camp at 600 East Trade Street. In light of the recent actions taken by a few anarchistic elements that we do not want to be associated with, we are moving on from the actual Occupation site. The flag burning incident in the early morning of December 30th does not reflect the people or the message of the movement.

The Occupy Charlotte movement, among the other Occupations throughout the country, has succeeded in kicking off a national conversation regarding the universal problems facing 99% of our population. It has inspired our community to stand up against the perils of rampant income inequality and demand accountability for the wholesale purchase of our representatives in government. It has brought the realities of our nation’s corrupt corporatocracy and crony capitalism to our collective doorstep.

However, due to a message that has become stagnant and more radical, and a General Assembly that no longer reflects the voice of this movement in Charlotte, it is now time to revitalize and to move on and expand beyond the Occupation. It is time to educate and organize in order to make changes within our current political and economic systems that better reflect the voice and will of the people, beyond the confines of 600 East Trade Street.

Please join us on January 14 at 10:30 am at Dilworth Grille as we move forward.

Deanna St. Aubin-Bridgwood
Occupy Charlotte
Legal Team Liaison

Earlier today, WCNC had reported that police charged four men with arson after they reportedly burned a pair of American flags at the Occupy Charlotte campsite.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police arrested four men for arson after they allegedly burned two American flags near an Occupy camp in uptown on Friday.

Police said Jason Bargert, 28, Michael Behrle, 23, Stephen Morris, 20, and Alex Tyler, 19, were charged with arson and setting fire to woods.

Read the story here.

CL will continue updating this story as more info comes in.


UPDATE 1:20 p.m.
CL spoke with Luis Rodriguez, who was interviewed on CurrentTV's "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" earlier this month regarding the impending ordinance Charlotte is considering that could ban camping.

Rodriguez said the flag-burning incident could put the nail in the coffin for he Occupy Charlotte camp. "That's done now," said Rodriguez. "What can we say now that isn't going to play into every villainous thing that everyone tried to say about us?"

With regard to the four men who were arrested Friday, Rodriguez said, "They will be dealt with. Expulsion is almost guaranteed."

UPDATE: 1:46 p.m.
On Oct. 8, at its most widely attended general assembly to date, Occupy Charlotte took a non-violent pledge. Listen to it here:
Occupy Charlotte Takes The Nonviolent Pledge by RhiannonFionn

That was the first night the group camped at Old City Hall. Almost immediately, a divide began to form between those who chose to camp and those who didn't, but still considered themselves to be part of the movement.

By Oct. 19, one of the group's original founders, Tom Shope, was booted from the group, a move that landed him and more than a dozen other occupiers in court. On Nov. 1, Shope and those occupiers stood before a Mecklenburg County judge and promised to "behave."

Two weeks later, several occupiers were arrested during a joint protest with the Rainforest Action Network, again at Bank of America's headquarters. Those who were arrested are in court this afternoon on trespassing charges.

CL spoke with Shope this afternoon who said he is still working on behalf of Occupy Charlotte in his own way, preferring to focus on state legislative issues rather than on city ordinances, which he described as a distraction.

UPDATE 2:20 p.m.
According to Matt Newton, an attorney on the Occupy Charlotte legal team, two of the occupiers who were arrested today — Jason Bargert, 28, Michael Behrle, 23 — have been released.

He also said that the court hearing for the Nov. 15 trespassing arrests was continued. The attorneys hope to cut a deal with the district attorney's office.

Bargert's partner in life and business, Gina Cerniglia, said she wasn't aware of her husband's arrest until the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police called her at 7:30 a.m. She visited the occupation site today to let other members of the movement know that, "I'm going to vote against him; I'm going to vote him out," she said. "I'm not O.K. with civil disobedience that the general assembly doesn't approve."

UPDATE 2:45 p.m.
Occupy Charlotte is actively debating whether or not to continue supporting those in their group who choose to camp on one of their Facebook group pages.

Leslie Thomas' comments indicate that ending the physical occupation — camping on Old City Hall's lawn — is an opportunity. Just after 2 p.m., she wrote, It's the "laying to rest what doesn't work well and the birth of a new reason to stay strong together."

Meanwhile, some of the camp's mainstays, like Vic Suter, who was arrested with RAN in November, have already decided to move on. She was visiting her mother last night when the arrests occurred and was frustrated to learn about the purported flag burning: "I don't know what the hell they were thinking," she said. "I'm shocked and incredibly disappointed." She plans to collect her tent this afternoon and tour other Occupy sites instead of occupying any longer in Charlotte. Recently, she spent several days at an Occupy site in Washington, D.C.

The Huffington Post featured Suter in a mini-documentary about Occupy Charlotte as part of its "Occupy Y'all Street" series. That video should be released soon.

In other Occupy news, Walkupy — the group of occupiers who have walked from New York City to North Carolina — currently have plans to stop by Occupy Charlotte on their way to Atlanta next week.

UPDATE 3:15 p.m.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Capt. Jeff Estes, from the Central Division, said the occupiers were arrested for violating a city ordinance, not for burning American flags.

According to police reports, the four occupiers were charged with "arson: setting fire to woods, grass, field, etc." near the tents.

A CL photographer, Grant Baldwin, is at the occupation site and said he has yet to find any property that was damaged or anyone who will admit to being present when the flags were burned or during the subsequent arrests.

Matt Newton, an attorney on the Occupy Charlotte legal team, called back and said Bargert and Behrle were actually not released and that they may not be released until next week. However, he says, Stephen Morris, 20, and Alex Tyler, 19, were released.

"It is unclear whether or not we will represent them because it is unclear if they are members of the movement at this time," Newton said.

It's anticipated that all four of those who were arrested will be voted out of Occupy Charlotte at tonight's general assembly.

UPDATE 6:00 p.m.:
Jason Bargert has been released from jail on a $1,000 bond, he says, accused of "negligent burning, like what they give kids for playing with matches," he added.

When asked, he didn't deny burning an American flag at Old City Hall. He said his decision to set the flag on fire between the police memorial and the property's address sign was an individual act intended to figuratively and literally wake up Occupy Charlotte, but that it wasn't intended to offend veterans. He said it was meant to be "a demonstration against the corruption of the American government and American corporations."

He said the papers the police gave him read: "Did unlawfully and willfully and deliberately set fire to the American flag in such a manner as to endanger the safety of Old City Hall building located at 600 E. Trade Street."

Michael Behrle remains behind bars. Bargert described him: "He's a local activist who's been involved around here for a long time, not necessarily with the Occupy movement, but he's a friend of mine."

Bargert said they went to the occupation site "to try to instill a sense of resistance because it's gotten to the point where it appears that Occupy is just camping. I don't feel like there's anymore planning or any action taking place to change anything anymore. I wanted to motivate Occupy and shake it up so that they get moving. And whether they vote to kick me out tonight or not, I have."

Bargert is upset that his actions caught the media's attention, saying, "This wasn't a news story until someone went out and released a press statement without the approval of the general assembly."

UPDATE 11:30 p.m.
The Occupy Charlotte general assembly met for nearly three hours Friday night. (Watch the Ustream.) Two of the four occupiers who were arrested — Bargert and Tyler — spoke, mirroring what Bargert told CL before the meeting.

Ultimately, the occupiers decided they would continue camping, that they would not expel those who burned two American flags and that they would decide what, if any, consequences would be exacted on those who were arrested at Saturday's general assembly, which is scheduled for 3 p.m.

The most talked about issue, however, was about the press release posted at the beginning of this article. It was released to several media organizations without having been first presented to and agreed upon by the group, even though it stated it was an official press release on behalf of Occupy Charlotte. The signatory on the press release, Deanna St. Aubin-Bridgwood, walked away from the meeting several times saying, "I'm done," each time.

After the meeting, CL caught up with Rodriguez, who also said that he's "done" with the occupation site, adding, "I don't regret the sacrifices that I've made, but the camp does not reflect, to me, the Occupy movement."

Suter, on the other hand, said she plans to be at camp tomorrow at 1 p.m. to assist with a march to Wells Fargo's, Duke Energy and Bank of America.

Behrle was released from jail at 9:17 p.m.

UPDATE 9:00 a.m., Sat., Dec. 31, 2011
Last night's contentious general assembly wasn't the first time the group debated how to handle members who act without the consent of the general assembly, or whether or not those who do so should get kicked out of the movement.

On Nov. 23, the night before Thanksgiving, the occupiers had a heated discussion about another document the legal working group created, an "oath of the occupation." As with the press release that riled the group yesterday, the oath was created away from the occupation site and without the input of those occupiers who choose to camp.

Watch James L. Walker III, an occupier and an actor, read the oath in this video, which is one of ten from that night. More videos from the Nov. 23 meeting are available online here.

UPDATE 10:00 a.m.
There has been speculation on Facebook about whether or not the Rainforest Action Network was involved in the flag burning at Occupy Charlotte early Friday morning. CL reached Todd Zimmer in the wee hours of the morning. He is the head of the local chapter and is out of the country for the holidays. His response to the accusations: "I can assure you, RAN had nothing to do with this."

UPDATE 2:00 p.m. Sun, Jan. 1, 2012
Occupy Charlotte issued a press release late-night on New Year's Eve regarding the groups' decisions regarding the flag burning that took place in their camp Friday and their communication process with the media. Here is an excerpt:

Occupy Charlotte was not aware of and did not agree to support the burning of two American flags. Two of the individuals involved have participated in Occupy Charlotte activities, and each has issued a statement that they were not acting on the behalf of Occupy Charlotte.

We agreed that we do not approve of the burning of an American flag.

We reaffirmed our intention to continue occupying at 600 E Trade St.

Occupy Charlotte was not aware of and did not agree to a press release issued in our name on 12/30/2011.

Read the entire press release here.

Also on Occupy Charlotte's website, information about its planned "Day of Love," which is slated to take place Sun., Jan. 8. According to the website, the event is intended to welcome home American troops from Iraq.

In other Occupy Charlotte news, after Charlotte City Councilman Andy Dulin brought up the Ku Klux Klan on Facebook last week, CL reached out to North Carolina's Loyal White Knights of the KKK for comment. Chris Barker, the organization's imperial wizard, responded Saturday afternoon to discuss both Dulin's comments and Occupy Charlotte's flag burning incident.

Regarding Dulin's comments, Barker said, "I truly don't think he understands what the Klan stands for or what it even means." He went on to explain that the organization is "an American institution," "is really all about good, Christian people coming together to help each other," and that it's still against the races mixing and "immigrants taking jobs." He also said, "A lot of people need to get over what happened in the 60s and move on."

Regarding the flag burning that took place at Occupy Charlotte's campsite on Old City Hall's lawn, Barker said, "I don't think you should have the right to burn the American flag." He also said that if people don’t like America, they should move, going on to say that prospective Klan members must take an oath that includes a promise “to be patriotic towards veterans, the flag and the country.”

Listen to the N.C. KKK's voice mail greeting here, which offers more insight into what the group stands for today.

CL shared Barkers' comments with both Jason Bargert, who was arrested after setting fire to American flags Friday morning, and Occupy Charlotte, via Laurel Green of the organization's "internet and media working group," and requested a comment in response.

According to an ongoing debate on one of Occupy Charlotte's Facebook group pages, Bargert and one other occupier have reportedly been exiled from the camp over the flag burning incident.