GRAHAM — Two U.S. Marines pleaded guilty to trespassing during the Confederate Memorial Day rally May 20 at the Old Courthouse, ending their Alamance County entanglement, but leaving questions about the conduct of service members.
Joseph W. Manning, 32, of 18 Barksdale Drive, Jacksonville, pleaded guilty to first-degree trespassing, and Michael Joseph Chesny, 35, of 109 Forsyth Road, Havelock, accepted a so-called Alford plea in which he pleaded guilty without admitting he committed a crime. The pleas were entered Tuesday in Alamance County District Court.
Judge Katie Overby sentenced the men to time served — eight hours in jail before being released on bond — as well as court and legal fees. They did not have a plea offer from the District Attorney’s Office.
They were arrested May 20 during a Confederate rally in Graham’s Court Square. Police say they climbed on top of 101 N. Main St., a building adjacent to the historic courthouse, prior to Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County’s Confederate Memorial Day rally, without permission of the owner, Jason Cox, and let down a banner that read, “He who controls the past controls the future,” a quote from George Orwell’s novel “1984,” and that also featured an “Identitarian” symbol and the letters “YWNRU” on the side.
The acronym stands for “You will not replace us,” the slogan chanted by demonstrators carrying torches in Charlottesville, Va., at protests of the removal of a Confederate monument in May, and at the infamous “Unite the Right” protest Aug. 11 and 12. According to a protest leader, the slogan is an affirmation of being white.
Manning is a staff sergeant stationed at the Marine Corps Combat Engineer School at Camp Lejeune and an instructor in the program. Last month the Times-News learned he was “being processed for administrative separation from the Marine Corps, based on allegations brought against him as a result of his arrest May 20, 2017,” wrote Capt. Joshua Pena, public information officer with the Training and Education Command.
Chesny is under a different command and, while the Marine Times reported he was under “administrative punishment,” his lawyer, Monica McKinney, told Overby that actually Chesny has been promoted to staff sergeant since his arrest. The Communications Strategy and Operations Office at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point did not return a call from the Times-News on Tuesday seeking confirmation.
Both Marines are decorated combat veterans.
Chesny is stationed at Cherry Point Air Station, where he serves as an explosives ordnance technician. He enlisted in November 2007 and became a sergeant in May 2013.
Manning joined the USMC in 2002, and has been a staff sergeant since 2014, earning a number of awards — including a Purple Heart — as well as good conduct, Afghanistan campaign and Iraq campaign medals. Chesny has received three Marine Corps good conduct medals, as well as multiple medals related to his deployment in Afghanistan.
The corps has officially condemned Manning’s and Chesny’s actions in Graham.
Since a counterprotester was killed last month in Charlottesville, military leaders, including USMC Commandant Gen. Robert Neller, have taken a public stand against “racial hatred and extremism,” as Neller wrote in a Tweet.
While the man charged in that death in Charlottesville, James Alex Fields Jr., spent only about four months in the U.S. Army, the military has been at pains since to avoid any association between service members and white supremacists. A 2008 FBI report warned that far-right leaders were making an effort to recruit active-duty and recently discharged combat veterans.
This does not conclude the legal fallout from the May 20 rally. Two protesters with Industrial Workers of the World still face felony charges of assaulting law enforcement officers, including Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson, and a third faces misdemeanor charges.
Reporter Isaac Groves can be reached at email@example.com or 336-506-3045. Follow him on Twitter at @tnigroves.
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