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It’s a grainy photo that many woke up to Wednesday morning, hours after Donald Trump won the race for president – shrouded figures carrying flags or signs on a bridge above a busy North Carolina highway.
"KKK on the bridge in Mebane, NC this morning," wrote Twitter user @kelbi1lewis, along with the photo.
That tweet alone has since been retweeted tens of thousands of times and has also been picked up by people ranging from football player Chad Johnson to terrorism expert Charles Lister and actress/activist Yvette Nicole Brown.
But is it true?
The Twitter user who started the viral rumors didn't respond to our requests for comment. After spending some of Wednesday retweeting news that her post was trending internationally, she later deleted her account.
Trump was endorsed by the KKK’s official newspaper. And after his victory became official Wednesday morning, former KKK Imperial Wizard David Duke tweeted: "This is one of the most exciting nights of my life. Make no mistake about it, our people have played a HUGE role in electing Trump!"
However, there's no proof that the Klan was on the march in North Carolina, like the viral post claimed.
The photo appears to show a group of Trump supporters that local media also interviewed.
And according to that news report and follow-up interviews, none of them were wearing KKK regalia, carrying Confederate flags or doing anything else that would link them to the racist group.
The scene on the bridge
Although the tweet claimed the marchers were on the bridge in Mebane Wednesday morning, they were actually there on Tuesday afternoon and night.
Natalie Allison Janicello, a reporter for the local Burlington Times-News, was there interviewing them. She said she’s sure the group in the viral post is the same group she spoke with; she could recognize the same flags and the neon yellow shirt of someone in the photo.
None of them were wearing any KKK regalia, she said, or carrying flags associated with the Confederacy or white supremacy movements. Instead, they had Trump signs, red-white-and-blue scarves and an assortment of American, Christian and "Don’t Tread On Me" flags.
"There was no one claiming or professing to be part of the KKK," Janicello said. "These were just local conservatives who were out there for Trump."
Janicello said they had actually come to that spot a few times a month, since February, to wave flags to passing traffic.
Furthermore, neither the Mebane Police Department nor the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office received complaints of KKK activity close to the election – either at that bridge or anywhere else in the area. The sheriff’s office said in a press release Wednesday that calls only started coming in after the photo went viral, and that there’s nothing to substantiate the rumors.
"Several members of law enforcement had observed these individuals over the past weeks, and never observed any paraphernalia related to the KKK nor Confederate symbols," the press release said. "No suspicious activity was observed nor reported."
The newspaper’s photos from the bridge show that some of the marchers were affiliated with the group Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County (ACTBAC). It received some notoriety this summer when it began raising money to buy and install Confederate flags along Interstate 40, which is the busiest road in a number of North Carolina counties.
But there were no Confederate flags or KKK regalia visible at the Trump celebration, Janicello said. She also interviewed an Alamance County Republican Party official at the bridge, but party leaders later told us there was no formal connection.
"I haven’t even heard of what you’re talking about," said Ben York, the Alamance County Republican Party chairman, several hours after the image had gone viral.
The KKK in North Carolina
Despite there being no proof behind the viral claim, Alamance County was one of the major early hotbeds of KKK activity in North Carolina.
In an 1870 incident known as the Kirk-Holden War, a band of Klan supporters from Alamance and Caswell counties attempted to capture the town of Pittsboro in neighboring Chatham County. They were defeated by a militia formed by Gov. William Holden, who also arrested some prominent Klan supporters. That infuriated white supremacist state lawmakers, who soon made Holden the first governor in U.S. history to be impeached and removed from office. Holden was pardoned by the N.C. Senate in 2011.
The contemporary KKK has also found support in the central area of the state, called the Piedmont, which includes Alamance County.
"In North Carolina, one of its banner states, the modern Klan thrived among mill workers and other blue-collar laborers in the Piedmont," according to the 2006 book Encyclopedia of North Carolina.
A viral post on social media claimed to show KKK members marching in Mebane, N.C. on Wednesday morning after Trump won the election.
Trump has been supported by the KKK, and that area of North Carolina does have longstanding ties to KKK activity. But thanks to a newspaper reporter who was at the scene, and whose reporting was corroborated by local law enforcement, we know that there’s no substance to the rumors.
The people were not wearing KKK regalia and didn’t even have a Confederate flag amongst them. They also were never overheard saying anything about the KKK – they were simply excited for Trump.
We rate this claim False.
After we wrote this, the KKK did hold a widely publicized "victory" parade in North Carolina, celebrating Donald Trump's presidential win. But that doesn't change anything about this rating, since they were separate events on different days and in different places.
The Burlington Times-News, Nov. 8, 2016, "Trump fans rally above interstate"
North Carolina Highway Memorial Marker Program, "William W. Holden 1818-1892"
Phone interview with Natalie Janicello, Burlington Times-News reporter
Phone interview with Mebane Police Department Clerk
Encyclopedia of North Carolina, 2006, "Ku Klux Klan"
Caswell County Historical Association, 2007, "Kirk-Holden War"
N.C. State University, "Republicans and the Ku Klux Klan in North Carolina"
N.C. State University, "The Ku Klux Klan and the Kirk-Holden War"
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