When Democrats helped raise $13,000 to rebuild a Republican campaign office in North Carolina that was firebombed and defaced over the weekend, it seemed to provide a feel-good moment in a presidential election season sorely in need of one.
But then came the backlash.
For some North Carolina Democrats, the GoFundMe campaign was a slap in the face. Many took to social media Sunday evening to suggest worthier causes to donate to, such as LGBT advocacy groups fighting North Carolina’s anti-trans bathroom bill, or the state’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or the RAINN group, which supports victims of sexual assault.
Others wondered why Democrats were willing to empty their pockets for North Carolina’s Republican-dominated Legislature when earlier this year a 4th Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the state’s voting laws had disenfranchised African-Americans and suppressed black voter turnout “with almost surgical precision.”
Tressie McMillan Cottom, a sociologist at the Klein Center for Internet and Society — the same institute as David Weinberger, a senior researcher who launched the GoFundMe campaign — posted on Twitter to draw attention to the structural and economic inequalities in North Carolina.
Others asked why the Democrats hadn’t extended the same courtesy and concern when mosques and Planned Parenthood clinics came under attack in recent months
Others encouraged social media users to donate to Equality NC, the state’s LGBT advocacy group, instead. Chris Sgro, Equality NC’s executive director, told VICE News he hasn’t seen any uptick in donations over the last 24 hours but that he “does not condone the violence and destruction of property” nor the criticisms around the Democrats’ advocacy efforts.
Political columnist Ana Marie Cox wrote on Twitter that she had donated to the cause, using the hashtag #whentheygolow, borrowing Michelle Obama’s “When they go low, we go high” campaign slogan. But her decision to chip in to the fund drew the ire of some of her followers.
She later released a statement explaining her decision but acknowledging she may have made a mistake. “I am terrified about the normalizing [of] political violence and wanted to do something tangible to protest. Something unselfish,” Cox wrote. “I realize the @ncgop back loathsome policies. I realize helping them at all means I have to answer for that. But I also want to believe compassion sows compassion.”
It’s unclear who was behind the firebombing of the GOP office in Orange County, North Carolina. Hillary Clinton wrote on Twitter that she condemned the attack, in which someone lobbed a molotov cocktail through the window, setting Trump signs and furniture ablaze. The side of an adjacent shop that sells balloons and other party decorations was graffitied with a swastika and the words “Nazi Republicans get out of town or else.”
It’s also unclear whether the GOP office had fire insurance. Blake Halsey, a volunteer with the GOP headquarters, told VICE News that office operations had been moved outside for the day. Halsey wasn’t certain whether the building was insured. He says the GoFundMe money will be used to “revamp the building.” “All of our offices were gone,” Halsey said. “Computers and everything.” The chairman for the organization did not respond to a request for comment.
A spokesperson for Daniel Boone LLC, the company that leases the building to the GOP, was also unable to confirm whether they were already insured.
The incident is under investigation by the Hillsborough police and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.