CHARLOTTE, N.C. — With the 2020 Republican National Convention in Charlotte now a year out, a handful of organizations, including at least one hate group, are already making plans to take part. Multiple organizations, including some that were in Cleveland for the 2016 RNC, told us they intend to be here and as a result, local groups are already coming up with game plans.
The newly formed non-profit Love Charlotte has perhaps the most unique approach ahead of the event. While some fear the city's RNC visitors will bring violence and rowdy protests, Love Charlotte wants to welcome those people with love.
"We want them to know this is a city of love, this is a city of respect and this is a city that invites anybody and everybody to come," Love Charlotte Community Engagement Director Vivian Richardson said. "We want to meet them with love, respect, and hospitality. Anybody who comes to express their first amendment right, they have a right to do that, but we want to meet them with love, respect, and hospitality. That's what we're about here in Charlotte, so we will begin right now in our own home. It will be easily spread. We know all eyes will be on Charlotte in 2020, but we want them to know this is a city of love, this is a city of respect and this is a city that invites anybody and everybody to come."
Love Charlotte is a group of more than 60 ministries, churches and non-profits created last year ahead of the convention with the goal of spreading love, so visitors, even those who may lash out next year, feel heard.
"We saw all the division that was going on within our city, within our state, and within our country and all of the chaos that's going on all over the world and we knew that in 2020 the RNC would be coming to Charlotte, so what better platform to be able to bring people together?" she asked. "You don't go in with your own agenda, but what is it that the people need and how can we support you? How can we build you up? We feel that most times, people who are acting out a certain way, it's because they are in crisis."
Love Charlotte members are getting trained by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team.
"We feel that with the training in what to say, how to say it, what not to say most importantly, it will level out some of all of that maybe disagreement that people may have," she said. "We have to remember we all don't think alike and we have to be able to listen, to really listen to what people have to say."
Among those who have already expressed interest in coming to Charlotte include a group of nuns who travel the country by bus (Nuns on the Bus) and the controversial anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church. Both visited Cleveland during the 2016 RNC, a city that overall fared well with protests, but failed in one instance of speech. Cleveland paid a protestor a $225,000 settlement after police arrested him during the burning of an American flag.
Charlotte has yet to announce its protest plans, but during the 2012 Democratic National Convention, the city held a lottery to assign times for speeches and marches for more than 40 speakers and organizations.
Activist Jibril Hough prayed ahead of the 2012 DNC and intends to pray ahead of the 2020 RNC.
"I think we should start with prayer and if anybody needs prayer, it's this city with Trump coming to town," the Islamic Center of Charlotte spokesperson said.
Hough said he won't just be praying. He also plans on peacefully protesting President Donald Trump and any hate groups that will be here to support him.
"We may march, but we do not plan on any violence," Hough said. "I think it's important that we let the world know we oppose him being in our town."
Hough expects speech "that will incite or encourage violence" and expects visitors to include Antifa, Ku Klux Klan, and white nationalist groups.
"From the anti-Trump side, I think you can definitely expect Antifa to come and from the Trump side, I think you can expect Klan or friends of the Klan. Will they demonstrate? I'm not sure," he said. "Definitely white nationalists, like the kind we saw in Charlottesville. Those folks were planning to come here a little over a year ago and I was one of the first ones to organize against them. They decided to cancel, so we prevented that white nationalist convention, but we haven't been able to prevent the RNC."
Hough won't be the only one praying. Love Charlotte hopes to hold a prayer service ahead of the RNC at Trade and Tryon on the Sunday before the convention.
"We believe that prayer works and prayer is the answer," Richardson said. "We want to show our love of this city. We want to pray over our city."