Watching the Watchmen: Vigilantes Backing the Blue
The “Watchmen” are a vigilante, pro-police, auxiliary-fantasy group based out of Gastonia, North Carolina. The group is led by “David Horton”, who resides in Gastonia, North Carolina. The group claims to adhere to a two-prong strategy: civil defense and civic engagement. The “Watchmen” group has a national body that Horton leads, but essentially two major chapters exist: New York and Gastonia. We cover the Gastonia Watchmen here.
The Watchmen formed in the summer of 2020 in response to the George Floyd uprising, primarily to support the police. Expressing their loyalty to the police, demonstrating on behalf of them, and even coordinating with them is the core of Watchmen activities since their formation. A key member of the Gastonia Watchmen, when asked who the movement was, said, “We are a movement, an organization of folks who are active within our communities and have deep conservative values.”
The Watchmen have a series of key events during which they have been photographed with police and exchanged gifts with them. So who is this group and what is their relationship with these police departments?
The Watchmen never waste a photo opportunity. They post endless images of themselves, such as this one from a street ministry outing involving several members of the group.
Using photographs posted online by the group, one can piece together a timeline of the Watchmen’s past actions (all locations North Carolina):
- On 17 October 2020, the Watchmen held a gathering to honor the police in Shelby, during which the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office thanked the group on their Facebook page. The police posed for photos with the group.
- On 9 November 2020, the Gastonia Police Department explicitly referenced the Watchmen on the PD’s Facebook on a post tagged “#backtheblue” to thank people for the wooden Thin Blue Line gifted to the department. The post mentions by name Larry Dockery, a member of the Gastonia Watchmen and consummate fan of the police. There is no evidence Larry himself is a police officer (current or former), but his Facebook profile picture is an image of a Mount Holly Police Department officer’s badge.
- On 9 January 2021, the Watchmen helped organize a car rally in Gastonia alongside local “Back the Blue” organizers. Police subsequently escorted the car rally through the North Carolina city.
- On 2 February 2021, members of the Watchmen served breakfast to military members at Fort Bragg.
- On 8 February 2021, the Watchmen organized a demonstration against “critical race theory”, which they claimed was taught in Gastonia schools. Attendees of the protest also held anti-mask signs as they protested in the parking lot of a school board building.
- On 1 March 2021, the Watchmen’s Cabarrus County affiliate served dinner to the Cabarrus County Sheriff’s Department.
- On 6 March 2021, the Gastonia Watchmen hosted another pro-cop rally in Gastonia after the death of a police officer, Tyler Herndon. The police took photos with the vigilante group as well as with the parents of the slain officer. A photo of police officers and the parents of Herndon’s parents standing in front of a Gastonia Watchmen banner was shared on a now-deleted Facebook post, which itself was screenshotted and posted to a Watchmen Flickr account.
Other key members:
Larry Dockery, mentioned earlier in a Gastonia Police Department post thanking the Watchmen for their gifts, posted the same piece of art on his personal Facebook account three days prior to the post by the Gastonia Police Department. The wood grain on both images confirm this:
A local consignment shop, which received a placard of thanks from Back the Blue and the Gastonia Watchmen, also thanked Dockery, further confirming his membership in the organization and the overlap between the Watchmen and the general Back the Blue movement. Dockery attended a 15 November 2020 Stop the Steal rally in DC (relatedly, another member of the Watchmen, Jeremy “Psychocrackbaby” Cummings, used a photo from the storming of the Capitol as his profile picture image on Slack).
Dockery also organized a January 2021 Back the Blue motorcade in Gastonia on behalf of the Gastonia Watchmen. During his livestream, he entered a truck emblazoned with “Gaston Pickers Antiques”, which matches the business name of a North Carolina LLC that was dissolved of its rights for failure to submit paperwork in 2013. The phone number on the truck matches the contact number for the company’s Facebook page. The Facebook page’s business address also matches the LLC filing. According to LLC founding documents, the “Gaston Pickers Antiques” was administered by someone with the surname Dockery, though their relationship with Larry is not immediately discernible.
Oboyle acts as the group’s cook and supplier for Watchmen events. A friend of his hosted a GoFundMe to buy him a trailer for these cookouts after his trailer broke. Oboyle also made radio appearances on behalf of Back the Blue efforts associated with the Watchmen in western North Carolina.
Elmer also is planning a Back the Blue rally in Boone set for late July that was pushed back due to a scheduling conflict with the Boone County Sheriff’s Department. A school board event regarding “Critical Race Theory” was announced on the Watchmen Telegram channel on Thursday, 5 August 2021, likely an evolution of the original planning and signed by Horton, the leader of The Watchmen.
Erika Bailey Dills
Erika serves as a photographer and public relations agent within the Watchmen milieu, often uploading images and fielding questions about the group. She’s highly active in the group and shares a broad spectrum of anti-vax content on her personal Facebook and Mewe (where she uses the pseudonym “E Stone”).
The group is seemingly against organizing on Facebook — perhaps due to the bans of similar groups — and instead organizes on numerous other alternative social media. Their leader runs a YouTube channel where he occasionally offers his opinions on such things as “critical race theory” (and how it’s indoctrinating our children), the “shared heritage” of Black and white people (a conservative view, we assure you), and “power hungry” people who “get what they want most of the time” (regarding social media bans).
The group also attempted to organize using the popular chat and server organizing program Slack, though engagement on the server remains low. An introduction post from Horton describes how “cancel culture” drove the group to use Slack:
Interconnectedness and troubling content
The Watchmen’s national Mewe chat, which is dominated by Gastonia members but occasionally includes updates from New Yorkers, is often used to share news of conservative and conspiracy events. Recently, for example, the Watchmen’s leader shared a shareable of an event flyer for a Raleigh, NC “Worldwide Rally for Freedom 3.0” poster, a North Carolina equivalent of the Atlanta rally reported on by DSRW.
Similarly, members of the Watchmen chat also shared screenshots from Q-influencer-turned-neo-Nazi GhostEzra shared in the chat.
The Watchmen chats, like many conservative chatrooms, contain transphobic and anti-gay content. A Raleigh-based actor in a yellow fedora shared the below example:
The Watchmen also take a firm anti-vaccine stance. The leader of the group calls COVID-19 vaccines a “stepping stone to usher in a different type of governing system in our country”, namely the boogeyman of socialism.
The group continues to deny that Trump lost the 2020 election, sharing content related to the strange AZ election audit amongst themselves. For example, the group’s leader shared a screenshot from Sidney Powell’s Telegram channel, which Erika Dills replied to, describing Powell as a “true patriot”:
There’s much more to cover, but we will end with the cringe content shared by the group’s leader regarding his daughter’s prom. Keeping with an embarrassing Southern tradition among middle-aged white men with fragile masculinity, Horton took several glamor shots with his daughter wielding a double-barreled shotgun, which he posted on his personal Instagram and on the group’s Slack:
How the Watchmen present themselves exemplifies the overlap between pro-police organizing and those that sit at the periphery of militia organizing. They serve as a vital wanna-be auxiliary force in their minds while boosting the morale of a socially embattled police force. That the police departments they interact with not only often accept their aid but even actively endorse the group or pose for photos with them comes not wholly with surprise, but is troubling nonetheless.
If this group begins to engage in violent, aggressive, and illegal behavior (as many involved in the militia community do), will the police treat them the same way they treat other movements? Can North Carolina residents expect these police to act rationally towards these groups after the personal relationships they’ve built? What happens if an officer catches word that a member–his friend and supporter–is facing charges?
Does this even really matter, given that so much of Watchmen engagement is under the lens of “Back the Blue”? The origins of the “Back the Blue” movement come directly from ACT for America, an SPLC-designated hate group founded by Brigitte Gabriel. Gabriel herself is an aggressively anti-Muslim activist who has turned hate into profit using the vehicle of ACT for America.