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SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. (WGHP) — There’s still no indication of who attacked Duke Energy substations in Moore County or why, as investigators work to find leads and utility workers work to restore power to the thousands who have been impacted. 

Social media discussions have raised questions about potential ties to a drag performance at Sunrise Theater in Southern Pines that was set to happen on Saturday night, scheduled to start at 7 p.m. which is when the sheriff’s office said the outages began.

On Saturday night, two Duke Energy substations in Moore County were taken offline after people drove through the fencing around the substations and shot at them. Upwards of 40,000 Duke Energy customers have been left without power since Saturday night as people work around the clock to get the lights back on. Some power has been restored as of Tuesday afternoon, but thousands are still waiting.

‘I know why’

At about 9 p.m. Saturday, an account under the name Emily Grace, identified in her bio as Emily Grace Rainey, posted “the power is out in Moore County and I know why.” In a second post just a few minutes later, she shared a picture of the darkened theater with the caption, “Sunrise Theater God will not be mocked.” 

Around 10:45 p.m. she then went on to post that she had spoken to the Moore County Sheriff’s Office.

“The Moore County Sheriff’s Office just checked in,” she said. “I welcomed them to my home. Sorry they wasted their time. I told them that God works in mysterious ways and is responsible for the outage. I used the opportunity to tell them about the immoral drag show and the blasphemies screamed by its supporters. God is chastising Moore County. I thanked them for coming and wished them a good night. Thankful for the LEOs service, as always.”

Around 11:45 p.m. on Saturday, the sheriff’s office confirmed that the case was under investigation as intentional vandalism in an initial post.

During a news conference, a reporter asked Sheriff Ronnie Fields, “There was somebody on Facebook saying that she was questioned about this. Can you tell me if that’s true and where that might’ve led?”

“Well, I can say there was an individual that put some information on Facebook that was false,” Fields said. “We did, and I urge the citizens, please don’t put false information out there. It takes time for us to run that down, and, yes, we had to go and interview this young lady and have a word of prayer with her, but it turned out to be nothing.”

When the reporter followed up, asking how the sheriff’s office determined the Facebook posts were false, the sheriff answered, “Good law enforcement.”

In a statement Tuesday, Rainey said, “Whoever did this cowardly act to our community should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. Also, to blame any person or group before the investigation has completed is ignored and irresponsible.”

Rainey has also claimed on her Facebook that she intends to pursue libel charges against people accusing her of involvement in the attack.

A now-deleted post shared on Facebook accused the Proud Boys, claiming that they also created fake traffic stops to target people leaving the Sunrise Theater. This allegation and reports of looting have not been confirmed by the sheriff’s office at this time.

Emily Rainey

Rainey is a former Army captain who “resigned her commission after receiving a career-ending letter of reprimand for her actions at an earlier protest in the Fort Bragg area,” according to CBS. She was under investigation for leading a group of people from North Carolina to the Capitol on Jan. 6

Rainey’s social media presence indicates that she frequents or amplifies anti-drag show protests, including “going undercover” at them. On Steve Bannon’s War Room, she described herself as a leader of a Conservative group called Moore County Citizens for Freedom.

In October, she was photographed by photographer Anthony Crider posing for selfies with the Cape Fear Proud Boys at a drag event in Sanford, with a group of Proud Boys flashing the “OK” hand gesture that the Anti-Defamation League describes as an “expression of white supremacy.”

Counter-protester faces down Proud Boy during protest (Courtesy of Lindsey Knapp)
Counter-protester faces down Proud Boy during Sanford protest (Courtesy of Lindsey Knapp)

A photo of Rainey taken at an unknown event posing with Sheriff Ronnie Fields has also been shared on Facebook.

During an interview on War Room on Monday, Rainey talked about her protest against the drag show. She takes credit for the organizer’s decision to change the age restrictions and calls the show “adult entertainment” and compares it to a “red light district.” The organizers have repeatedly said that the drag show was not adult entertainment and that these claims are misconceptions about the nature of drag shows.

Rainey and Bannon talk about having a prayer protest from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Bannon asks for her to describe the “antics” of the counter-protesters. She called them “demonic.” 

They did not address the attack or the allegations specifically against Rainey in the short interview, but Bannon said that they would “follow up” on Tuesday. 

A community on edge

At the press conference held Sunday, a reporter asked directly, “Sheriff, what is the connection of the acts of vandalism to the drag show? Is there a connection there?”

“No, not that I’m aware of. Is it possible? Yes. Anything is possible, but we’ve not been able to tie anything back to the drag show,” Sheriff Fields responded.

Despite the lack of a confirmed connection, the backlash to the drag show and the timing of the attack has left the LGBTQ community of North Carolina on edge amid increasing hostility at events.

Just last week, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security released a report warning the country that there was a heightened risk of domestic terrorism, particularly against the LGBTQ+ and Jewish communities. The warning comes just after threats against synagogues in New York and the mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs.

David Schanzer, the director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security at Duke University, said, “We just don’t know exactly who the perpetrators are or what their motives are. But, once we do, the label of domestic terrorism could certainly be applied here, but it just depends.”

In June, a small handful of protestors showed up to a Drag Queen Story Hour in Winston-Salem. A few weeks later, uniformed Proud Boys arrived at a similar event in Wilmington. In October, they participated in a protest in Sanford, and then a few weeks later they showed up to a drag brunch hosted by Naomi Dix in Raleigh at Umami Bistro.

After Downtown Divas changed their age restrictions, no longer allowing kids or teens to come accompanied by an adult, sources say that Cape Fear Proud Boys claimed they would back down. Local church groups still expressed a desire to protest

The power outage didn’t stop the event at Sunrise Theater. Video shared on Twitter showed that the show went on with patrons using their cell phone flashlights to illuminate the stage. Naomi Dix gave an impromptu, encouraging speech to the crowd.

Dix, the host of Downtown Divas, offered support in a statement to FOX8. “This is a serious matter in which a community is now gravely suffering, however, this is a situation that will not go unseen and we hope the community, despite this unfortunate event, will not allow the fear to silence their light, their power and their fight for what is right. Act 2 of Downtown Divas coming soon.”

“We are devastated by the horrible attack on our power infrastructure that has caused widespread hardship and distress to our Moore county citizens,” said Lauren Mathers of Sandhills PRIDE, who organized Downtown Divas in Southern Pines. “While the investigators work to find the perpetrators of this heinous act, we will be working to help bring relief to those who are enduring the worst conditions and provide support to our LGBTQ+ family and allies. We are here to help all.”

Equality NC released a statement, saying in part that their thoughts were with the people of Moore County who have been harmed by this “act of terror.”

“Regardless of the motivation for the assault, what’s clear is that our state and nation have a problem with domestic terrorism. The protests at the drag by Proud Boys highlight the broader context of anti-LGBTQ+ hate which has been witnessed beyond Moore County. North Carolina tied Texas with the most threats to LGBTQ+ community events this year, with at least 10 documented attacks or protests, and more than 124 nationwide, according to a recent report from GLAAD.”

Equality NC

Charlotte Clymer’s “When the Lights Went Out in Moore County” was a source for this report.