Members of a self-described “America’s insurance policy” group say a police officer is being discriminated against because of a tattoo.

The Chapel Hill Police Department placed officer Cole Daniels on administrative leave Monday because he has a forearm tattoo representing the Three Percenters. It features 13 stars surrounding III, the Roman numerals for three. The organization takes its name from a claim that three percent of the people in the 13 colonies fought for independence during the American Revolution.

Navy veteran and Wake County Three Percenter member Wade Bemis said the group is made of patriots.

“I signed and took an oath that I would protect the Constitution of the United States against foreign-born and domestic terrorists. This is an oath that does not expire,” Bemis said.

“We believe in a strong firm government, we believe that the ruling government, the government before that, and the government before that, all reigns have been Constitutionally run. We have not seen anything that’s against the Constitution on our group level.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center considers Three Percenters to be anti-government. The SPLC’s list of active extreme anti-government groups names 689 organizations, including 193 chapters and factions of Three Percenters. The group is active in every state but Delaware, and the SPLC identifies statewide chapters everywhere except Illinois and Nebraska. There are county chapters in those two states.

The SPLC documents North Carolina’s Three Percenter representation as having four groups: III% Security Force, III% United Patriots, and American Patriots III%, which are all statewide, and lists a Wake County organization of Three Percenters-III%ers.

“There are literally dozens of chapters of Three Percenters, but they’re made up of separate organizations. Broadly, the Three Percenters are militia groups, groups that believe you need to have fail safes against overreaching government, that stand against tyrrany, and their main cause tends to be protection of gun rights,” SPLC Intelligence Project director Heidi Beirich said.

“There’s nothing wrong with standing up for 2nd Amendment rights, and I think it’s really up to the Police Department (in Chapel Hill) to figure out where the officer is affiliated,” she said.

“I think in the case of this officer, what needs to be known is exactly which particular organization he’s involved with and whether or not that faction has bias — for example, anti-Muslim bias or something else.”

Bemis said his faction is not familiar with the Chapel Hill officer. However, he expressed concerns about the officer’s suspension and how the department is handling the investigation, and said Daniels is dealing with discrimination because of his tattoo.

Chapel Hill officials including the town manager, chief police, and council members received emails about the officer’s tattoo. A statement from the town manager said, in part: 

The pervasiveness of the concerns raised by many regarding his display of a tattoo that is associated with the “3 Percenters” has caused the Department to question his ability to function effectively as a police officer within this community.

Members of the North Carolina Sons of Confederate Veterans released a statement in response:

While no police officer or superior has been disciplined for their clear failure to perform their duties on August 20, a police officer has been disciplined for having a tattoo. This is further evidence of Chapel Hill’s serious failure in priorities. 

Three men with ties to the Kansas Three Percent Security Force plotted to attack Muslim Somali immigrants in 2016. Beirich said others involved in militia movements have been involved in domestic terrorism.

Bemis said he is not part of a militia. He said the SPLC is misleading people by lumping together all of the groups which identify themselves by the Three Percenter name.

“It hurts my feelings that there are bad groups out there that tarnish the reputation of good people,” Bemis said.

“We do not align with those factions. We believe in taking care of our people, taking care of our neighbors during natural or man-made disasters, and helping in any way we can. Our group has put together efforts to go to Robeson County during the floods there. We took relief in, we took water and we took food and we took clothes. We did the same thing in South Carolina,” he said.

Bemis said there are between 400 and 500 members of the Wake County group, many of whom served in the military. He said the membership is diverse, and that the group is not racist and does not discriminate.

The SPLC said members of some Three Percenter factions associate with extremist racist groups and participated in the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

Bemis said he and others in the local group would not stand with any group that is racist or aligns with racism. He said there is strong support for the government and police.

“We stand behind our law enforcement agents. We stand behind our EMS and our firefighters. It’s just so many things going on in our country right now, that we need to get back to our roots, where we came from, and who we are,” he said.

“We don’t believe in an armed militia. We are here if they need us, but we never see that coming. We don’t see it coming, but we are prepared if necessary if the police call and ask us.”