Fundraiser celebrating fraternities that guarded American flag during protest raises $500K

People across the country this week are supporting students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who organized to protect a prominent American flag on campus that was at the center of pro-Palestinian student protests.

A GoFundMe launched to reward fraternity members who guarded the flag has so far raised more than $500,000 to honor the students' patriotism, according to a GoFundMe page. Fraternity members who spoke with USA TODAY said they intend to use money they might receive to support charities aligned with their beliefs, including supporting Israel.

On Tuesday, pro-Palestinian student protesters replaced the American flag with a Palestinian flag. After police on campus restored the American flag, about 30 counter-protesters, including members of the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi, came together and guarded it for hours, fraternity members said.

"We're supposed to be united in our political beliefs under that flag, no matter what we believe," Brendan Rosenblum, a member of Alpha Epsilon Pi, told USA TODAY.

An onlooker reads a list of demands from pro-Palestinian student protesters at an encampment at the University of North Carolina on April 26, 2024. On April 30, protesters replaced a prominent American flag flying in the quad with a Palestinian flag.
An onlooker reads a list of demands from pro-Palestinian student protesters at an encampment at the University of North Carolina on April 26, 2024. On April 30, protesters replaced a prominent American flag flying in the quad with a Palestinian flag.

Tuesday's events at UNC were one of several tense stand-offs between student protesters and police on college campuses this week. Rosenblum said pro-Palestinian students threw plastic water bottles at him, and Trevor Lan, a freshman from Charlotte, North Carolina, said he saw police use pepper spray against protesters.

Six students at the Chapel Hill campus were arrested Tuesday, the Daily Tar Heel reported, and university administration canceled afternoon classes.

Lan, an Alpha Epsilon Pi member, said he stood up to protect the American flag because it represents the First Amendment.

“They have a right to protest, it’s a legal right under our Constitution, and the American flag is tied in with that,” said Lan. “We wanted to ensure that the American flag wasn’t once again taken down.”

The organizer of the GoFundMe praised the fraternity brothers, and instructed online donors to help them throw a "rager."

"These boys... no, men, of the UNC Chapel Hill Pi Kappa Phi, gave the best to America and now they deserve the best," the GoFundMe's organizer, John Noonan, wrote. Noonan did not respond to a request for comment.

'Jewish and Israeli causes' could benefit from fundraiser

Both the national chapter of Pi Kappa Phi and the international chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi said money from the GoFundMe should be donated.

John Piece, the spokesperson for the international chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi told USA TODAY any money received by his international organization could go towards supporting Israel. But he said his group did not endorse the GoFundMe's creation.

"AEPi international is very proud of our chapter," Pierce said. "If there's money that comes to AEPi international, we'll donate it to our international philanthropies, which are Jewish and Israeli causes."

The National Council of Pi Kappa Phi, one of two fraternities mentioned in the GoFundMe, said in an online statement the money raised should go to charity after the UNC chapter receives it. Maureen Walker, the organization's marketing officer, referred to the statement when responding to a request for comment.

"We, along with our student members, believe the right use for these funds is to support charitable endeavors if these funds are received," the national chapter's statement said.

The national council also said they will not receive any of the funds that go to the local fraternity and did not endorse the creation of the GoFundMe. The demonstrations that took place at UNC Tuesday were all an important part of campus discourse, the national council said.

"These members displayed their values alongside other members of their community. Pi Kappa Phi respects the right of our members to participate in civil, peaceful public discourse," the statement says.

UNC frat members try to receive funds

Alpha Epsilon Pi member Mitchell Meyer said a handful of fraternities at UNC have been in touch with the GoFundMe's organizer, and they're trying to figure out how to allot the money. As of Friday, it's unclear how the funds will be divvied up and when, he said.

"All the fraternities involved are working with them to come up with something everyone is happy with," Meyer, a sophomore, told USA TODAY.

Meyer said members of UNC's Greek life community did not know the GoFundMe organizer before this week's events unfolded.

Rosenblum and Lan said they would plan to use any money they receive for charitable purposes, but could not speak on behalf of members of any other fraternities.

"It is our biggest wish that we can use this money to create a positive impact," Lan said.

On Wednesday, the American flag in one of UNC's main quads was surrounded by two levels of temporary metal fencing, the Daily Tar Heel reported.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Viral GoFundMe wants 'rager' after UNC frats protected American flag