Matthew Shepherd told ABC11 that a group of men waving a Confederate battle flag stood steps away from Matthew's Chocolates at 104 North Churton St.
"They're blocking people from crossing. They're calling people names. People are coming in complaining, griping, bad moods," Shepherd said. "Nobody was really doing anything about it. Apparently, they have more rights than anyone. So I put that on the sign just to lighten the mood a little bit."
Shepherd placed a sign in front of his business that read: "Burn a Confederate flag, get free chocolate." The sign sparked interest around town and a prompt warning from the Hillsborough Police Department to refrain from responding or posting the sign again.
Shepherd later changed the wording to read: "Burn a rebel flag, get free chocolate."
The owner of a Hillsborough chocolate shop has been receiving death threats after creating a sign promising free chocolate if they burned the Confederate flag. Even after he changed its wording, the threats continued. #ABC11 pic.twitter.com/AZ10aTY9YX— DeJuan Hoggard (@DeJuanABC11) August 7, 2019
In response, Shepherd has been the subject of many death threats, which are being investigated by Hillsborough Police.
"It was just a little fun thing for the locals and obviously they were looking for something to pounce on. And they pounced," said Shepherd. "So now we're dealing with all the repercussions of that."
Shepherd declined to go into detail about the alleged threats. However, investigators with the town's police department questioned Shepherd again Wednesday.
When pressed further on the threats, Shepherd replied, "I don't find those to be a Southern value. I don't find those to be an American value. And certainly not a Christian value."
Throughout the day, supporters filed into the store to offer their respects and patronize Shepherd, who has been in business for 12 years.
"If you are buying chocolate out of spite or support, you will get a good box of chocolate," he joked.
This Saturday morning, progressive group Hate-Free Schools Coalition will be holding an emergency news conference at the town's old courthouse.
"Nobody in our community should have to worry about acts of violence in the name of white supremacy," said organizer Caity McArthur. "This should not be happening. And these threats of violence against Matthew, that is not an isolated event. Anti-racists, activists, and progressive activists in Orange County have been dealing with these threats repeatedly online."
The news conference flyer says organizers, including the local NAACP chapter, are taking a stand against white supremacy and terrorism. McArthur felt the event was timely given the weekend's shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. Given the rhetoric, she's not ruling out something tragic happening in Orange County.
"In your head, you're kind of wondering not if it will, but when it will," McArthur said.
Shepherd added: "You can't rule it out. There's always a possibility. If someone's going to shoot a 7-year-old boy, they're not going to have any problem coming after me."
Does he regret posting the sign?
"I don't feel guilty that I caused this," he told ABC11. "I have freedom of speech. What's different between theirs and what I did?"