Sunday marks exactly one year since the Confederate battle flag was removed from the South Carolina Statehouse grounds in Columbia.
Some Southern heritage groups plan to protest the anniversary Sunday by putting up a temporary pole with a similar flag that will fly most of the day in the same spot as the original. The protests are being led by the South Carolina Secessionist Party, which launched last year during the controversy over the flag’s future.
The group’s founder James Bessenger said the rally is meant to send a message, calling it a “thumbing of the nose” to those at the Statehouse who voted to remove the old flag last July. “The only purpose of it is to send a message to the legislature and the people who have made a full-time job attacking the Confederate flag and Southern heritage over the last year that it’s not going to go unanswered anymore,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “We’ve let them have their say and now it’s time that we start pushing back on the other side.”
South Carolina’s legislature voted to remove the flag last year in response to the Emanuel AME Church attacks that killed nine African-American parishioners. The man charged in those attacks Dylann Roof had posted online racist diatribes and photos of himself posing with Confederate flag paraphernalia. However, the flag’s defenders called the move an overreach, arguing the flag had little bearing over Roof’s actions.
A spokeswoman at the state Department of Administration said the Secessionist Party and the Confederate Memorial Honor Guard were the only two groups to obtain permits for the Statehouse grounds on July 10.
Bessenger said the group plans to hoist the temporary flag after an invocation at 11 a.m. The flag will remain up until 5 p.m., when the Honor Guard retires it.
The state Department of Public Safety — which provides security at the Statehouse — said it has made “adequate plans” to handle the rally and the expected counter-protesters. “We are coordinating with other local and state law enforcement entities and will have enhanced security in place to ensure public safety during Sunday’s event,” spokeswoman Sherri Iacobelli said in an email. “We don’t anticipate issues, but we will be prepared and will take appropriate enforcement action, if necessary.”
Given the parties involved Sunday, public safety officials do not expect a repeat of July 18, 2015. That’s when fistfights and other violence broke out between groups affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan and New Black Panthers Party held dueling rallies one week after the flag’s removal.
The Secessionist Party has held other rallies at the Statehouse without incident. Bessenger said he was contacted by DPS about rumors that “neo-Nazis” were planning to attend his organization’s rally, but thinks that was an attempt to intimidate the group.