Confederate flag supporters on Sunday put up a temporary replica of the flag and flagpole which was removed from the Statehouse grounds exactly one year earlier.
The South Carolina Secessionist Party and the Confederate Memorial Honor Guard later lowered the flag and removed the 30-foot pole later in the afternoon.
Roughly 150 people showed up in support of the banner. Cordoning off the rally were nearly an equivalent number of troopers from the Department of Public Safety, State Law Enforcement Division agents, along with other state and Columbia-area law enforcement. Several dozen counter protesters gathered outside the barricade about an hour into the rally.
Lead organizer James Bessenger said he believes the Confederate cause is in retreat due to political correctness and hopes the rally will be a step towards reversing that. “People have been either shamed or scared into supporting their heritage,” he said, noting he’s had many people tell him they support the cause, but don’t want to make it public. “That’s become a cancer. People who are proud of it won’t be outwardly proud of it. And, because of that, we’re losing.”
Most of the rally lasted from 11 a.m. until a bit past noon. However, an honor guard dressed in vintage Confederate army uniforms stayed by the flagpole as temperatures climbed into the mid-90s. Several speakers decried “political correctness” that had vilified and turned public attitudes against the flag
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. “To tar and sacrifice the flag of the Confederate soldier is racism. It’s wrong,” Sons of Confederate Veterans 5th Brigade Commander Wayne Jones said. Jones asked the crowd what the flag meant to them. “Freedom!” and “States Rights!” many yelled back.
Bessenger said the flag did not represent slavery and neither did most of the soldiers who served under it in the Army of Northern Virginia. But he said the flag’s supporters must do a better job of learning what he believes to be the banner’s true meaning. “The Confederate mantra has become ‘Heritage, not hate,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “And there’s truth to that. But just those three words are not enough. You have to be able to tell people why… If you don’t know the history and you don’t know the story that your ancestor played a part in, you’re not doing any good.”
Supporters used a portable base and 30-foot pole to raise the battle flag beside the Confederate Soldiers Monument, where it had flown for 15 years until state Department of Public Safety officials removed it in a July 10, 2015 ceremony. From 1961 until 2000, a Confederate naval jack had flown atop the Capitol dome.