KKK-led rally at South Carolina Statehouse is met by counter-protesters

Law enforcement personnel try to separate opposing sides on the grounds of the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia.

Law enforcement personnel try to separate opposing sides on the grounds of the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia.

(Erik S. Lesser / European Pressphoto Agency)

A rally led by the Ku Klux Klan to protest the removal of the Confederate battle flag was staged Saturday outside the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia, where it was met with a counter-protest by African American activists.

The size of the overall crowd was estimated at 2,000, and at least five arrests were made, according to the South Carolina Department of Public Safety.

A giant Confederate battle flag that had long flown outside the Statehouse was ceremoniously taken down July 10 after South Carolina legislators, after much debate, voted to remove it.

The decision came as a result of last month’s shooting attack on a historic black church in Charleston that left nine people dead. The suspected shooter, Dylann Roof, has been charged with nine counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder. Web images of Roof that later surfaced showed him brandishing the battle flag.


On Saturday, a few dozen people, including members of the KKK, marched up the Statehouse steps to wave Confederate and neo-Nazi flags.

The south side of the Statehouse had been dedicated to the pro-flag rally, while the north side is where the counter-protesters had gathered. The counter-protest was organized by the Black Educators for Justice.

In a video shot by a local television crew, supporters of the battle flag could be seen repeatedly yelling “white power” and pumping their fists in the air.

“We don’t deserve to lose our heritage,” said one pro-flag protester in an interview with the State, a local news outlet. “I’m definitely in favor of the flag staying up. ... Nobody alive today has ever done anything like slavery.”

Behind a steel barricade stretching down the street, a line of counter-protesters shouted at the group.

“You’re a disgrace!” shouted one man in video coverage on NBC. “Ya’ll need to go back home.”

As the exchanges grew more heated, additional law enforcement officers were brought to the scene and, according to the Department of Public Safety, decided to shut down the rally as tensions flared.

Five men were arrested and taken to Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center in Columbia. Three were charged with third-degree assault and battery, one was charged with disorderly conduct, and the other was charged with breaching the peace, authorities said.

One of the groups that said it would participate in the pro-flag rally was the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, based in Pelham, N.C. On Saturday, the group’s answering machine carried a recorded statement that said the rally at the Statehouse was a way to stand up for Confederate history and for Southerners who fought against federal tyranny.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley last week had asked the state’s residents not to give the rally any extra attention.

“Our family hopes the people of South Carolina will join us in staying away from the disruptive, hateful spectacle members of the Ku Klux Klan hope to create over the weekend and instead focus on what brings us together,” she said. “We want to make the Statehouse a lonely place for them.”

Twitter: @natalieschachar