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Two Activists Charged With 'Defacing a Monument' After Scaling Pole to Remove Confederate Flag in South Carolina

An activist scaled a 30-foot steel flagpole just after dawn and removed the flag, which is protected by state law and was raised again a short time later.
June 27, 2015, 1:20pm
Photo via The Tribe/YouTube

Activist Bree Newsome, 30, began scaling the 30-foot flagpole outside the South Carolina Statehouse building at around 6am Saturday morning. She got about halfway up before she attracted the attention of police officers below, who sternly called for her to "come down off the pole."

Newsome would eventually descend, but only after reaching the top and unhooking the Confederate flag. Gripping the pole with one arm and dangling the flag defiantly above her head with other, she declared, "You come against me with hatred and oppression and violence; I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today."

Related: South Carolina Governor Calls for Confederate Flag to be Removed From Statehouse Grounds

Newsome was joined in the act of civil disobedience by 30-year-old James Ian Tyson, who waited below dressed as a maintenance worker in a hard hat and neon vest. Onlookers applauded as Tyson unhooked Newsome from her climbing cables and rigging, while officers from the state Bureau of Protective Services waited to take her into custody. The pair was charged with "defacing a monument," an offense that is punishable by three years in jail and a $5,000 fine.

The South Carolina Heritage Act, the law that imposes those penalties, was passed in 2000 following a campaign to remove the Confederate flag from the Capitol dome and relocate it to its current place on the Statehouse grounds. It is the same law that prevents the flag from being removed — or even lowered to half-mast — without a joint resolution by a two-thirds vote of the state legislature.

NAACP chief Cornell William Brooks issued a statement praising Newsome as a "young practitioner of democracy," and calling for leniency in her case. "Prosecutors should treat Ms. Newsome with the same large-hearted measure of justice that inspired her actions," Brooks said. "The NAACP stands with our youth and behind the multigenerational band of activists fighting the substance and symbols of bigotry, hatred and intolerance."

Rumors swirled on Saturday that Newsome would be represented in court by attorney and South Carolina State House Minority Leader J. Todd Rutherford, though Rutherford's office refused to confirm or deny his role in the case when reached by VICE News on Saturday. Rutherford himself was unavailable for comment. At a hearing Saturday afternoon, Newsome and Tyson were reportedly each released on $3,000 bond.

Capitol Police in SC arresting Bree after she scaled the pole and pulled down the — Rashad Robinson (@rashadrobinson)June 27, 2015

Newsome was arrested once before, in 2013, for protesting a restrictive voter ID law in North Carolina.

A group that helped organize the action circulated a statement shortly after Newsome and Tyson were arrested, referencing the deadly June 17 shooting at the historic Emanuel AME Church and calling the flag a "symbol of white supremacy that inspired the massacre, continued to fly at full mast in defiance of South Carolina's grief, and flew in defiance of everyone working to actualize a more equitable Carolinian future."

The flagpole was bare for a little over an hour before a maintenance worker and an officer of the Bureau of Protective Services replaced it at around 7:45am. A few hours later, at 10am, a previously scheduled rally in support of the flag, attended by a few dozen, took place on the Statehouse grounds.

The flag is gone. All props to local organizers for this amazing action. — Ferguson Action (@fergusonaction)June 27, 2015

Related: Website Surfaces With Disturbing Photos and Manifesto Purportedly Written by Dylann Roof

Follow Tessa Stuart on Twitter: @tessastuart