Hundreds of demonstrators from two out-of-state groups — one a KKK affiliate from North Carolina and the other a Florida opposition group — squared off on Saturday on the steps of the South Carolina State House in Columbia.
The Pelham, North Carolina-based Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, an organization that calls itself the largest Klan group in the US, was on one side. On the other was a Jacksonville, Florida based organization called Black Educators for Justice, led by the former director of the New Black Panthers Party. They were joined on Saturday at the South Carolina State House by members of the Nation of Islam.
The dueling rallies took place a week and a half after South Carolina legislators voted to remove the Confederate flag from the State House premises, retiring it to the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum a few blocks away. The controversial vote came weeks after the shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina that left nine dead. The alleged shooter, Dylann Roof, told authorities that he sought to ignite a race war.
On Saturday the Loyal White Knights, demonstrating in support of the Confederate flag, delivered Nazi salutes while waving the around the rebel emblem, KKK flags, and banners emblazoned with Nazi insignia. While the demonstrators chanted "White Power," others in the crowd could be heard yelling back at them, "You're an embarrassment to white people!"
VICE News correspondent Muhammad Lila spoke with the Loyal White Knights' Grand Dragon at the rally, who told him, "We feel very welcome. We got a great reception." He told VICE News that that the Confederate flag represents pride and heritage, not hate.
State police on the scene attempted to create a barrier between the two groups, and at one point encircled protesters carrying the Confederate flag. At another point, several Loyal White Knight supporters managed to carry the Confederate flag along the crowd at the Black Educators' rally.
According to James Evans Muhammad, leader of Black Educators for Justice, his group was there to call attention to the racial inequities that persist, despite the removal of the flag.
"The flag coming down is not progress. It is an illusion of progress," he told The State earlier this week. "You can't pull a 12-inch knife out two inches and call that progress."
All photos by Lewis Rapkin/VICE News