On Monday, protesters clashed with a pro-Confederacy activist group in South Carolina after its members raised the stars and bars at the statehouse, the Post and Courier reports.
The Confederate flag had flown above capitol grounds in Columbia since the 60s before it was removed in 2015, a decision lawmakers reached in response to the Charleston church shooting. Now, for the second year in a row, the South Carolina Secessionist Party (SCSP) returned to the statehouse on the anniversary of the flag's removal to raise one in protest.
According to the South Carolina Department of Administration, the organization "followed the appropriate process for reserving a section of the grounds to hold an event," securing the right to raise the flag on a temporary pole until 5 PM Monday, NBC News reports. Police stood by to make sure protesters and SCSP members didn't get into an altercation.
The demonstration—complete with Civil War reenactors and a pledge to the Confederacy—was designed to "piss people off to get things done," SCSP founder James Bessenger said. His group is pushing state legislators to find a home for the stars and bars in a Columbia, South Carolina, military museum—a provision negotiated when the flag was removed two years ago. Lawmakers have been debating how to display it ever since, the Post and Courier reports.
The ongoing debate points to just how divisive removing the flag was in South Carolina. After Dylann Roof gunned down nine black parishioners in a Charleston church back in 2015, photos surfaced of the self-identified white supremacist posing with a Confederate flag. Then-governor Nikki Haley led a charge to remove the flag from capitol grounds, and ran into opposition from state representatives who viewed the stars and bars as a symbol of heritage, not hatred. Eventually, Haley and her supporters won out.
But the SCSP won't stop fighting to preserve what Bessenger has called "the banner under which 20,000-plus South Carolinians and 250,000-plus Southerners of all races laid down their lives in service to their states," according to the Independent Mail.
"[We] are tired of seeing corporations and organizations attempt to bully Southern states into condemning their heritage and sacrificing the honor of their Confederate veterans on the altar of political correctness," Bessenger told the Mail back in March.
For their part, the folks protesting the SCSP's ceremony said the stars and bars is a long-dead, dark symbol of racism and hatred, according to the Post and Courier.
"You lost then and you're going to lose again," one protester reportedly shouted at Monday's ceremony. "Your ugly flag is no longer required. The slaves are free."
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