The ongoing Confederate flag debate in the Deep South -- sparked by the recent racially motivated church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina -- was expected to draw hundreds to a rally later this month for a scheduled protest of officials’ call to remove the flag from state grounds, the leader of the national Ku Klux Klan said. The Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan have planned for members to gather at the state house at the end of July, said James Spears, Great Titan of the North Carolina-based white supremacy group.
The group is then expected to attend a cross lighting ceremony at the home of the Klan’s Grand Dragon, who lives 20 minutes away from South Carolina’s State House complex in Columbia, Spears said. "It should be a peaceful rally,” he said. “We usually have pretty peaceful rallies. I mean, to me, it should be a peaceful rally. Like I said, it's for the Confederate flag."
The plans for the rally were unearthed in documents found by WIS-TV in Columbia, as protests at the South Carolina State House turned violent Monday. Anti-flag and pro-flag protesters clashed and some threw punches during a rally in Columbia. The dueling rallies followed last weekend’s flag removal by Bree Newsome, a #BlackLivesMatter activist who faces criminal charges for scaling a flagpole Saturday and removing the flag.
Spears told WIS-TV that he has sympathy for the nine black worshippers gunned down in Charleston on June 17 by 21-year-old Dylann Roof, who was reportedly inspired by white supremacy groups. Spears said the Klan plans to rally in every southern state where a Confederate flag, a symbol of segregation and slavery for African-Americans, could be removed.
"This is our state, and they are not welcome," Spears said. The Klan announcement was a disappointment to members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans who also fly the Confederate flag -- but as a symbol of their heritage and not of hate, some members have said.
The Tennessee-based group regularly organizes Civil War battle reenactments and educational programs for schools and has tried to temper the flag backlash with facts about Confederate heritage. Members said they've fought publicly with racist groups, neo-Nazis and skinheads over their use of the flag to promote hate.
"They are not, in any way, shape, or form, associated with the Sons of Confederate Veterans or will you find anyone there that really knows the history of the Confederate soldier or the Southern people,” SCV member William Hollingsworth told WIS. “They are the racists."