Politics & Government

Confederate heritage groups are low-key on flag debate

John Miller, who is against the removal of the Confederate flag, was one of a handful of people attending a rally to show support for the removal of the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds. 6/23/15
John Miller, who is against the removal of the Confederate flag, was one of a handful of people attending a rally to show support for the removal of the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds. 6/23/15 tglantz@thestate.com

Mark Garmon of Eastover, S.C., was one of a handful of Confederate flag supporters to show up Tuesday at the State House, the day after Gov. Nikki Haley called for the banner to be removed from the Capitol grounds.

While his friend John Miller argued with a host of flag opponents, Garmon held back from the fray, holding a sign supporting the flag and opposing any gun control laws. Both wore the colors of the Brothers Forever motorcycle club.

“That flag didn’t come down off that pole, drive to Charleston and commit a horrendous act,” said Garmon, a retiree who served 37 years in the Air Force and S.C. Air National Guard. “The gun didn’t do it on its own. The lunatic, crazy individual did. Deal with him.

“If they get their two-thirds vote and put it in a building somewhere, is that going to change the crazy people in the world?” he said. “No.”

Since the slaying of nine people last week in the historic Emanuel AME church in Charleston, pro-Confederate groups – so outspoken when the issue was last debated in 2000 – have been oddly silent.

Then, hundreds gathered at the State House in support of the flag, led by some members of the General Assembly. On Tuesday, members of the legislature were voting in Senate and House committees to debate its removal from the doorstep of state government this summer.

So far, no rallies have been announced by any of the three major heritage organizations: Sons of Confederate Veterans, United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Military Order of the Stars and Bars, according to their websites.

Efforts by The (Columbia) State newspaper to reach state leaders of those organizations were unsuccessful. Only the Sons of Confederate Veterans issued a statement on the shootings at Emanuel AME Church.

“The Sons of Confederate Veterans extends our heartfelt sympathy to the families who have lost loved ones in this tragedy,” Division Commander Leland Summer of Lancaster wrote. “We stand with the citizens of Charleston as they come together to mourn the loss of these beloved individuals.

“ ... It is shameful and disgraceful that other organizations chose to use this heinous act to promote their political agenda. Do not associate the cowardly actions of a racist to our Confederate Banner; for it is a Banner of honorable men, both Black and White,” Summers wrote last week. “There is absolutely no link between The Charleston Massacre and The Confederate Memorial Banner. Don’t try to create one.”

Flag supporters are more prominent on social media, however.

A Facebook page apparently created about 1 a.m. Saturday entitled “Keep the Confederate Flag Flying at the SC State House” had more than 15,000 “likes” by Wednesday evening.

A second page entitled “Keep the Confederate Flag Flying Everywhere” was launched late Tuesday afternoon.

“Keep up the good work and inviting all of your friends to like this page,” the page administrator wrote.

“Post it on your walls or send them an invite. We need as many supporters as we can get.”

Wilkinson: (803) 771-8495

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