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Confederate flag pulled from S.C. capitol grounds by activists

Supporters of keeping the Confederate battle flag flying at a Confederate monument at the South Carolina Statehouse wave flags during a rally in front of the statehouse in Columbia, S.C., on Saturday, June 27, 2015. Gov. Nikki Haley and a number of other state leaders have called for the removal of the flag following the shooting deaths of nine black parishioners in a church in Charleston last week.
Supporters of keeping the Confederate battle flag flying at a Confederate monument at the South Carolina Statehouse wave flags during a rally in front of the statehouse in Columbia, S.C., on Saturday, June 27, 2015. Gov. Nikki Haley and a number of other state leaders have called for the removal of the flag following the shooting deaths of nine black parishioners in a church in Charleston last week. AP

The Confederate battle flag was removed from a pole on the South Carolina State House grounds early Saturday morning by activists, but state employees put the flag back up not long after. Two people were arrested.

An activist group claimed responsibility. A woman climbed the flagpole on the north side of the State House grounds and pulled the banner down.

The Confederate flag has been at the center of a debate in Columbia the past week, since the massacre of nine African-Americans in a Charleston church, allegedly by a white supremacist.

Activists calling themselves “concerned citizens” said in a news release that they removed the flag about 5:30 a.m. Saturday. A woman identified by the group as “Bree” climbed the pole and pulled the flag down, the group said.

“Deciding to do what the SC Legislature has thus far neglected to do, the group took down the 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 group said in a news release.

The state Bureau of Protective Services said it arrested two Brittany Ann Byuarim Newsome of Raleigh, N.C., and James Ian Tyson of Charlotte, N.C., but Newsome says she lives in Charlotte on her Facebook page.

They are charged with defacing state property, a misdemeanor that carries penalties of up to three years in prison or a fine of up to $5,000 or both.

Tamika Lewis, a member of the citizens group that planned the flag removal, said she had hoped her organization’s action would prompt state leaders to keep the flag down. Lewis said her group consists of North and South Carolina residents.

“We did not expect that it would be raised again,” Lewis said, noting that state leaders “should just leave it down. They were having this hard decision whether or not to take it down. A lot of them are concerned about their political value and their political careers and all worried about losing their constituencies and their voters if they vote for the removal of this flag.

“So we … took it upon ourselves to do the hard part and take it down. All they had to do was keep it down.”

The state Legislature is considering permanently removing the flag. Gov. Nikki Haley this past week called for the removal of the flag. She was supported in her effort by Republican U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott; U.S. Reps. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., and Mark Sanford, R-S.C.; and a number of state lawmakers.

The Confederate flag, raised more than 50 years ago atop the South Carolina State House, was taken off the dome in a 2000 compromise.

Many people who want the flag taken off the State House grounds view the flag as a symbol of South Carolina’s past history of slavery.

Others, though, continue to vehemently protest calls for the flag’s removal, saying it represents Southern heritage, not racism.

Several dozen of those supporters gathered on State House grounds Saturday, hours after the flag was taken down and reraised. They waved the stars and bars, sang “Dixie,” chanted “Let the people vote” and engaged in argumentative discourse with a handful of flag opponents who held “Take it down” signs.

“They’re calling us racist. We’re not racist,” said Harrison Gasque, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and former lieutenant commander of the Military Order of the Stars and Bars. “We just like our white heritage. We like our heritage to stay intact. We’re not trying to hurt anybody. We’re not trying to offend anybody.

“All these people here are trying to stand up for their heritage and their white race. That’s all they’re doing.”

Steps away from them, shouting with a quaking voice as a parade of Confederate-clad trucks cruised past the capitol, Juan Andrews decried the group as “wicked.”

“Total disrespect. My people are in mourning right now,” Andrews said. “They’re loving that. Just wicked people. No soul in at all in them. No conscience. How can you flex like that?

“It’s an American swastika.”

The national NAACP office compared Newsome to Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King Jr. and “numerous Americans who have engaged in civil disobedience.”

“The NAACP calls on state prosecutors to consider the moral inspiration behind the civil disobedience of this young practitioner of democracy. Prosecutors should treat Ms. Newsome with the same large-hearted measure of justice that inspired her actions.”

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