Grace Beahm/Post and Courier via S.C. News Exchange
State Highway Patrol removes the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds on July 10, 2015
The leader of a group that led public demonstrations of the Confederate flag across South Carolina says the group has become so dominated by racists and homophobes that he can no longer be associated with it.
The Anderson Independent Mail
reported Friday that James Bessenger, leader of the S.C. Secessionist Party, said, "The organization was taking a turn I didn't want it to take."
"The people genuinely interested in the history are less in number than people who are blatant and racist homophobes," Bessenger told the Independent Mail
. "I don't want to be associated with an organization or movement riddled with those types of people."
The group's Facebook page
has reportedly been deleted.
For anyone unfamiliar with the S.C. Secessionist Party: The group is not actually
an organized political party, but rather mobilizes around general individual liberty issues, including prominently flying the Confederate flag in public places.
Of course, the Confederate flag has been a symbol of racial violence and oppression forever. In recent history, Dylann Roof, the man who murdered nine black churchgoers at Mother Emanuel 2015, idolized the flag. His personal website showed him posing for dozens of photos with the banner in the time leading up to the day he walked into that Wednesday Bible study intending for his massacre to start a race war.
Nevertheless, there remains a small but vocal contingent of people who continue to publicly defend the flag as a symbol of their families' place in history during a time when forced human labor was essential to the wealth and prosperity of the Southern economy, in which Charleston played a major role. Weekend demonstrations on the Charleston Battery featuring large Confederate flags have been a regular occurrence for years.
Charleston City Council voted last year to issue an official apology
from the city for its role in the slave trade.
A poll released last week
by Winthrop University showed that nearly 40 percent of a sample of Southerners polled believe that "White people are currently under attack in this country." For those who also viewed the Confederate flag favorably, that figure is closer to 48 percent.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a watchdog organization that specializes in hate groups, told the Independent Mail
that the S.C. Secessionist Party disbanding "doesn't mean much for the neo-Confederate movement."
The flag removed from the Statehouse grounds just after the Emanuel murders in 2015 now sits framed in the state Confederate Relic Room, its accompanying descriptor making no mention
of why it is now stashed there.