Secessionists plan to pepper highways with Confederate flags

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A group that bills itself as a political party for "Confederate Americans" launched a campaign this week to rent land by the sides of highways across South Carolina. They hope to rent land to raise hundreds of Confederate battle flags across a state that banned the flag from government buildings more than a year ago.

The South Carolina Secessionist Party, which organizers describe as "a non-profit heritage defense and political activism organization," has dubbed the plan "Operation Retaliation," and party leaders tell Vocativ it is in direct response to the state government's decision to remove the "Rebel Flag" from state buildings after Dylann Roof, a white supremacist, allegedly murdered nine people at a church in Charleston in June of last year.

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"The governor and state legislature didn't take into consideration the people of the state's opinion before they made their decision [to remove the flag]," James Bessenger, the leader of the SCSP, told Vocativ. "They made this decision behind our backs...these flags are going up to represent our right to be heard, which we weren't in this case."

Bessenger launched the campaign on Facebook on Sunday in a post that already has been shared more than 750 times, in many case by people who don't even live in the South. The group is looking for "land to rent along the interstates of South Carolina to remind our State Government and leftwing liberals on a regular basis of their discrimination against military veterans and Confederate-Americans. It's time South Carolina pushed back, and we plan to do it on a grand scale."

Bessenger, a 27-year-old resident of Charleston, launched his party in April of 2015, before the Charleston massacre, but officially incorporated it as a non-profit last month. He claims the group has 2,800 "unofficial" members, but that just this week, they've begun a more formal membership process, including dues, and have 100 sign-ups.

The group is also crowd-funding money to help pay the rent for non-donated land. As of this writing, three people have donated a total of $90. Despite the low figure, Bessenger said support and offers to use privately owned land near highways has been overwhelming.

"I just got off the phone with a guy who wants to let us use some property," he said. "We have 11 sites so far from people who want to help. Some people want to do it anonymously but people across the state are showing their support."

Bessenger said the group plans to vet any potential location to make sure they're in high-traffic areas. "We want people to see it," he said.

The controversy over the Confederate flag has raged for decades, but it flared up again over the last year, after the racially charged murder at the Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston that left nine dead. Roof, the man charged with those murders, had connections to several white supremacist groups he cited in a manifesto he posted on the internet prior to the shooting. Alongside them are images of the alleged murderer holding the flag.

More on the Charleston, SC shooting

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Charleston SC shooting, scene and suspect - Dylann Roof
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Charleston SC shooting, scene and suspect - Dylann Roof
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Dylann Roof appears via video before a judge in Charleston, S.C, on Friday, June 19, 2015. The 21-year-old man accused of killing nine people inside a black church in Charleston made his first court appearance Friday, with the relatives of all the victims making tearful statements. (Centralized Bond Hearing Court, of Charleston, S.C. via AP, Pool)
Dylann Roof appears via video before a judge in North Charleston, S.C, on Friday, June 19, 2015. The 21-year-old man accused of killing nine people inside a black church in Charleston made his first court appearance Friday, with the relatives of all the victims making tearful statements. (Centralized Bond Hearing Court, of Charleston, S.C. via AP, Pool)
Dylann Roof appears via video before a judge in Charleston, S.C., on Friday, June 19, 2015. The 21-year-old accused of killing nine people inside a black church in Charleston made his first court appearance, with the relatives of all the victims making tearful statements. (Centralized Bond Hearing Court, of Charleston, S.C. via AP)
Charleston, S.C., shooting suspect Dylann Storm Roof is escorted from the Cleveland County Courthouse in Shelby, N.C., Thursday, June 18, 2015. Roof is a suspect in the shooting of several people Wednesday night at the historic The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Charleston, S.C., shooting suspect Dylann Storm Roof is escorted from the Cleveland County Courthouse in Shelby, N.C., Thursday, June 18, 2015. Roof is a suspect in the shooting of several people Wednesday night at the historic The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Charleston, S.C., shooting suspect Dylann Storm Roof is escorted from the Cleveland County Courthouse in Shelby, N.C., Thursday, June 18, 2015. Roof is a suspect in the shooting of several people Wednesday night at the historic The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
This photo provided by Charleston County Sheriff's Office shows Dylann Roof, Thursday, June 18, 2015. Roof, 21, was arrested Thursday in the slayings of several people Wednesday, including the pastor, at a prayer meeting inside The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. (Charleston County Sheriff's Office via AP)
Charleston, S.C., shooting suspect Dylann Storm Roof is escorted from the Cleveland County Courthouse in Shelby, N.C., Thursday, June 18, 2015. Roof is a suspect in the shooting of several people Wednesday night at the historic The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
This April 2015 photo released by the Lexington County (S.C.) Detention Center shows Dylann Roof, 21. Charleston Police identified Roof as the shooter who opened fire during a prayer meeting inside the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., Wednesday, June 17, 2015, killing several people. (Lexington County (S.C.) Detention Center via AP)
This image has been provided by the Charleston Police Department, Thursday, June 18, 2015. A man opened fire during a prayer meeting inside a historic black church in downtown Charleston, S.C., Wednesday night, June 17, 2015, killing nine people, including the pastor in an assault that authorities are calling a hate crime. The shooter remained at large Thursday. (Photo via Charleston Police Department)
This image has been provided by the Charleston Police Department, Thursday, June 18, 2015. A man opened fire during a prayer meeting inside a historic black church in downtown Charleston, S.C., Wednesday night, June 17, 2015, killing nine people, including the pastor in an assault that authorities are calling a hate crime. The shooter remained at large Thursday. (Charleston Police Department via AP)
The Emanuel AME Church is viewed behind a police vehicle on June 18, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina, after a mass shooting at the Church on the evening of June 17, 2015. US police on Thursday arrested a 21-year-old white gunman suspected of killing nine people at a prayer meeting in one of the nation's oldest black churches in Charleston, an attack being probed as a hate crime. The shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the southeastern US city was one of the worst attacks on a place of worship in the country in recent years, and comes at a time of lingering racial tensions. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A police officer holds up a tape in front of the Emanuel AME Church June 18, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina, after a mass shooting at the church on the evening of June 17, 2015. US police on Thursday arrested a 21-year-old white gunman suspected of killing nine people at a prayer meeting in one of the nation's oldest black churches in Charleston, an attack being probed as a hate crime. The shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the southeastern US city was one of the worst attacks on a place of worship in the country in recent years, and comes at a time of lingering racial tensions. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Map locates Charleston, S.C., site of a church shooting; 3c x 3 inches; 146 mm x 76 mm;
A view ofthe Emanuel AME Church is seen June 18, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina, after a mass shooting at the church on the evening of June 17, 2015. US police on Thursday arrested a 21-year-old white gunman suspected of killing nine people at a prayer meeting in one of the nation's oldest black churches in Charleston, an attack being probed as a hate crime. The shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the southeastern US city was one of the worst attacks on a place of worship in the country in recent years, and comes at a time of lingering racial tensions. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Map locates Charleston, S.C., site of a church shooting; 1c x 2 inches; 46.5 mm x 50 mm;
The sun begins to rise behind the steeple of Emanuel AME Church, Thursday, June 18, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. On Wednesday, a white man opened fire during a prayer meeting inside the historic black church, killing multiple people, including the pastor, in an assault that authorities described as a hate crime. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
A man kneels across the street from where police gather outside the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (Wade Spees/The Post And Courier via AP)
Surreace Cox, of North Charleston, S.C., holds a sign during a prayer vigil down the street from the Emanuel AME Church early Thursday, June 18, 2015, following a shooting Wednesday night in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Police talk to a man outside the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting Wednesday, June 17, 2015, inCharleston, S.C. (Wade Spees/The Post And Courier via AP)
A passing motorist looks out her window as she stops at an intersection down the street from the Emanuel AME Church early Thursday, June 18, 2015 following a shooting Wednesday night in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
A man looks on as a group of people arrive inquiring about a shooting across the street Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Chaplain James St. John, center, leads senators in prayer, Thursday, June 18, 2015, at the Statehouse in Columbia, S.C. State Sen. Clementa Pinckney was one of those killed Wednesday night in a shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
FILE - In this Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2012, file photo, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, right, talks to a supporter during a break in a hearing protesting his re-election in Columbia, S.C. A white man opened fire during a prayer meeting inside an historic black church, in Charleston, S.C., on Wednesday, June 17, 2015, killing multiple people, including Pinckney, the church's pastor, in an assault that authorities described as a hate crime. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins, File)
State Senator Vincent Sheheen (D-Kershaw) gets emtional as he sits next to the draped desk of state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, Thursday, June 18, 2015, at the Statehouse in Columbia, S.C. Pinckney was one of those killed, Wednesday night in a shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley, right, stands next to Police Chief Gregory Mullen as he addresses the media down the street from the Emanuel AME Church early Thursday, June 18, 2015 following a shooting Wednesday night in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Worshippers gather to pray in a hotel parking lot across the street from the scene of a shooting Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Lisa Doctor joins a prayer circle down the street from the Emanuel AME Church early Thursday, June 18, 2015 following a shooting Wednesday night in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
The steeple of Emanuel AME Church is visible as police close off a section of Calhoun Street early Thursday, June 18, 2015 following a shooting Wednesday night in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Charleston Emergency Management Director Mark Wilbert holds a flier distributed to media, Thursday, June 18, 2015, with surveillance footage of a suspect wanted in the connection of a shooting Wednesday at Emanuel AME Church during a news conference, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Images on a flier provided to media, Thursday, June 18, 2015, by the Charleston Police Department show surveillance footage of a suspect wanted in connection with a shooting Wednesday at Emanuel AME Church inCharleston, S.C. (Courtesy of Charleston Police Department via AP)
The desk of state Sen. Clementa Pinckney is draped in black cloth with a single rose and vase, Thursday, June 18, 2015, at the Statehouse in Columbia, S.C. Pinckney was one of those killed Wednesday night in a shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
Investigators work outside the Emanuel AME Church early Thursday, June 18, 2015, following a shooting Wednesday night in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Worshippers embrace following a group prayer across the street from the scene of a shooting at Emanuel AME Church, Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. A white man opened fire during a prayer meeting inside the historic black church, killing multiple people, including the pastor, in an assault that authorities described as a hate crime. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
A distraught man is comforted as a group of concerned people arrive inquiring about a shooting across the street Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Worshippers embrace following a group prayer across the street from the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Worshippers gather to pray in a hotel parking lot across the street from the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Charleston Police Chief Gregory Mullen speaks during a news conference, Thursday, June 18, 2015, following Wednesday's shooting at Emanuel AME Church, in Charleston, S.C. Police released surveillance video of a possible suspect and vehicle in the fatal shooting of multiple people at the historic black church. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Police stand outside the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
An FBI agent walks across the street from the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Worshippers gather to pray down the street from the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Police stand outside the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Police close off a section of Calhoun Street near the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Police walk down the street from the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Police stand outside the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
A police officer uses a flashlight while searching the area following a shooting Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
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But, despite the controversy—and history—associated with the flag, Bessenger insists he's not a racist, nor is his organization. "You can't demean and defame the flag based on what certain groups do with it," he said. "There are black soldiers who fought under that flag, too. There are black people who today support the flag. Would you ask them if they're racists? It's a very insulting question."

"We don't expect people like you in New York, Connecticut...and other places to understand or empathize why this flag means so much to us," he continued. "Northerners had a different experience than the southerners after the [Civil War]. You all went home while our cities were destroyed—and we're still recouping."

More than a political party, the SCSP, said Bessenger, is a historical preservation group—a claim made by several other southern 'heritage groups,' many of which have been designated hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights advocacy organization that tracks racist and extremist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan, the New Black Panther Party and others. Politically, he said, the SCSP takes much of its platform from the Libertarian Party—like Libertarians, SCSP essentially wants the government to stay out of their way. Despite the reference to secession in name of the party, Bessenger said it's more to get people to take notice than it is an actual movement to leave the U.S. "We're not trying to overthrow the government, or anything," he said.

As for the current presidential election, where many southerners and far-right groups have supported GOP nominee Donald Trump, the SCSP is not endorsing a candidate. "We can't in good faith say that our platform supports either of those candidates," he said.

The post Secessionists Plan To Pepper Highways With Confederate Flags appeared first on Vocativ.

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