Secessionists plan to pepper highways with Confederate flags

How The Confederate Rose Again

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

16 PHOTOS
Charleston SC shooting suspect. Dylann Roof
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Charleston SC 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.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
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)
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)
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)
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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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