Two Upstate activists making a push for statewide hate crime legislation in South Carolina

The Greenville activists who were victims of racist death threats are pushing for hate crime legislation in South Carolina.

Christopher Edwin Campbell, 41, of Anderson, targeted Traci Fant and the Rev. U.A. Thompson with a race-fueled rant on Facebook Live, threatening to “cut, quarter, and corner” them.

"I was in shock. You never feel like somebody would mention your name like that. When I first saw the video, my thoughts were ‘this guy is absolutely crazy’," said Thompson, pastor of Bride of Christ Baptist Church.

Fant, who leads Freedom Fighters of the Upstate, an organization involved in civil rights efforts, agreed and said if it were simple name-calling, it would’ve been brushed off but Campbell making death threats created a sense of danger.

“It’s one thing to call us names but it's another thing to just wholeheartedly threaten our lives and mean it. He said it with so much hatred and vitriol,” Fant said.

Dr. U.A. Thompson
Dr. U.A. Thompson

Fant and Thompson said they'll use their platforms to get elected officials to support hate crime legislation.

"We're going to push for it to be done and we're not going to give up the fight until it is done," Thompson said. "The fact is you should not discriminate against somebody for whatever reason, people have a right to be individuals."

South Carolina and Wyoming are the only two states in the nation without a hate crime law. Several cities and municipalities in South Carolina, including Greenville, have hate crime ordinances.

According to warrants out of Anderson County, Campbell also said in the May 31 video that Fant and Thompson needed their “head chopped off in the guillotine”. In other portions of the video, Campbell mentioned that he had the backing of an Anderson-based motorcycle gang, ‘The Sons of Jericho’ that he said was affiliated with the Klu Klux Klan and the Proud Boys.

Thompson and Fant alerted law enforcement and communicated with the Greenville and Anderson County Sheriff’s Offices about the video. The agencies worked together to charge Campbell with two counts of unlawful communication.

Anderson County Sheriff’s deputies arrested Campbell on June 5. On June 6, he was granted a personal recognizance bond. Campbell will appear in Anderson County Summary Court on June 25 at 9 a.m. His bond requires him not to come in contact with Thompson or Fant.

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A need for state hate crime laws

South Carolina and Wyoming are the only states in the country without a statewide hate crime law to enhance a crime when it's motivated by hate.

The city of Greenville has hate crime laws, but if the crime is committed outside the city or in another county like Campbell's in Anderson, there is no applicable law.

“As with any other law, it becomes a deterrent to would be offenders and if they are facing a harsh enough tone, then they won't be so flippant and free to issue threats via social media, or texting or verbally,” Thompson said.

Greenville was the second city in the state to enact a hate crime law. Charleston was the first city to sign this law into legislation. Since then, Clemson, Chester, Bluffton, Mount Pleasant, Florence and Myrtle Beach have signed similar ordinances. North Charleston and Summerville signed hate crime laws earlier this year.

State Rep. Wendell Jones said that legislation will not only help the state on a social level but also help it when competing to bring in jobs.

“This is a great opportunity for our state to send a message to every marginalized community and every protected group of people, that South Carolina absolutely believes in equality. It believes in protecting all of its people,” said Jones, a Democrat who represents District 25. “This is a message that needs to be sent to attract other companies into the state who are concerned about how their people will be treated if they relocate to South Carolina.”

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The House passed a hate crimes bill, but it died in the state Senate during the last legislative session. Jones said education and pressure on local officials will help pass the bill.

“We have a dark past in this state when it comes to civil rights and how we've treated certain groups of people. Passing this hate crime deal would be a wonderful opportunity to say that South Carolina is trying to move forward to reconcile with its past, but also lay the groundwork for an inclusive future,” Jones said.

Upstate law enforcement officers and community leaders and elected officials held an open meeting to talk about understanding each others points of view. The meeting was held at the Mt. Pleasant Community Center in Greenville on March 30, 2023. South Carolina House state Rep. Wendell Jones spoke at the meeting.
Upstate law enforcement officers and community leaders and elected officials held an open meeting to talk about understanding each others points of view. The meeting was held at the Mt. Pleasant Community Center in Greenville on March 30, 2023. South Carolina House state Rep. Wendell Jones spoke at the meeting.

A response to the video

Fant and Thompson said that they haven’t been able to interact with the community the same since watching the video.

Fant and Thompson said they now must be aware of their surroundings due to not knowing if Campbell or any other individuals he is associated with are in their presence.

"My anxiety is out of the roof as you can imagine. I have to feel more guarded now when I'm in a community,” Fant said.

Thompson and Fant published a recording of the video to their individual social media accounts. The posts amassed thousands of views. Fant and Thompson said the idea of publishing the video came from not wanting someone else to receive death threats based on race and not having it lead to any legal repercussions.

Thompson said he is concerned about videos like Campbell’s threatening their lives and people following Campbell’s commands.

“You don't know how many people espouse the idea that he's pushing and how many people were converted to that philosophy that he is heralding,” Thompson said.

When the two heard of organizations mentioned like the Proud Boys and KKK, they said that the state of the country won’t improve and will only worsen if hate based on some race, gender, sexual orientation and religion continues.

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“It takes a permanent, mentally bankrupt individual to despise someone because of the color of their skin,” Thompson said.

Fant said that level of hate took them by surprise. She said she has spoken to Campbell in brief instances but never knew of the vitriol he had for them.

“I was just thinking, ‘What did I do?’ I didn't do anything to him," Fant said.  "I had in-passing seen him at different events and different things, but other than that, I had absolutely no idea this guy existed. I didn't know the hatred in his heart that he had for us.”

This article originally appeared on Greenville News: Upstate activists vow to push SC hate crime law after racist threats