Woman takes down Confederate flag on Statehouse grounds

Bree Newsome of Charlotte climbs a flagpole Saturday to remove the Confederate battle flag at a Confederate monument in front of the Statehouse in Columbia. She was taken into custody when she came down. The flag was raised again by capitol workers about 45 minutes later.

COLUMBIA — A Charlotte woman successfully shimmied the flagpole of the South Carolina Statehouse’s Confederate Soldier Monument and took down the Confederate battle flag.

Bree Newsome, 30, dressed in climbing gear and helmet, removed the flag just after 6 a.m., about four hours before a pro-Confederate flag rally was set to take place at the monument.

Newsome and James Ian Tyson, 30, also of Charlotte, were arrested by Department of Public Safety officers as soon as Newsome touched the ground. The two were later charged with defacing a monument. Tyson was inside the wrought iron fence surrounding the 30-foot pole helping Newsome, DPS said.

A judge later set the bond for the two of them at $3,000. If convicted, they could spend up to three years in jail and pay a fine of up to $5,000.

The flag was down for about an hour before it was replaced with a new one, said DPS Spokeswoman Sherri Iacobelli.

The group of activists, which includes a few members of the Black Lives Matter movement, that helped organize the climb said in a release that it was an effort “to do what the SC legislature has thus far neglected to do.”

“We removed the flag today because we can’t wait any longer,” Newsome said in the statement. “We can’t continue like this another day. It’s time for a new chapter where we are sincere about dismantling white supremacy and building toward true racial justice and equality.”

Since the mass killing of nine churchgoers in Charleston, the state has been under fire for flying the Confederate battle flag on Statehouse grounds. On Tuesday, lawmakers voted to allow discussion of removing the flag during a special session, although it is unlikely that will occur before July 6.

House Minority Leader Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, represented Newsome in court on Saturday. Rutherford, a criminal defense attorney, has led the call for the removal of the battle flag in the past week, and has unsuccessfully tried to get legislation through the General Assembly that would have removed the flag in the past.

Rutherford would not issue any comment Saturday beyond the fact that Newsome “maintains her innocence on the charge.”

On her website, Newsome is described as a “staunch advocate for human rights and social justice.” It states that she was arrested in the past, “during a sit-in at the North Carolina State Capitol where she spoke out against the state’s recent attack on voting rights.”

Supporters of Newsome and Tyson launched an Indiegogo campaign that by 4 p.m., Saturday had collected nearly $50,000 to help cover their legal expenses. NAACP President Cornell William Brooks commended Newsome’s “courage and moral impulse” in a written statement.

“The NAACP calls on state prosecutors to consider the moral inspiration behind the civil disobedience of this young practitioner of democracy,” Brooks said. “Prosecutors should treat Ms. Newsome with the same large-hearted measure of justice that inspired her actions. The NAACP stands with our youth and behind the multi-generational band of activists fighting the substance and symbols of bigotry, hatred and intolerance.”

Back at the Statehouse, Confederate flag supporters said they hope Newsome is punished to the fullest extent of the law.

“We consider this flag as a flag of heritage not hate,” said 75-year-old Greenville resident Leland Browder. “I don’t hate anybody. We feel like it’s a part of our history. It’s a part of the South.”

About 60 people attended the pro-flag rally in front of the monument and on the steps of the capitol building.

Ryan Hughes, a 22-year-old from North Augusta, said the nation is headed toward socialism as Confederate flags across the country continue to be lowered. He also said state lawmakers and Gov. Nikki Haley are pandering to the federal government in their calls for the removal of the battle flag.

“There are only a few local hard-core people who are going to stand up and defend the Southern heritage,” said Hughes, adding that rest of the country bullies the South. “Just people from the South, in general; we are the most oppressed group in America today. It needs to change.”

Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.