Haley urges South Carolinians to stay away from Klan’s ‘hateful spectacle’

An honor guard from the South Carolina Highway patrol removes the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds on July 10 in Columbia.

COLUMBIA — Gov. Nikki Haley is urging the public to stay away from a planned Ku Klux Klan rally Saturday at the Statehouse, calling it a “disruptive, hateful spectacle.”

Haley issued the statement Thursday on social media, asking South Carolinians to “instead focus on what brings us together.”

“We want to make the Statehouse a lonely place for them,” Haley wrote. “In doing so, we’ll honor those we have lost and continue to make our state stronger.”

It’s doubtful that the Capitol grounds will be empty, however. Three rallies are scheduled for Saturday, including the KKK’s, a counter demonstration by a group affiliated with the New Black Panthers and a church prayer vigil.

A phone message left for the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, a North Carolina-based group, was not returned. A recorded message on its answering machine stated the purpose of Saturday’s Statehouse rally is to stand up for Confederate history and those who fought against federal tyranny.

“Our government is trying to erase white culture and our heritage right out of the pages of the history books,” the man said. “If you’re tired of all the liberal nonsense that is being spewed out by your leaders in government, please stand with us on July 18.”

The Klan rally was planned before South Carolina lawmakers voted to remove the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds, where it had flown for more than 50 years, first from the Capitol dome and later from a flag pole beside the Confederate Soldier’s Monument.

Demands to take it down permanently grew after nine churchgoers, including pastor and state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, were gunned down last month at Charleston’s historic black Emanuel AME Church by a white gunman who authorities have said posted online photos of himself holding a handgun and a Confederate flag.

According to the Department of Administration, the state agency that handles reservation requests for public property, the Klan rally’s will be from 3 to 5 p.m. on the south side of the Capitol complex.

That will overlap with an earlier rally by the Black Educators for Justice scheduled to run from noon to 4 p.m. on the north end of the complex.

James Muhammad of Black Educators for Justice said Thursday they expect their rally to draw hundreds. He said the rally is in response to an “attack on black people” — the shooting of the nine Charleston parishioners on June 17, the burning of black churches and for racial inequality.

“Removal of the flag does not stop institutional racism and white supremacy in America,” said Muhammad, who compared moving the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds to the Confederate Relic Room a mile away to “like having a 12-inch knife in a man’s back, moving it two inches, and saying it’s progress.”

Muhammad said no confrontation with the Klan is sought, but his group will publicly identify any Klan members if there is violence Saturday.

Under state law, the Klan is prohibited from wearing full hoods that mask their faces on public property, and some news outlets have reported they don’t intend to wear their white robes.

Still, the Department of Public Safety is working with local law enforcement agencies to ensure there are no clashes between the demonstrators or onlookers who may turn up despite Haley’s admonition, said DPS spokeswoman Sherri Iacobelli.

In addition to the Klan and the Black Educators for Justice, Trenholm United Methodist Church is expected to hold a prayer vigil on the east side of the Capitol complex from 3 to 5 p.m.

Meanwhile, NAACP state chapter President Lonnie Randolph said the civil rights group will not participate in a counter protest. Randolph said the KKK has a constitutional right to express their opinion, even if they are “anti-America for all people” and “pro-America for some people.”

“I think it’s good that the Constitution supports you whether you’re pro-progress or not for progress,” said Randolph, adding that he’s told several members that it is in their best interest to not counter the KKK rally. “We don’t promote anything that they promote, which is anti-people, particularly people of color.”

Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.