COLUMBIA — Barricaded and protected by dozens of officers, members of the Ku Klux Klan protested at the steps of the Statehouse on Saturday in blistering heat, screaming “white power” while waving the Confederate flag.
The Black Educators for Justice also held a counter-protest. The crowd at the capitol, including other protesters and onlookers, grew to an estimated 2,000 people.
North Carolina-based Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan organized the protest to express their frustration with what they said is the government’s efforts to erase white culture and heritage. About 50 gathered on the South steps of the Statehouse, which faces Pendleton Street, many carrying Bibles and the Confederate flag, and dressed in plain clothes.
William Bader, the imperial wizard of Kentucky-based Trinity White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, said members of the organization planned to take back America.
“They’re taking our heritage from us,” said Bader, adding that he would like to see the Confederate battle flag back on the South Carolina Statehouse grounds.
A man who begrudgingly identified himself as Daniel Williams, of Virginia, said his decision to attend the rally was based on his heritage and not hate.
“We do not hate anybody because of the color of their skin,” Williams said. “We do not hate anybody because of what you do. We disown anybody who does not believe in being pure. Pure in my race.”
There were also sympathizers among the Klansmen who stressed they were there to support their heritage, but were not part of the organization and declined to identify themselves.
The group mainly stood around, waving Confederate flags, screaming “white power” and obscenities at counter-protesters and occasionally making the Nazi salute. They were left with not much to do, because they were supposed to be provided with a microphone that never arrived, said one of the group’s leaders.
Tensions flared several times, as Klansmen and sympathizers, clashed with counter-protesters outside of the barricades who also screamed obscenities at the Klansmen, leading to five arrests by the end of the day. But the heated exchanges between Klansmen and counter-protesters forced law enforcement to keep the protest to about an hour, ending it around 4:15 p.m., in the interest of public safety, said Department of Public Safety Spokeswoman Sherri Iacobelli. During its peak, DPS estimates nearly 2,000 were in attendance.
To escort the group off the Statehouse’s grounds, dozens of law enforcement officers had to form a line to act as a wall between Klansmen and counter-protesters. It’s unclear if any of the protesters who were provoking the Klansmen were part of an earlier rally by the Black Educators for Justice, a subset of the New Black Panther Party.
That rally, which started around noon and lasted for about four hours, overlapped for a short time with the KKK protest. It went on mostly without any issues. Its members were not kept behind barricades, and their speakers raised issues they felt affected the black community, such as education.
A handful of counter-protesters to that rally stood in the middle of the crowd with a Confederate flag. When disputes started to get heated, law enforcement would immediately stand between each side and attempted to defuse the arguments.
It was difficult, at times, for speakers of the rally to keep the attention of attendees, who were often distracted by the men holding the Confederate flags and the crowds surrounding them.
Atlanta resident Richard Greene, 27, said he drove to Columbia to support the rally, to show that black lives matter. He said the discussion of the rally was important because it encouraged the black community to invest itself.
“This is a new generation,” Greene said. “We can’t just march. We can’t just pray anymore. We’ve got to do more than that.”
Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.