Politics & Government

Even without a permit, SC secessionists to rally at State House

South Carolina State House
South Carolina State House AP

Despite security concerns, the S.C. Secessionist Party will hold a rally Sunday at the State House to celebrate the 155th anniversary of South Carolina leaving the Union.

A counter-protest to the secessionist rally will be held at the same time.

“We’re putting our voice out there, that this is not tolerated in South Carolina,” said Tevor Ford, a Columbia native who announced plans for a counter-protest on social media

The Secessionist Party’s reservation for a State House rally at the Confederate Solider Monument was canceled last week after state officials cited unspecified security concerns.

A Department of Public Safety spokesman mentioned the chaos created by simultaneous Ku Klux Klan and Black Panther Party rallies on July 18 in the wake of the Confederate flag’s removal from State House. Those rallies led to five arrests.

Secessionist Party founder James Bessenger said the state is censoring free speech because of the possibility of protests. An attorney for the party asked the state to reinstate its reservation, but had not received a reply as of Thursday

The party, which supports returning the Confederate flag to the State House grounds, plans to hold its rally whether it has a permit or not, Bessenger said. He expects about 200 people to attend.

The state should provide police protection if authorities are concerned about protests, Bessenger said. Dozens of officers were placed around the State House during the July 18 rallies.

The American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina has said state officials cannot pick whose views get expressed at the State House and should issue a reservation for the rally.

No law prevents secession supporters from gathering at the State House. No one else has reserved the north side of the State House, near the Confederate Solider Monument, for an event at 11 a.m. Sunday, the S.C. Department of Administration said.

Ford, who expects about 200 counter-protesters to show up Sunday, said the Secessionist Party is a racist group clinging to the past, a charge Bessenger denies.

“South Carolina is my home, and we have made some progress,” said Ford, who works in Atlanta as radio show host and community organizer. “Secession is not progress. These are the same people who want racism back in South Carolina, and we’re not having it.”