Tiki torches, Nazi symbols, and Confederate flags were among some of the accessories that hate groups brought with them as they marched upon Charlottesville last weekend, spreading racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric as they clashed with protesters. The white nationalists, KKK members, and Neo-Nazis claimed to be protesting the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue. It was hardly the first time this year a Confederate statue’s upheaval had sparked a national debate, but certainly the most violent, as many were injured and one woman, Heather Heyer, lost her life when a white nationalist sped his car into a crowd of protesters.
Less than a week after hate groups waved Confederate flags through the Charlottesville streets, the Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp 79 in Fayette County proudly displayed the Confederate flag at its monthly meeting. A symbol they hold dear is under attack, now more than ever.
“I’m not going to dwell on this,” camp commander Mitch Crabbe said.
Crabbe spent exactly three minutes discussing the events that unfolded in Charlottesville. Thursday evening was meant to be a joyous occasion, a time to celebrate the Georgia division of the SCV’s sesquicentennial. A video was shot in the courthouse square, a play titled “Return to Honor: A War Remembrance.” While the SCV members and guests watched the play, they laughed as they enjoyed the actors and actresses reenact one of the events of the Civil War.
Charlottesville shook the nation, but it didn’t take the spirit out of a group that identifies with the Confederate battle flag.
An organization borne out of tradition isn’t changing a thing.
“That flag represents our heartbeat,” Crabbe said.
The SCV is offended that the hate groups use the Confederate flag to get their message across. It’s a message that isn’t even about the Confederate statues, said camp manager Lee Mize.
On the SCV national website, there are two press releases responding to Charlottesville. The first one, sent from Chief of Heritage Operations Carl V. Jones II, does not condemn any of the hate groups specifically, but does call out “radical leftists” who seek to erase Confederate history. However, a second press release, signed by SCV Commander-In-Chief Thos. V. Strain Jr., opposes KKK, white supremacy and the alt-right movement, as well as “Antifa” and the “alt-left.”
Crabbe clarified at the SCV meeting this week that the hate groups are not in any way associated with the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
“I know that hate is a strong word, but more than anything, we hate that our Confederate battle flag has once again been stolen by white supremacist, Neo-Nazi nutjobs. Criminals,” Crabbe said.
Mize said that both sides, the alt-right and alt-left, are to blame for what happened in Charlottesville. Confederate symbols are an easy target for Democrats to rally against, Mize said, and the events that occurred in Charlottesville only accelerate that rally.
“We are the pawns, and the politicians are the chess masters playing with our lives,” Mize said after the meeting in an email.
The SCV’s Georgia Division Officer Scott Gilbert has been getting calls from Atlanta-based television stations since Charlottesville, but he’s not ready to go on camera yet. He said he could talk to a TV station for an hour and “they will not put on there what we want them to put on TV.”
As monuments are taken down around the country in response to the violent rallies in Charlottesville, the SCV in Georgia is doing all it can to preserve the Confederate symbolism in Georgia. Gilbert has played a part in the last week of informing people around the state that removing a Confederate symbol is against the law.
In Kennesaw, a Confederate flag was cut down overnight on a Tuesday. It was the second time in two days it was removed. A petition to officially get rid of the flag has more than 4,000 supporters.
The conversation around the Confederate carving on the face of Stone Mountain has reignited, although that will likely take more than a petition to fix.
Gilbert implored SCV Camp 79 to do everything in its power to help preserve American history.
“We will not go in with a mindset of Confederate protection,” Gilbert said. “We’re going in with a mindset of American heritage of history and military protection.”
It’s far from the first time the SCV felt its beloved Confederate symbols were under attack. When Dylan Roof claimed to support the Confederacy in a June 2015 mass murder, it sparked an argument of whether Confederate flags have any place in public spaces.
The white supremacists marching through the streets with Confederate flags in Charlottesville are having a similar impact as Roof in expediting the displacement of Confederate symbolism. The SCV isn’t alone in wishing that what happened in Charlottesville does not happen again.
“Hopefully cooler heads will prevail and we stand to defend our flag against an onslaught,” Crabbe said.