Less than three months ago, Dylann Roof walked into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston and slaughtered nine people because of the color of their skin. Because they were black.
Hours after the church shooting, pictures surfaced that showed Roof taunting America and his victims. The disturbing photos showed Roof holding the Confederate flag. It was his personal battle flag.
This Saturday, a quiet Labor Day weekend in Washington, D.C., became the sad center of that movement, as it hosted possible the feeblest pro-Confederate flag rally ever at the Upper Senate Park at 11 a.m. According to the event page that was set up for the demonstration, 1,400 people were planning to attend. As it turned out, roughly 75 people made it. People came all the way from Tennessee, Indiana, and Virginia. Of the 75, three of them were “security” guards wearing awkwardly fitting black suits.
The only thing these Confederate flag enthusiasts truly did right was get a permit for their demonstration. This (almost) protected them from the nearly 200 counter-protesters who showed up with speakers, tubas, colorful signs, and infinitely more energy. D.C. law enforcement officials set up a barrier of about 100 yards using themselves as a fence between the “we’re not racist” Confederate flag demonstration and the counter-protesters.
The big theme coming from the Confederate side was that they were not racist and don’t have hate in their heart.
“I’m sick and tired of people lying about that flag and lying about us,” exclaimed Ginny Meerman, of Maryland. “I’m sick and tired of people lying about the Confederacy. We’re not racist. We’re not haters. They [pointing to counter-protesters] are the racists. They are the haters.”
She also added, “There are black Confederates. I have black family members that are Confederates. What does skin color have to do with Confederacy?”
During her speech, she referred to the larger group of people counter protesting “these goings on like this over here dills my pickle. I mean. I am restraining myself because I am a Southern belle. But bless their little hearts if I got a hold of them in a quiet alley somewhere.”
Ron Feathers from Virginia, who seemed to be leading the demonstration, told a male counter-protester (dressed in rainbow colored underwear and fake afro), “You don’t need a bathroom if you’re gay, huh?”
Clearly not hateful.
Later The Daily Beast spoke with Feathers. When asked about the shockingly low attendance he said, “I think a lot of them are followers.” He then pointed over to where his fellow protesters were and said “Look, there are some more coming over the hill over there.” There were actually about eight fellow Confederates joining. Ron also added, “There may not be 1,000 or 1,500 of us but we’re going to have a lot of us when we walk to the White House.”
They never marched to the White House.
A few other things Ron told The Daily Beast:
Asked about why the demonstration was happening, “We’re fighting for our young ones, our grandkids. The hatred part is bull, it’s all bull.”
Asked about Black Lives Matter:
“Black Lives Matters is all racist. It’s all the thug life, the Bloods, the Crips, the Black Panthers—they’ve all joined [Louis] Farrakhann. They want to take down the American flag, they want to kill white people, they want to shoot cops in the back.”
The Daily Beast reached out to Deray McKesson, seen by many as a leader of the Black Lives Matter movement, to see what he had to say about this sentiment:
“There is a tradition in this America of attempting to discredit those committed to civil rights work,” he said. “These unfounded attacks on the movement often come from those invested in and who benefit from sustaining a status quo predicated on the subjugation of black people and other people of color.”
Despite his obsession with the Confederacy, Ron lacked knowledge about the fact that Robert E. Lee didn’t have any flags at his funeral. Ron also claimed that Barack Obama is petitioning Congress to change the 22nd Amendment so that he can get a third term.
The speeches were long, dull, often repetitive and very dry. Each speaker got 15 minutes. One speaker was dressed up as an actual Civil War soldier. Some spice came when a speaker came to the podium and got the crowd to do a “rebel yell.”
Then things got a little tricky for the small crowd of Confederate enthusiasts. Police began going through the crowd whispering something. Following each whisper, a perplexed face could be seen, a face of almost defeat. A lost battle in a lost war.
Their Confederate flags were too big. Police officials told the participants that flags had to be under 3 feet if they were on a pole. The demonstrators were already decked out in everything from Confederate flag T-shirts, hats, belt buckles, bandanas, socks, and even hair ribbons. But their actual flags were by and large all pretty big.
The orders handed out upset some. Ray, who drove from Indiana to show his support for the Confederate South, told The Daily Beast in a heavy Midwestern accent, “We’re standing here peacefully, they are chanting, you know, ‘Fuck you’ and all that over there. It’s ridiculous. A lot of their signs over there are over 3 feet. We’re not waving ’em around or nothing, they’re stuck in the ground. I’m not going to do that.”
He also voiced his frustration about the protest itself, adding, “More people should stand up, no one’s got any heart. There’s a handful of people here with balls.“
To clarify the balls comment, he told The Daily Beast “No, the people here have balls, it’s all the people that didn’t show up that were supposed to that don’t have any. They got no heart.”
Ray also added that he was expecting “thousands, even millions” to come to the rally.
At this point in the protest, The Daily Beast counted 63 people, including two kids who both had Confederate garb on.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the police line, the crowd was growing anxious and larger in size. They wanted a confrontation. They wanted these people to go.
The Confederates wanted to march on the White House initially. However, many in the crowd were growing tired in 90-degree weather. Many had long drives back to wherever they were coming from, and many more just slowly started to trickle out.
The crowd on the other side of Upper Senate Park appeared to have vanished for a short time only to sneak up and flank the Confederates at the bottom of a set of steps. This was right around the time that a large portion of the Confederates were starting to leave. However, now they were surrounded on both sides. A large group of protesters on one and a smaller group on the other. And police scrambling in the middle trying to de-escalate the situation.
A man named Eugene from Virginia had his Confederate flag snatched out of his hand by an activist. It would later be ripped to shreds.
The Confederates were trapped with no safe way out. Police officials could be seen communicating with the Confederate leaders and decided that they would surround and escort the Confederates to Union Station, where a bus was waiting for them.
That went terribly wrong.
When the police surrounded the Confederates to escort them to safety, the counter-protesters surrounded the police. It got messy as insults were hurled and people were spat on. There was pushing and shoving and at some point a roll of toilet paper was used as a missile.
The Confederates eventually made it to safety and the counter-protesters who at this point were inside Union Station danced in celebration. “It was our victory dance,” Baltimore activist Kwame Rose said.