Protesters in South Carolina have defaced a war monument as the Confederate flag continues to fly over the state’s capitol.
The banner has been condemned by millions–including President Obama and GOP leaders–as a symbol of racial hatred that disrespects the nine black churchgoers massacred in Charleston on Wednesday.
Now, many in the state and around the country are outraged that despite Roof’s admitted racial motivation the flag has not been taken down.
Making many even more upset is the fact that Roof frequently posed with the Confederate flag, implying a greater allegiance to that flag than the American flag.
Images have since surfaced on social media of a monument in Charleston’s White Point Gardens, which was discovered with graffiti on Sunday morning.
The monument, To the Confederate Defenders of Charleston–Fort Sumter, was erected in 1932 as a gift from The United Daughters of the Confederacy.
It is an allegorical depiction of the Confederate army in the city holding off Union forces during the civil war.
The vandal or vandals spray painted the base, writing ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘This is the problem #racist.’
They also wrote ‘Riley and Haley -Why defend this evil -This the root of our evil,’ a note for Mayor Joe Riley and Governor Nikki Haley.
A tarp was brought in to cover up the writing soon after the vandalism was discovered, but not before ABC 4 managed to get a video of the writing on the monument.
Riley and Haley both attended service Sunday morning at Emanuel Church, the first since the shooting occurred earlier this week.
The hot button issue of whether or not the flag should fly is now being posed to presidential hopefuls as they tour the country, with candidates on both sides reluctant to give a firm answer one way or the other for fear of losing voters.
Lindsey Graham has come out strongly in favor of letting the flag fly [Editor’s Note: He’s since changed his mind.], while Mike Huckabee said on Meet the Press that it is a decision that should be left up to the state, not the federal government.
Rick Santorum also sidestepped the question on ABC’s This Week, echoing Huckabee’s sentiment.
Even Hillary Clinton has failed to make a comment about the controversy.
Mitt Romney however on Saturday joined growing calls for South Carolina’s Capitol to take down its Confederate flag in the wake of the shooting.
That same day, hundreds of people staged a protest against the flag in Columbia.
A petition on MoveOn.org has garnered more than 320,000 signatures.
Despite promises from state governors to ‘start talking about it’, there is no indication that the appeals are having an effect.
Showing his support for the protesters, one-time Republican presidential candidate Romney branded it a ‘symbol of racial hatred’.
‘Take down the #ConfederateFlag at the SC Capitol. To many, it is a symbol of racial hatred. Remove it now to honor #Charleston victims,’ he wrote on Twitter.
His statement could provide a challenge to a number of the Republicans vying for the 2016 nomination, who rely on support from the far-right South and are already struggling to toe a pro-guns line following the tragedy.
One of the hopefuls, Jeb Bush, has also spoken out against the flag, echoing President Obama who said it belongs in a museum not on a flagpole.
‘In Florida, we acted, moving the flag from the state grounds to a museum where it belonged,’ Bush said, adding: ‘I’m confident [South Carolina’s government] will do the right thing.’
The century-old debate has been reignited after it emerged suspect Dylann Roof proudly dislpayed Confederate flags on his car and outside his home.
The 150-year-old flag was originally used as a Civil War battle flag by the seven slave states that broke away from the Union in 1861.
But those calling for its removal say the banner is an inappropriate symbol because of its racist associations.
‘We see that symbol lifted up as an emblem of hate, as a tool for hate, as an inspiration for hate, as an inspiration for violence,’ said Cornell Brooks, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). ‘That symbol has to come down, that symbol must be removed from our state capitol.’
Marching through Columbia on Saturday, the crowds held up signs saying ‘honk to take down the flag’, and sang We Shall Overcome.
They also held a silence for the nine murdered: Susie Jackson, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, DePayne Doctor, Ethel Lance, Daniel Simmons Sr., Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, and Tywanza Sanders.
At a vigil for the victims on Friday night, attended by thousands, Charleston mayor Joe Riley refreshed his pleas for the state government to remove the flag.
He added an appeal for gun control: ‘There has got to be a better way.
‘We do not want to live in a country where we need a security guard in a bible center.’
Many Southern whites, though, reject the notion that the flag is inherently racist. Rather it is a long-cherished symbol of their heritage and an expression of a distinctive Southern identity, they say.
‘This is part of who we are,’ said Lyndsey Graham, a Republican U.S. senator and candidate for the presidency in 2016.
He says the flag is simply a symbol of one of the sides that fought bravely in the Civil War, and little more, even though some people may have used it in a racist way in the past.
That view was echoed by Robert Lyday, 64, a retired mechanic who lives in Lexington, South Carolina, and who was selling pins and cupcakes in the town’s bowling alley to raise money for a local college fund.
‘People make too much of the Confederate flag. We need to keep it around to remember our history and learn from it,’ he said. ‘The state flies it because it is part of its history and I agree with that.’
On Friday, the White House joined the debate, saying that Obama believes the rebel flag belonged in a museum.
Don Doyle, a professor of history at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, said that the Confederate flag gained its modern meaning from the 1950s onwards when it was used in opposition to the Civil Rights movement that sought to end segregation and create equal right for blacks.
‘It’s a symbol that is not just heritage and history . . . but it has become a symbol of rebellion against what I consider to be just basic American values of equality, liberty and justice,’ said Doyle, who has studied the history of the South for 35 years.
For Doyle it is no coincidence that the flag was raised over South Carolina’s state house in 1962, when the civil rights movement was cresting and the federal government was putting mounting pressure on states to end segregation.
Many South Carolinians were particularly galled when the Confederate flag was left flying high after Wednesday’s massacre, even as the state and national flag were lowered to half-staff. Although the Confederate flag was near the capitol building, not on its dome, the omission was seen as a mark of insensitivity.
Dylann Roof, the suspect in the Charleston shooting, had a Confederate flag on the license plate of the car he was driving when he was arrested. Just this week, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a ban in Texas on license plates bearing the Confederate flag.