Thousands Ride in Support of Confederate Flag at Marion County Complex

Kristine Crane, Ocala Star Banner, July 12, 2015

An estimated 2,000 vehicles, mostly motorcycles and trucks adorned with Rebel flags, took part in a rally and ride Sunday afternoon in support of keeping a Confederate flag flying in front of the McPherson Governmental Complex in Ocala.

The event was organized by David Stone, of Ocala, and was called the Florida Southern Pride Ride. Police officials estimated participation at a couple thousand vehicles.

The ride started about 1 p.m., and by 1:30 p.m. could be seen winding its way through Ocala.

Participants were wearing shirts that said “heritage not hate” and talked of defending a way of life rooted in Southern traditions.

Danny Hart, of Dunnellon, had two Confederate flags and the American flag in the back of his truck. He pointed out that the U.S. flag was flying higher and said that he had come to participate in the ride to “defend freedom.”

Another ride participant, Rick Hart, said, “It’s a history thing. The flag is also a military flag. It’s not a race symbol.”

Phil Walters, a member of the Confederate Sons of America, felt compelled to attend to defend history against what he calls “intellectual dishonesty.” Walters said the NAACP’s 1991 resolution “abhorring the Confederate Battle Flag” has set the tone for conflict and hatred.

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A replica of the General Lee from the 1979-85 “The Dukes of Hazzard” TV show led the way during the ride, followed by motorcycles and then pickup trucks. The ride was expected to be 17 miles total and loop back to parking lots north of the city on North U.S. 441.

Ocala Police Department Sgt. Erica Hay said the ride was rerouted away from the Northwoods neighborhood after some residents threatened to shoot into the procession.

The ride was organized to support the Marion County Commission’s decision Tuesday to return the Confederate flag to a historical display in front of the McPherson Governmental Complex. The flag had been removed after a massacre at an African-American church in Charleston. {snip}

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On Sunday, a few black people participated in the ride. One of them, Renee Gore, 34, of Dunnellon, said that to her the flag means “heritage, love and family.”

Another black person, Dwayne Webb, 23, of Ocala, said he came specifically “to show people (the flag) is not about prejudice and hate.” For Webb, the flag represents “good living, respect, and honesty,” things that he associates with the South.

Webb participated in the ride with his friends, also in their twenties. “I got goose-bumps (during the ride),” said Mike Ponticelli, 29, also of Ocala. They were hanging out in a parking lot with several of the other participants after the ride’s conclusion.

“We were standing up for what we believe in: manners and common courtesy towards all people, no matter who you are,” Ponticelli said.

“It’s a positive movement,” Webb added.

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The organizers also announced that a peaceful sit-in to protest the flag will take place Wednesday at 9 a.m. at the south end of the McPherson Governmental Complex. The sit-in is being sponsored by Brown Memorial Funeral Home.

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