Outside the South Carolina statehouse, William Bader stood tall and defiant as he brandished a large Confederate battle flag. It was not unlike the one embroidered on his black shirt, or the one a local honor guard recently removed from a flagpole outside the legislative building where he protested.
Bader, an imperial wizard in the Trinity White Knights, drove hundreds of miles from Kentucky or, rather, “Klantucky”, as he quipped to Columbia, all in hopes of defending the flag on a sweltering Saturday afternoon.
“They took our flag, so be it,” said Bader, a member of the Ku Klux Klan for the past two decades. “They’re taking our heritage from us. They’re taking the freedom out of America.”
More than a week ago, South Carolina lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to take down the Confederate flag from its prominent position on the statehouse grounds. The controversial decision, which followed a racially motivated 17 June shooting that left nine African American men and women dead inside a historic Charleston church, prompted competing rallies between white supremacist and black activist groups.
The Loyal White Knights, a North Carolina-based group thought to be the largest KKK faction, scheduled the protest to stop the removal of the flag. The group decided to carry on regardless. They received support from other KKK factions, National Socialist Movement members and Christian fundamentalists.
“The blacks have been out here attacking people, stealing people’s property, taking their flags,” said Steven Johnson, a South Carolina father of two who was among those waving Nazi flags during the rally. “I’m scared of what my family’s about to grow up with.”
Forgoing their notorious hoods, more than 50 protesters brandished flags and yelled racial epithets at minority onlookers from behind the protection of steel barricades, watched by dozens of law enforcement officers. According to Bader, some KKK members had planned to hold a church burning, wearing the infamous Klan uniforms.