COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Counterprotesters said a passing driver pointed a gun at them Friday and said “All Lives Matter,” as competing groups gathered in front of South Carolina’s capitol building to mark the five-year anniversary of the state's removal of the Confederate battle flag from Statehouse grounds.
The driver stopped in the middle of the road and stuck his middle finger out at several demonstrators who were on a road median shortly before noon, protester Kamison Burgess told The State newspaper. He then said “All Lives Matter,” — a phrase used by critics of the Black Lives Matter movement — before pointing the gun and driving away, Burgess said.
A handful of members of the State House Honour Guard, supporters of the emblem, had gathered outside the state capitol in the morning. A separate group, the Columbia Racial Justice Coalition, held an event in the afternoon.
The flag held by one of the Honour Guard members, clad in dress uniform, was not the battle emblem, with its red field topped by a blue X and 13 white stars, as expected. Instead, the group unfurled the official state flag, with its iconic palmetto tree and white crescent.
A woman with the group did not answer questions about their choice of flag Friday. She said they were not speaking with reporters.
The group's decision not to unfurl the Confederate battle flag prompted one counterprotester, Tori Hyder, to call the Honour Guard members “cowards.”
Two sets of barricades set up by law enforcement separated the Honour Guard from Hyder and about two dozen other counterprotesters, who lined the sidewalk carrying signs that read “Black Lives Matter” and other slogans that have been associated with demonstrations nationwide against racial injustice and police brutality following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd in May.
Counterprotesters interviewed said they were taking a stance against the Confederate flag, widely seen as a symbol of racism and hatred. Some of the demonstrators said they had gathered at the statehouse daily since late May.
South Carolina pulled down the rebel banner from the Capitol grounds in 2015, a month after a white supremacist slaughtered nine black church members during a Bible study at a Charleston church.
Since then, groups for and against the Confederate battle flag have regularly gathered on the anniversary of its removal from South Carolina’s Statehouse.
On Friday, the Honour Guard blasted music from its speakers, including “The Star-Spangled Banner" and songs from the Confederacy such as “Join the Calvary!”
At one point, counterprotesters on the opposite side of Gervais St. blared heavy metal, each side attempting to drown the other out.
Both the State House Honour Guard and the Columbia Racial Justice Coalition attempted to reserve a permit for the grounds at the same time on Friday, news outlets reported. State officials scheduled the Honour Guard’s gathering in the morning and the coalition's event in the afternoon.
A third group, Flags across the South, aims to fly the Confederate flag from a temporary flagpole by a monument dedicated to confederate soldiers Saturday, The State newspaper reported.
Liu is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.