SOUTH CAROLINA — Founder of Confederate Rallies Apologizes, Calls for Their End

CHARLESTON, S.C. — The founder of the Confederate flag rallies held each Sunday at the Charleston Battery has called for a stop to those demonstrations, saying he regrets starting them and wants to apologize to the people of Charleston.

His apology came in the wake of a Sunday morning protest against the death of George Floyd. Standoffs happen weekly between those in support of Confederate symbols and those decrying it as a racist imagery, but on Sunday more than 200 people lined the Battery.

The protest was peaceful.

Protesters at the Charleston Uplift protest at the Battery on Sunday, May 31, 2020, talk with members of the Sons of Confederate Soldiers who were trying to clean paint from the Confederate Memorial in White Point Garden. BRAD NETTLES/STAFF

The statue at the foot of White Point Gardens was vandalized with red spray paint and profanity Saturday night as peaceful protests morphed into property damage sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Sons of Confederate Veterans members worked to clean the monument.

Across the street outnumbering the small group by the statue was a crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters standing mostly silent. They held signs that read “no justice, no peace” and “stop protecting dirty cops.”

Ron Dillon, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said the group was organized organically. Each week, a group typically stands by the statue to celebrate its cause to the Confederacy.

James Bessenger said he started the first Confederate flag rally in 2015 at the Battery in protest of the calls to remove Confederate landmarks.

“I eventually learned, however, that those in the Confederate Heritage Community who genuinely wish to preserve the cultural, historical, and academic value of the Confederacy are greatly and irreversibly outnumbered by those who have far less honorable motives,” Bessenger said in a statement.

“The protests at the Battery have gone on now longer than the War Between the States itself,” he said.

Bessenger said he now feels the weekly displays have done more harm than good for the Charleston community.

“While I cannot undo the hurt, grief, fear, and apprehension that the weekly flaggings at the battery have caused countless passersby, I pray that I can play a part in putting an end to this unnecessary, unproductive legacy,” Bessenger said.

He called for an end to the displays. He also apologized for the South Carolina Secessionist Party, which he founded and chaired between 2015 and 2019.