CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - The Ku Klux Klan plans to hold a pro-Confederate flag rally at South Carolina’s capitol, where a statue of a former state governor who championed white supremacy was vandalized on Tuesday amid scrutiny of symbols associated with slavery.
The Civil War-era flag and related monuments have become flashpoints after nine black men and women were gunned down at a historic church in Charleston, South Carolina.
The suspected shooter, Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white man, had posed with a Confederate battle flag in photos posted on a website that displayed a racist manifesto attributed to him.
The June 17 shootings at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church prompted renewed calls for South Carolina to remove the Confederate flag on the State House grounds in Columbia.
Republican Governor Nikki Haley, who added her voice to those calls last week, on Tuesday brought a Charleston church to its feet at a funeral for one of the victims when she declared: “That Confederate flag will come down.”
The church massacre followed a year of debate over U.S. race relations spurred by the killings of unarmed black males by police in Missouri, New York City and elsewhere, and the case of a black man in Baltimore who died of injuries suffered in police custody.
The Loyal White Knights chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, based in Pelham, North Carolina, said it will rally at the South Carolina State House on July 18.
“We’re standing up for the Confederacy,” James Spears, the chapter’s “great titan,” said on Tuesday.
He said speakers would address slavery, then the Klan will hold a cross-lighting, or cross-burning, ceremony on private property.
Haley, a Republican, said the group was not welcome in the state.
The Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacist group also known as the KKK, is known for its history of violence toward African-Americans.
Also on Tuesday, a statue of Ben Tillman, a segregationist former governor and U.S. senator who died in 1918, was defaced with what appeared to be red paint, authorities said.
The vandalism followed the arrest on Monday night of a man confronting anti-flag protesters at the State House. Nicholas Thompson, 25, of South Carolina was charged with disorderly conduct, police said.
In another development on Tuesday, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she was appointing a commission to review the Maryland city’s Confederate statues and historical items.
In Virginia, the Sons of Confederate Veterans vowed to oppose Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe’s order to remove the flag from state-issued license plates.
Writing by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Fla.. Reporting by Harriet McLeod in Charleston, Curtis Skinner in San Francisco, Donna Owens in Baltimore and Gary Robertson in Richmond, Va.; Editing by Doina Chiacu, Eric Beech, David Adams and Jonathan Oatis