The move to take down the Confederate flag in South Carolina and Alabama is met with resistance in other areas in the South.
On Sunday, a rally was organized in Ocala, Florida, with 2,000 cars, trucks and motorcycles in support of the Marion County Commission’s decision to keep the Confederate flag in front of the McPherson Governmental Complex.
The event, called the Florida Southern Pride Ride, was organized by David Stone. It started at about 1 p.m. and had picked up momentum by 1:30 p.m., with participants moving along through the streets of Ocala.
People participating in the event could be seen wearing T-shirts bearing the slogan, “Heritage, Not Hate.” As reported by Ocala Star-Banner, they waved Confederate flags from their vehicles.
Stone said, “That flag has a lot of different meanings to a lot of different people. It doesn’t symbolize hate unless you think it’s hate – and that’s your problem, not mine.”
The rally was led by a replica of General Lee from the 1979-85 television series The Dukes of Hazard. The entire procession spanned 17 miles and back to the parking spots on North U.S. 441. The event had to be diverted from the Northwoods neighborhood after residents threatened they would shoot into the rally, Ocala Police Department Sgt. Erica Hay said.
According to Yahoo News, organizers instigated the rally in protest of the removal of the Confederate flag following a mass shooting in a historical black church in Charleston last month. Soon after the incident, photographs of the suspect, Dylann Roof, waving the flag surfaced on the internet.
Nine people were killed in the incident.
Lawmakers called for the flag, a symbol of hate and intolerance for many, to be taken down from the statehouse grounds in Columbia. An administrator in Ocala, the seat of Marion County, had ordered that the controversial flag be removed from a governmental complex. However, the decision was overruled by leaders and the same can be seen flying atop the building.
Jessica McRee, an employee of a law enforcement agency who also participated in Sunday’s ride, said, “It’s just about heritage. I’m upset they want to remove a piece of history.”
Danny Hart, who came to the event to “defend freedom,” had two Confederate flags and one U.S. flag at the back of his truck.
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, said that he was at the procession to defend history against “intellectual dishonesty.”
“According to the U.S. Congress, Confederate veterans are war veterans,” he said. “The South was fighting for states’ rights, and the Northern slaves were freed after Southern slaves. Slavery is a guilt across the human race.”
The move to remove the Confederate flag also gave rise to similar rallies in Knoxville, Tennessee; Loxahatchee Groves, Florida; and Oklahoma City, as reported by TIME.
However, while the police said the procession did not cause disturbance and was peaceful, not everyone showed support for the event.
Galina Abdelaziz, Ocala high school graduate, protested the flag.
“It’s really discouraging to me to see this in my hometown,” she said.
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