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COLUMBIA, S.C. — A South Carolina group dedicated to “defense of the proudly Confederate South” rallied at the State House here on
Saturday, showcasing a mixture of Confederate flags and signs supporting Donald Trump as the Republican presidential primary unfolded across the state.
The South Carolina Conservative Action Council said the event was held in observance of the anniversary of the burning of Columbia after Union soldiers invaded the city in February 1865. Along with marking the burning of Columbia, the rally promoted the group’s recent endorsement of Trump’s presidential campaign. Trump eventually won the South Carolina primary handily, creating an even bigger problem for the Republican establishment.
Several neo-Confederate and white supremacist groups have expressed support for Trump. His campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment from Yahoo News asking whether it accepts the SCCAC’s endorsement and why such groups are drawn to Trump.
Donald Trump supporter John Maclean at a rally hosted by the South Carolina Conservative Action Council on Feb. 20, 2016. (Photo: Hunter Walker/Yahoo News)
South Carolina Conservative Action Council Chairman William Carter told Yahoo News his group decided to back Trump because of “his conservative position on the border.” Trump has called for a wall to be built on the U.S. border with Mexico.
“I’ve told a lot of people, if Donald Trump, if his four years in office, if he only is there four years, if he only closes the border — that’s more than we could ask for,” Carter said.
Carter also praised Trump’s proposal to ban Muslim immigrants from entering the country. He noted the SCCAC has fought against the resettlement of Syrian refugees in South Carolina. Carter described this as “the importation of Muslims.”
“We like our country like it is, and we don’t want it permanently changed by a bunch of people who have a lot of different opinions about things, and are really opposed to us in a lot of ways,” Carter said.
Last year, Trump expressed support for removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State House. Carter explained why his group was still supporting Trump in spite of his opposition to the flag.
“I think Trump’s even made a few statements — not against the flag so much, but saying it ought to be put in a museum or something like that, so I mean, he’s not supporting our issue on that anyway,” Carter said. “But our organization has two basic issues: one was the preservation of Southern heritage and the honorable heritage of our ancestors who fought to preserve their Constitutional rights as Americans … and the other was to close the border and defend the country from unlimited immigration.”
The council touted its endorsement of Trump on the front page of its newspaper, The Conservative Action Report. Carter said he had given copies of the paper, which is dated “February-March 2016,” to Trump’s campaign staff to “make sure he sees it.”
“We want him to see that were working for him,” Carter said.
Along with the endorsement of Trump, the paper’s front page features an article that asks in a headline, “Is Barack Obama a Muslim?”
Bob Davis and Thomas Weberburger at a rally hosted by the South Carolina Conservative Action Council on Feb. 20, 2016. (Photo: Hunter Walker/Yahoo News)
There were about 20 people at the rally. Carter and all of the other attendees who spoke to Yahoo News vehemently denied that their efforts to defend the Confederate flag and “Southern heritage” are racist. John Maclean, who was wearing a Trump campaign T-shirt and holding Trump bumper stickers, said his support for the flag was about “heritage, not hate.”
“Everybody knows 150 years ago the South lost the war, but it’s our heritage that’s being taken away,” Maclean said. “I think it’s deplorable what they’re trying to do to the old South — you can’t change history.”
Maclean also criticized those who characterize Trump as a racist because of his positions on Mexican and Muslim immigrants.
“He’s a businessman. He’s not a politician. … That’s what I like about Donald Trump. He’s hired different nationalities. … He’s not a racist like the news media wants to call him,” Maclean said.
At the event, Carter and other speakers also protested the law signed by Republican South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley last July that called for the removal the Confederate flag from the State House grounds. Haley previously supported the presence of the flag, but she changed her mind after the shooting at a historic African-American church in Charleston, S.C., on June 17, 2015, left nine people dead. Dylann Roof confessed to the shooting. A website linked to Roof indicated he attacked the church in the hopes of starting a race war, and showed multiple pictures of him posing with the flag.
Roof was also a major topic at the rally, with Carter and other speakers criticizing him as a drug-addled lunatic. One speaker suggested the shooting was an “inside job” by the federal government to stoke opposition to the Confederate flag.
Thomas Weberburger and Bob Davis stood together at the rally.
“That young crazy person in Charleston — he wasn’t one of us,” Weberburger said of Roof.
“No, he was not one of us,” Davis agreed.
Davis said it was unfair to tie the Confederate flag to racism.
“The American flag was the most used flag by the Klan. It is the flag, if you want to look at it, of racism. It is today,” Davis said. “Black people are slaves today, but it’s slaves to the Democratic party and the national government because they feed them. … The federal government is feeding them every day.”
Yahoo News asked Davis and Weberburger whether they supported Trump based on the SCCAC endorsement. Davis said he actually voted for Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in the primary.
“I think he would be a dictator, frankly — a good one, and good dictators are OK. But, hey, there are some bad ones out there in the world, and I would not trust him,” Davis said of Trump. “But I think he of all the people might do the most things that I’d like to see done.”
Weberburger said he voted for Trump to deliver “a slap in the face of the other Republicans.” However, he said he would “probably vote third party” in the general election “as another slap at the Republicans.” Weberburger was holding a number of Confederate flags. Also, he wore a yarmulke and fake beard, and carried a sign that said, “HOLOCAUST 1865 NEVER FORGET.” Weberburger told Yahoo News that he is “a little bit Jewish” by ancestry, though it’s not his religion. He explained that his outfit and sign was meant to make the point that the burning of Columbia was “a holocaust.”
“It was a holocaust, and Jews are especially sensitive to that. I wish more would be,” Weberburger said. “Judah Benjamin was actually in the Cabinet of Jefferson Davis in the war between the states.”
Benjamin, who was a Jew, served as the Confederacy’s attorney general, secretary of war, and secretary of state.
“He was secretary of state, I believe,” Weberburger said.
Davis piped in.
“He was the money man, Benjamin was, I believe,” Davis said.