Some South Carolina lawmakers and their families were getting death threats Wednesday as they debated whether to take the Confederate flag down from its place of honor in the front of the State House.
“The S.C. Law Enforcement Division is investigating a number of threatening communications sent to members of the S.C. General Assembly over the Confederate Flag issue,” SLED Chief Mark Keel announced Wednesday.
In an interview, Keel said threats have come via email, phone and regular letters. He declined to say how many actual death threats have been received or what form of killing was threatened.
“A death threat is a death threat,” Keel said, explaining the people who made threats said things like, “I’m going to kill you and do harm to your family.”
Keel said some commnications were simply offensive or hostile but didn’t rise to the level of a physical threat, which is against the law.
Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, shared a written communciation with reporters that threatened him with death and used a derogatorily racist term. Rep. Tommy Pope, R-York, in a speech Wednesday to House members said lawmakers were getting threats.
Keel warned that SLED will investigate and seek to prosecute threats.
Right now, Keel said, SLED is doing “threat assessments” and investigating the threats.
The Confederate flag has always inspired strong emotions. During the segregation era, in the 1900s, the Confederate flag was used by white supremacists as a rallying symbol to deny blacks the right to vote, access to public places and in permanent second-class status. Accused racial killer Dylann Roof, is believed to have drawn inspiration from the Confederate flag when he allegedly shot to death nine African Americans in a Charleston church last month.
To some white heritage groups, whose supporters are in the state legislature, the Confederate flag represents a glorious heritage of Civil War battlefield courage and sacrifice by white South Carolina soldiers, as well as resistance to a so-called oppressive federal government.
The S.C. House is currently debating whether to adopt a Senate bill, passed earlier this week, that would take down Confederate flag from its place of honor in front of the State House and place it in the State Museum.
The June killings of nine African Americans in Charleston, and their apparent link to the Confederate flag, have sparked an unexpected move in the Legislature and around the nation to disassociate businesses and government spaces from the flag’s display or sale.