By Ryan Slicer
Protesters in Gettysburg clashed on Saturday, March 5 over the use of the Confederate flag and its symbolism. A pro-Confederate flag rally was organized by the Sons of Confederate Veterans at the National Military Park’s Eternal Peace Light Monument in an attempt to mark March 5 as a national day of honor for the flag.
As a result, two groups organized separate counter-protests aiming to shed light on the truth of what the flag represents as part of American history. An FCC student, who would like to remain anonymous, helped coordinate a group of antifascists, often colloquially termed “antifa,” from across the DC, Maryland and Pennsylvania region. A separate counter-protest was organized and led by Dr. Scott Hancock, Associate Professor of History and Africana Studies at Gettysburg College.
The antifa group, which has no spokesperson or official name, was a loosely organized group of individuals sharing a common goal of action against fascist ideals. Many showed up in matching black attire and black masks waving all black and black-and-red flags. Some brought signs, two of which read “Your Heritage IS Hate” and “Northern Aggression.” Their main goal was disruption of the Sons of Confederate Veteran’s rally, which included a formal ceremony and prayer.
“The flag day ceremony ended somewhat early in response to the constant chanting, shouting and disruption from the anti-fascist counter-protesters,” noted the group’s official report back. “Although outnumbered approximately two-to-one, the four groups (MD antifa, PA antifa, DC antifa and Gettysburg College) that allied were successful in their efforts to disrupt and confront racists in an area where racism is dominant,” noted as well by the report.
“While they may not all be racists, their support [of the flag] still facilitates racism,” said Hancock in a phone interview. “Yes, you can call it a protest but personally I’d like to call it a correction.”
Hancock believes pro-Confederate flag supporters have a skewed and narrow view of the history of the Civil War, which he said is one reason why he was motivated to lead a demonstration. He wants to educate the truth and bring awareness to this ongoing issue.
“I recognize their right to free speech but I don’t respect what they are doing,” Hancock said.
“While I may not agree with their methods, I certainly admire their passion,” said Hancock, when asked about the antifa counter-protestors. And although the two groups disagreed on procedure, by all accounts they both succeeded in disrupting the ceremony and bringing awareness.
They want to show that groups like the Sons of Confederate Veterans are perpetuating racism and hate by trying to rewrite the history of the Civil War and the symbolism of the Confederate flag. Their counter-protests even made some national headlines with articles in The New York Daily News, The Daily Beast and The Guardian.
Much of the media coverage had died down since the June 17, 2015 church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. Nine African-Americans including South Carolina Senator Clementa C. Pinckney were killed. The main suspect in the mass shooting is self-proclaimed white supremacist and neo-Nazi Dylann Roof.
During their investigation, detectives uncovered pictures on Roof’s personal website of him posing with the Confederate flag.
In a private Facebook message, an anonymous FCC student wrote: “As someone who was and still is pretty actively involved in facilitating our role at the counter protest, I think that despite the disagreements of tactics, our efforts had two goals which we were overwhelmingly successful in accomplishing: one, to Disrupt the event and possibly shut it down…and two, generate media buzz and attention and reinvigorate national discussion regarding the Confederate flag, since it’s seemed to have died down following the arrest of Dylann Roof and subsequent media coverage last summer. … I hope that our disruption succeeds in facilitating more civilized, intellectually oriented conversations about free speech, responsibility, respect and oppression all around the United States.”