Just when it appeared hate and bigotry had finally been driven out of business–or at least driven to the margins–the last few years have given us a lot of reason to wonder if they’re making a comeback. After all, we have a president who considers dog whistling to be standard operating procedure.
With this in mind, a recent settlement in a lawsuit from Charleston, South Carolina can only be described as encouraging. A group of Confederate enthusiasts agreed to permanently close its doors after being busted in the chops for getting two black children to pose for pictures while holding Confederate battle flags.
On June 24, 2017, Alicia Greene of North Charleston had her phone light up with messages on Facebook telling her that her two children had been seen posing with Confederate flags. It turned out that while Greene and her family were attending a picnic at White Point Gardens in Charleston, a car accident at the Battery caught her kids’ attention.
When the kids went to watch firefighters and paramedics, several members of the South Carolina Secessionist Party asked them to pose with Confederate flag stickers. The group was holding a rally at the Battery at the time. The boys initially refused, but somehow the Secessionist Party members got them to pose for pictures that were posted to the Secessionist Party’s Facebook page with the hashtags “#DixieRising” and “#TeachTheYouthTheTruth.
Predictably, this triggered a firestorm of criticism–“disturbing” and “disgusting” were among the kinder comments. Eventually, the pictures were taken down, but not before Greene was herself bombarded with so many outraged comments that she was forced to take down her own Facebook page.
Last spring, Greene sued the Secessionist Party and its founder, James Bessenger, claiming that they had “coerced” her children into posing for the pictures. Read the complaint here. It contends that the Secessionist Party’s actions caused “irreparable injury” to her children, and rose to the level of behavior that should be “utterly intolerable in a civilized community.”
On Thursday, a Charleston County judge issued a sweeping injunction that will have the effect of putting the Secessionist Party out of business for good. Watch coverage here, from WCBD-TV in Charleston.
As a result of a settlement between Greene and the Secessionist Party, Bessenger and his friends have six months to permanently delete their social media presence and dissolve their entire organization. It also must donate $1,000 to the Charleston chapter of the NAACP. If the Secessionist Party ever reorganizes–even under another name–it will have to pay $1 million each to Greene and her children.
However, that probably isn’t likely. According to WCBD, Bessenger has personally apologized to Greene. Roy Willey, Greene’s lawyer, said that this largely accomplished what he was seeking from the beginning–to effectively put this group out of business.
The order to dissolve was largely symbolic, since the party had already gone out of business earlier in the year. Bessenger had initially blown off Greene’s claim, saying that anything that occurred happened in a public place. But he’d had a change of heart by January. He told The (Charleston) Post & Courier that he had initially intended for the Secessionist Party to be a forum for discussing the Civil War.
However, when he learned that a member of the Charleston chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans had slammed him for being openly gay and pagan, he realized he had been wrong to assume that most people who waved the Confederate battle flag weren’t racists. Deciding that he no longer wanted to be in the business of promoting Confederate heritage, he stopped checking the Secessionist Party’s email and began slowly erasing its digital presence.
However, this is one occasion where symbolism matters. It’s always outrageous to see children used as props for hate–whether it’s kids marching in KKK rallies or hawking copies of the Nation of Islam’s mouthpiece, “The Final Call.” To do so without their consent or their parents’ consent is nothing short of heinous.
Any group that even thinks this is acceptable must forfeit its right to exist. Greene and Willey were absolutely right to make an example of Bessenger and friends. Hopefully other Confederate enthusiasts and hate groups get the message.
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