Georgia prosecutors throw the book at fifteen ‘Respect the Flag’ members following a confrontation at a child’s birthday party.
image via (cc) flickr user perspective
A group of fifteen men and women have been charged with making terroristic threats and criminal gang activity, stemming from an incident this past July, during which a convoy of vehicles displaying confederate flags reportedly harassed and threatened a group of African Americans celebrating at a child’s birthday party. The indictment, filed this week by state prosecutor Brian Fortner, follows an extended investigation into the confrontation, the tail end of which was caught on film by party attendees.
Witnesses allege that the flag-waving interlopers also brandished weapons, shouted racial epithets, and made threatening remarks.
In response, Fortner, district attorney for Georgia’s Douglas County, has charged the ten men and five women who chose to parade a symbol of slavery and racial animus alongside a family party with one count of participating in criminal gang activity, and one count of issuing terroristic threats. The gang activity charge carries a maximum of fifteen years in jail, while the charge of terroristic threats has a limit of five under Georgia’s “Street Gang and Terrorism Prevention” statues, reports Gawker. This is, explains the New York Times, the first time many legal experts have heard of using such gang-busting laws in regards to a confederate group in America’s south, although the wording of the statute allows prosecutors leeway in defining a criminal street gang by way of shared symbols or signs.
The July incident occurred shortly after domestic terrorist Dylan Roof murdered nine people in a racially motivated attack on South Carolina’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Following Roof's arrest, images of him holding the confederate flag helped reignite a national debate on the symbol, and contributed to the creation of the “Respect the Flag” movement, of which the accused are allegedly affiliated, reports the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The indicted flag-wavers maintain the incident began when a rock was thrown at one of their trucks from the private property on which the party was being held. Why a convoy of racially provocative vehicles would be circling a birthday celebration in the first place remains unanswered.
Melissa Alford, hostess of the party where the incident took place, told the SPLC: “This is what terror feels like. These people intimidated and threatened us, just for being who we are.”