“Don’t display them in your house but outside of your house,” Hayes said. “We need to be making a statement to the people that know their history and know that (the flag is) not what it’s being accused of.”
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and other politicians have quickly lined up to express their distaste for an emblem that is ubiquitous in parts of the South. A national reckoning over the controversial symbol began after photos of alleged Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof surfaced with him wrapped in a Confederate flag, long associated with hate and white supremacist groups.
In the emotional aftermath of the gunning down of nine people inside a church, including pastor and state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, state leaders have said that they can no longer ignore the pain the flag causes African Americans. Retailers Amazon and Wal-Mart have fallen into line, yanking Confederate-emblazoned wares and flags from physical and digital shelves.
In this part of rural South Carolina, seemingly a world away from the prying eyes of a shocked world, those seeking out new Confederate stuff to brandish their pride are largely mystified at the turn on their flag. And as South Carolina’s legislature begins to wade into what may be a fractious debate over the future of the Confederate flag that flies prominently at the statehouse complex, Hayes’s customers say they will not be silent as the state and federal government continues to wage a war, in their words, on Southern heritage and history.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans also held a news conference in front of the Confederate memorial in Columbia on Thursday, and they say the group plans to fight the flag’s removal, according to media reports.
The debate over the future of the Confederate flag feeds a narrative all too perfectly for supporters of Old Dixie. They see it is part of a steady push toward an Orwellian future where political correctness and blandness rule the day, the brainwashed buy the liberal media’s misconceptions and false narratives, and the steady assault on white people and Southern pride continues unabated.
Earlier in the day, popular conservative radio host Tara Servatius took to 106.3 FM around Greenville to air those grievances. A producer sought out the Confederate flag on Google’s shopping site, without success, while noting that “Mein Kampf” and the Communist Manifesto seemed to be readily available.
“We are erasing all traces of our history,” Servatius said. “Where will it stop?”
Hayes, a member of the pride group League of the South, said he’ll likely benefit from the marketplace’s dearth of Confederate flags, although his store is about far more than making a buck.
Confederate-themed knickknacks, including phone covers, books, vests, lighters, shirts, stickers, bathing suits, pins, belts, magnets, postcards and dozens of historical flags aside from the most infamous variety, impart a worldview skeptical of the mainstream and steeped in a vision of a different past and future. Hayes imparts wisdom and a history lesson with nearly every purchase and cheerfully admonishes both Yankee reporters and those who hold historically inaccurate views.
There is anger and fear, too. The idea of an out-of-control government run amuck with censorship is a future that feels very real in Hayes’s store.
“By taking that flag down … that’s not going to stop them from taking the church bell down that wakes up an atheist,” said Mike Antoniack, a 56-year-old who sells military surplus in the area.
At that moment, Hayes pulled out a $5 bill and a penny and placed them on the counter. Abraham Lincoln offends him, he said. Who’s to decide what in history should stay and what should go?
“That was a man that caused the death of millions of people,” Hayes said. “But we don’t count because we’re not some particular minority.”
Shoppers and Hayes said they were horrified and saddened by the shootings. But Hayes said that going after the flag is the same as going after the Rice-A-Roni and ramen noodles Roof supposedly lived on.
“The blacks that say it’s racist, they are the racists,” said Joyce Davis Wareshoals, a 66-year-old from Abbeville, of the flag. “That’s their heritage as much as it is our heritage.”
Hayes pulls out a well-worn manilla folder. Inside are pictures of the Ku Klux Klan marching with U.S. flags over their shoulders.
“The U.S. flag, the U.S. flag, the U.S. flag!” Hayes said.
State leaders say things have changed in South Carolina and elsewhere. State Sen. Paul Thurmond, son of staunch segregationist Strom Thurmond, said on the Senate floor recently that the South’s slave-owning past is nothing to be reminded of.
Not everyone at Hayes’s store has the same opinion about the flag’s place at the Capitol.
Mark Harbin, 45, said the South is about sweet tea and family more than racism and slavery. “If he was racist, if he was Islamic, if he was Jewish, does it matter what his motives were?” said Harbin of the Charleston shooting.
But he said that in the wake of the shooting – beside the point or not – the flag shouldn’t remain at its official place in front of the statehouse. “The Confederate flag, a museum is a great place for it,” he said.
By the end of the day, Hayes said his shelves were nearly empty. He’d sold more than 100 flags, a record in the store’s history, he said. “And we’re a little small, out-of-the-way town,” he said. His supplier also told him he was sold out and wouldn’t be able to deliver another batch of flags until at least next week.
“I think this will awaken people,” Hayes said. “Next it’s going to be coming against something they may cherish, like Christian symbols. Nobody knows where they are going to stop.”
With that, Hayes said he had to go – there were more customers to attend to.