Confederate groups and others gathered at the governor's mansion Saturday to protest the removal of Confederate flags from state historic sites.

The decision to remove the flags at the Confederate Memorial Historic Site near Higginsville and the Fort Davidson Historic Site near Pilot Knob was purely political, said John Wolfe, the heritage defense chairman for the Missouri division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

"They tore down our heritage, stole it from us," said Wolfe, who was among the 50 people who attended. "It's theft, it's blasphemous, it's criminal — and all for political purposes."

Steve Mahfood, director of the Department of Natural Resources, ordered the flags removed Tuesday after Democratic presidential candidate Dick Gephardt's declaration last weekend that the Confederate battle flag shouldn't fly "anytime, anywhere." Gov. Bob Holden — a Democrat who once worked for Gephardt — later said he endorsed Mahfood's decision.

Protesters weren't happy with Holden or Gephardt.

"I don't think a St. Louis congressman (Gephardt) should have the right to say what's right for the state of Missouri," said Don Stegner.

Anita L. Russell, president of the Kansas City branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, commended the governor.

"If you want to put it in a museum because it is a part of history, that's fine, but those Confederate flags need to come down everywhere they are flying," Russell said.

Mark Trout, who attended the rally, said he was a member of the Sons of Union Veterans and considered suppression of Confederate heritage or emblems to be a "direct attack on the overall history of the Civil War."

He said singling out the Confederate flag was unfair because slavery existed in the United States longer than the Confederacy existed.