A Georgia grand jury formally charged 15 members of a group supporting the Confederate flag on terror charges following a July confrontation with a black family who was celebrating a child’s birthday, according to an indictment released Monday.
Douglas County District Attorney Brian Fortner said members of the “Respect the Flag” group violated the state’s Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act and made terroristic threats when their caravan of vehicles bearing the rebel flag drove past a neighborhood party.
“We do want to say that we respect the rights of all citizens to exercise their First Amendment right, but we’re going to require them when they’re doing that to respect the right of all of the citizens to feel safe,” Fortner said at a news conference attended by FOX5.
“Officers on scene were given conflicting statements as to what led up to the confrontation.”
The indictment, handed up on Friday, also charges two members of the group with battery for a separate incident that occurred at a gas station on the same day. While video of the Confederate convoy has made its way onto social media, there are two drastically different depictions of what occurred on July 25, with each side blaming the other for generating hostility.
This much is not in dispute: numerous pickup trucks, adorned with several large American and Confederate flags, formed a caravan and drove into a neighborhood where a birthday party was being held for a child.
Levi Bush, who was part of the procession, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in July that the motorcade was making its way back from a nearby event when it drove through the area. Kayla Norton, another member of the group, told FOX5 that party-goers began throwing objects at the trucks and making threats.
People from the birthday party contend that “Respect the Flag” participants yelled racial slurs and flashed guns.
Police were eventually called to the scene, though no one was arrested at the time.
“Officers on scene were given conflicting statements as to what led up to the confrontation,” the Douglasville Police Department said in a statement. “We do not have any evidence of any shots fired nor were there any reports of a physical altercation taking place.”
The indictment says the group threatened “to commit a crime of violence to persons attending a party” with the “purpose of terrorizing those individuals and in reckless disregard for the risk of causing such terror.” The indictment does not specify what “Respect the Flag” participants did or said to that end.
Members of “Respect the Flag” told the Washington Post the group drives around with its flags flying in order to raise money to donate American flags to people who can’t afford them.
The Confederate flag has become a hot-button topic in the wake of a June mass shooting at a black Christian church in South Carolina. The alleged perpetrator was reportedly inspired by racist propaganda and was seen in pictures with the Confederate flag. Those images led to calls to remove the symbol from public and private sites across the country, which in turn inspired a backlash from those who felt the flag symbolized Southern culture and heritage.
Robert Andrew Hansard, John Anthony Allen, Lacey Paul Henderson, Joe Eric Hood, Levi Devin Bush, Ashley Elizabeth Butler, Alexis Odell Fennell, Lacey Paul Henderson, Jose Ismael Torres, Amanda Sue Dyson, Jeffery Chad Wigley, Gregory Adam Upchurch, Scott Chapman, Thomas Charles Summers and Judy King Summers were charged with violating the state terrorism act.
Hood and Thomas Summers were charged in the battery at the gas station.