You may have seen recent news headlines like “Group that waved Confederate flags indicted” (source: CNN.com) detailing how 15 members of an organization calling itself Respect the Flag were indicted for violating Georgia's Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act and for making terroristic threats. The charges stem from an incident that took place on July 25th in Douglasville, Georgia.
The ten men and five women charged were among what was described as a convoy of pick-up trucks adorned with confederate flags that drove past a birthday party attended by several African-Americans. The group allegedly brandished weapons and uttered racial slurs and threats.
As terrible as actions like these are, they may not be what most people think of when they think of an act of terrorism. In fact, under Georgia law, a terroristic threat is defined as:
“…[threatening] to commit any crime of violence, to release any hazardous substance, or to burn or damage property with the purpose of terrorizing another or of causing the evacuation of a building, place of assembly, or facility of public transportation or otherwise causing serious public inconvenience or in reckless disregard of the risk of causing such terror or inconvenience.”
The code also specifies that the burning of a cross or another symbol with the intent to terrorize another is deemed a terrorist act.
Controversy Surrounding The Confederate Flag
Recent public debate has brought into question whether the Confederate flag should be seen as an equivalent to a burning cross.
The Confederate flag came under attack following the tragic events of June 17th that saw a gunman kill nine African-Americans at the Emmanuel A.M.E. church in Charleston, South Carolina. Pictures of the gunman with the Confederate flag were subsequently uncovered, sparking a national debate.
Many contend that the flag is a symbol of racism, hate and slavery, while its supporters maintain that it represents southern pride and heritage. Loosely formed groups like Respect the Flag began popping up throughout the South in a response to calls to have the flag removed from public spaces.
The Confederate Flag and the State of Georgia
Alabama and South Carolina have since decided to remove the Confederate flag from public property. Many southern states, including Georgia, continue to make specialty plates featuring the Confederate flag available. In fact, while politicians in other states vow to phase out their Sons of Confederate Veterans license plates with the Confederate flag, Georgia recently announced that it would resume the availability of their redesigned specialty plates following a temporary suspension of sales. This move suggests that, for the time being at least, the state does not officially recognize the flag to be a symbol for racial intolerance.
So, while the actions like those alleged to have been committed by the members of Respect the Flag are clearly terroristic threats under the law, the adornment of their vehicles with Confederate flags in itself, is not. It remains to be seen if such actions committed in the name of the flag change the state’s position on the Confederate flag.
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