A chapter of the Ku Klux Klan plans to hold a rally next month on the grounds of South Carolina's state capitol to protest efforts to remove the Confederate flag that flies there.
Controversy over the flag heightened after nine black people were shot to death in a historic African-American church in Charleston. The young man accused of the killings, Dylann Roof, is suspected of being behind a website with photos of himself posing with the flag and with writings about various racial groups.
The massacre at the church is being investigated as a hate crime by federal officials.
The killings sparked a debate about the symbolism of the Confederate flag — some believe it represents racial oppression while others see it as a symbol of southern pride — and prompted calls for it to be removed from the South Carolina State House grounds. The legislature voted to debate the issue later this summer.
Major retailers including Walmart, Target and Amazon have pulled Confederate flag merchandise from their shelves and websites.
The Loyal White Knights, a chapter of the KKK based in Pelham, N.C., applied for a permit to hold a rally about the flag on the State House grounds in Columbia on July 18. It was approved.
Local newspaper the Post and Courier reported that Brian Gaines, spokesman for the South Carolina Budget and Control Board, said the state provides rally space at the capitol building when it is available.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley isn't pleased about the KKK rally. "This is our state, and they are not welcome," she said in a statement issued by her press office to the newspaper.
At the phone number for the Loyal White Knights, a recording can be heard that says members will be in Columbia "standing up for our Confederate history" on July 18.
"Our government is trying to erase white culture and our heritage right out of the pages of history books," it says. "If you're white and proud, join the crowd."
The group's website features the Confederate flag on its homepage with a headline that reads, "Say no to cultural genocide."
When the rally is held on July 18, it will be a day past the one month anniversary of the shootings, which were carried out during a Bible study meeting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.