COLUMBIA – Fewer than 100 members of a neo-Nazi group marched to the South Carolina Statehouse on Saturday, surrounded by state and local police in full SWAT gear.
The members of the National Socialist Movement based in Minneapolis wore brown uniforms with swastika patches like those worn by Nazis in Germany in the 1930s and ’40s.
People opposing the neo-Nazis easily outnumbered the men and a few women who participated in their two-block parade and rally on the north steps of the Statehouse where a statue of George Washington stands.
“This isn’t a group of wannabe poser Nazis,” said Eddie Lee, an organizer of the Coalition Against Bigotry, which was formed specifically to protest the march and rally. “This is an actual political party.”
Columbia police spokeswoman Sgt. Florence McCants said at least 80 officers from her department would be deployed Saturday.
One man, Richard Robelot, 22, of Columbia, was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct after he threw an egg, McCants said. No other problems were reported and the rally broke up after about 90 minutes. Columbia police escorted the National Socialists out of town and up Interstate 26 for a few miles, McCants said.
“The birds and the squirrels are the main reason we’re here, not the nuts,” said Arthur Holladay, 52, of West Columbia, who was at the Statehouse with a friend’s grandson to feed the birds.
Holladay said he had no sympathies with either the neo-Nazis or the protesters. “I believe in the First Amendment, though,” he said.
The National Socialists were at the Statehouse to show their opposition to illegal immigration and announce the candidacy of state leader John Bowles for president of the United States. Members did the Nazi salute, yelled racial epithets as they marched along Main Street to the Capitol and began their presentation with a diatribe against Jews.
Irma Santana of Columbia said she came out Saturday to see what was going on and “let these people know we are watching them, that we don’t want these people in South Carolina.”
A Southern heritage group also had about a dozen members out, one carrying a Confederate flag, to show their opposition to the Nazi group.
“While they may have a right to protest, we’ve got a right to protest them,” said Larry Salley of the League of the South, which supports flying the Confederate flag at a Civil War monument on the Statehouse grounds. “Southerners black and white have more in common with each other than we do with these Yankee scum.”
The National Socialist platform calls for the nationalization of all businesses, denial of citizenship to nonwhites, Jews and homosexuals and the elimination of abortion and euthanasia “except in cases of rape, incest, race-mixing, or mental retardation,” according to group’s Web site.
Protester Lee said his Coalition Against Bigotry respects the National Socialists’ right to gather and speak, but “we have a moral responsibility to confront them when they are spewing this kind of hate speech and to let them know that South Carolina is not a haven for their type of hate and bigotry.”
Lee said his grandfather was a prisoner of war in Germany during World War II. He said the thought of Nazis marching at the South Carolina Statehouse brought his mother to tears.
The National Socialists planned to continue their national meeting this weekend in Laurens.