BRANDON, Fla.– While the Confederate flag is a symbol of pain for many, it continues to be a point of pride for individuals like Mike Herring.
“The flag for us represents the soldiers,” he said. “I have a long list of ancestors who fought, who participated a soldier in the Confederate Army.”
Herring is a member of the Tampa branch of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He says the group’s aim is never to promote hate, but preserve history, arguing that hate groups like the ones involved in this weekend’s violence in Charlottesville, Va. misuse the flag.
“It’s very discouraging,” Herring said. “Because we don’t have the ability to say ‘you must stop using the flag that way,’ we don’t have that authority.”
The official Sons of Confederate Veterans Facebook page posted a condemnation of the violence in Charlottesville this week, while taking the opportunity to distance its members from the hate groups involved.
"The SCV has throughout history opposed the Klan," the post reads. "The SCV does not condone in any way the principles, beliefs, nor actions of the KKK. The Klan in no way represents the Confederate soldier, nor the SCV and we have a strict policy which forbids SCV to associate with the Klan."
Herring is one of roughly 98,000 Sons of Confederate Veterans members nationwide. Founded in Richmond, Va., in 1896 with a mission to protect the legacy of those who fought for the Confederacy, the group is divided into so-called armies and camps.
In Florida, more than 1,300 members make up more than 50 camps statewide.
Herring and other members say the group is non-political, but continues to be a political target.
Just this weekend, one of the group’s monuments on private property in Hillsborough County was vandalized with red paint and profanities.
“Just because of the flag and the name Confederate now, it’s like voodoo,” Herring said.
The NAACP is among several groups who have come out in the past against these types of symbols, arguing that while groups like the Sons of Confederate Veterans have the right to feel how they do about the flag and to display it in private, they should not have the right to display it in public, deeming it "offensive."