Tag Archives: bigotry

Trump refuses to endorse Ryan, McCain

Donald Trump this week refused to endorse House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Trump also declined to endorse U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

Trump told The Washington Post he’s “just not quite there yet,” when asked about an endorsement of Ryan. The congressman faces a primary challenge from his right in Wisconsin on Aug. 9.

Trump’s phrasing was similar to comments from Ryan, who was slow to endorse Trump.

This week, Ryan, without referring to Trump by name, criticized the nominee’s attacks on the parents of an Army captain killed in Iraq. Others in the GOP also criticized Trump and some influential Republicans — not Ryan — announced their support for Democrat Hillary Clinton in November.

Hewlett-Packard executive Meg Whitman said she would vote for Clinton, in part because “Donald Trump’s demagoguery has undermined the fabric of our national character.”

Also, former Chris Christie aide Maria Comella said she supports Clinton. “As someone who has worked to further the Republican Party’s principles for the last 15 years, I believe that we are at a moment where silence isn’t an option,” she told CNN.

And Sally Bradshaw, who wrote the post-2012 report calling for unity and tolerance in the Republican Party, said she’s leaving the GOP. If the presidential contest looks close in Florida, Bradshaw said she’d vote for Clinton.

Other high-profile Republicans have not said they’d vote for Clinton but they have said they won’t vote for Trump, including Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush.

In the Post interview, Trump also declined to support McCain’s re-election and said Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire is weak.

Reject bigotry against transgender people

Fortunately, a “bathroom bill” proposed by Wisconsin Republicans during the last legislative session went nowhere. The bill would have forced transgender students to use restrooms and locker rooms corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates rather than the genders with which they identify.

But the issue isn’t dead in Wisconsin. State Rep. Jesse Kremer, R-Kewauskum, says he’ll introduce a bill even stronger than last year’s — one that applies not only to student facilities but to public restrooms everywhere in the state.

JoCasta Zamarripa represents Wisconsin’s 8th Assembly District. She’s one of the state’s four openly LGBT legislators.
JoCasta Zamarripa represents Wisconsin’s 8th Assembly District. She’s one of the state’s four openly LGBT legislators.

These bills are not reactions to anything that actually happened in Wisconsin. They’re cookie-cutter bills that are part of a national attack by the religious right on transgender people. Kremer is just the messenger boy.

The bills’ supporters claim they’re protecting the public from sexual predators who want to infiltrate restrooms for deviant purposes. That myth might excite voters who harbor deep prejudices against LGBT people but it is not based in fact.

The reality is transgender people are the ones who need protection. They suffer from high rates of violence, suicide and homelessness.

In Wisconsin, three transgender high school students — Skylar Marcus Lee, Cameron Langrell and  Mindy Fabian — took their lives within the past few years because of the bullying and hate they faced. In effect, bathroom bills provide official sanction to those who would discriminate, resulting in more bullying and more tragedies.

Transgender students are much more likely to be victimized in settings where their gender identity is most emphasized, such as bathrooms.  As a result of being forced into the uncomfortable situations mandated by bathroom bills, transgender students are more likely to be tardy or absent from school, to have lower grades and to be physically bullied by their classmates.

Even if you can’t empathize with the plight of transgender children, the state would suffer financially if Kremer’s bill becomes law.

North Carolina recently passed a “bathroom bill,” and the fallout has been swift.  National conventions have been canceled, as have some Fortune 500 expansions.

The U.S. Department of Justice declared that North Carolina’s bill violates the Civil Rights Act and Title IX. If the state enforces the bill, it could lose hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding. With Wisconsin dead last in the Midwest for job growth, our state can’t afford such losses.

Kremer’s bill addresses a non-existent threat but it will have real-life consequences. Is this the Wisconsin we want?

JoCasta Zamarripa represents Wisconsin’s 8th Assembly District. She’s one of the state’s four openly LGBT legislators.

Have an opinion to share with WiG? Email lweisberg@www.wisconsingazette.com.


University of Wisconsin suspends frat after racist slurs

The University of Wisconsin has suspended the Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter at its flagship campus after finding that members of the fraternity repeatedly used racist and bigoted slurs and ostracized a black member who tried to stop it.

The suspension handed down this week by the school’s Committee on Student Organizations comes a year after the fraternity’s University of Oklahoma chapter was disbanded after video emerged showing members engaging in a racist chant.

Under the Wisconsin suspension, the chapter cannot participate in any Greek activities until Nov. 1 and can’t recruit new members this fall. Members also have to undergo diversity and mental health training before the chapter can be reinstated. The chapter had already been on probation for an unrelated incident of underage drinking.

The Wisconsin incidents allegedly occurred from the fall of 2014 until February of this year and were reported by a black member of the fraternity, according to university documents.

The member, who was unnamed in the report and who was listed as an active member as of its March filing, said he consistently heard anti-black and anti-gay slurs. He also accused a fellow fraternity member of assaulting him, and school officials said that member was disciplined as a result.

After video was posted online last year showing the Oklahoma SAE members engaging in a racist chant on a bus, the fraternity’s Evanston, Illinois-based national leadership made several changes. In addition to disbanding the Oklahoma chapter, it hired a director of diversity and inclusion, said it was reviewing all 237 of its chapters for racially offensive behavior and required all of its members to complete online diversity training.

In February, SAE’s leadership said members at five other chapters acknowledged having heard the racist chant over the past five years.

In a letter sent to SAE’s executive director, Blaine Ayers, about the decision to suspend the Madison chapter, school Chancellor Rebecca Blank wrote that she understands the organization has tried to address these issues, but that they clearly persist.

“It suggests that your efforts to address an intolerant and discriminatory culture have not been effective,” Blank wrote. “The conduct in this situation must not be repeated.”

Blank wrote she would like Ayers and the chapter president to meet with her before the suspension is lifted to explain how the organization will bring about lasting change.

Brandon Weghorst, a spokesman for the fraternity, said in an email he was traveling and would respond shortly.

The national fraternity began collecting racial and ethnic data in 2013. Ayers reported in 2015 that about 3 percent of the fraternity’s reporting members identified as African-American and about 20 percent identified as non-white.

Trump grants permission to flout political correctness

Donald Trump’s inflammatory statements about Mexican immigrants, Muslim refugees and women who get abortions may eventually be his campaign’s undoing, some analysts say. But don’t tell that to the many supporters such as Titus Kottke, attracted to the Republican front-runner specifically because he shoots from the lip.

“No more political correctness,” said Kottke, 22, a cattle trucker and construction worker from Athens, Wisconsin, who waited hours last weekend to see the candidate in a line stretching the length of a shopping mall.

Trump is “not scared to offend people,” Kottke said. He agrees with some of the views Trump expresses but likes the fact that the candidate shows the confidence to reject the dogma of political correctness. That “takes away your freedom of speech, pretty much. You can’t say anything.”

For years, conservatives have decried political correctness as a scourge of orthodox beliefs and language, imposed by liberals, that keeps people from voicing uncomfortable truths.

Now, some Trump supporters — many white, working-class voters frustrated with the country’s shifting economics and demographics — applaud him for not being afraid to make noise about the things that anger them but that they feel discouraged from saying out loud.

“It’s a cultural backlash,” said Steve Schmidt, a Republican political strategist who ran Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. “Millions and millions of people in this country, blue-collar people, feel that their values are under assault, that they’re looked down upon, condescended to by the elites.”

Trump rival Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who has quit the 2016 race, are among the candidates who also have outspoken in decrying political correctness.

But Trump has made defiance of the manners usually governing politics a signature of his campaign.

“The big problem this country has is being politically correct,” he said in a debate in August, when pressed on his comments about women that brought criticism. “I’ve been challenged by so many people and I don’t frankly have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time either.”

In doing so, Trump tapped into a frustration shared even by many voters who disagree with him on other issues. In an October poll of Americans by Fairleigh Dickinson University, more than two-thirds agreed that political correctness is a “big problem” for the country. Among Republicans, it was 81 percent.

That sentiment is clear in conversations with Trump supporters.

“Let him be a man with the guts to say what he wants,” said Polly Day, 74, a retired nurse from Wausau, Wisconsin, who came to a Trump rally last Saturday in nearby Rothschild. “Should he tone down? He’ll figure that out on his own. I like him the way he is.”

At the same rally, Kottke said Trump’s rejection of political correctness is one of the main reasons he supports him, along with the candidate’s determination to improve security, protect jobs and keep Muslims out of the country.

Plenty of others agreed with him.

“Finally somebody’s coming in that has the cojones to say something and to do something,” said Ray Henry, another supporter. “I think he’s saying what a lot of what America’s feeling right now … enough’s enough.”

Trump’s flouting of political correctness has turned out to be a potent rhetorical weapon, political analysts say, but could prove troublesome.

“At its best, not being politically correct comes across as direct, unfiltered and honest. At its worst, not being politically correct comes across as crude, rude and insulting,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster who previously worked for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign. Trump’s supporters “may find it refreshing. That doesn’t mean they would find it presidential.”

Ayres and other analysts say Trump’s rejection of political correctness appeals to voters frustrated by the setbacks of the Great Recession and the global economy; immigration that has made the country more heterogeneous; and cultural trends such as gay marriage and measures to fight discrimination against African-Americans, which make them feel marginalized.

“This doesn’t fall out of left field,” said Marc Hetherington, a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University who studies polarization and voter trust. “But what these political actors have done, Trump and Cruz in particular, is give that … worry and frustration a voice.”

That frustration was made clear in a poll by Quinnipiac University, released Tuesday, that found a deep vein of dissatisfaction among Trump supporters.

Nine in 10 questioned said their values and beliefs are under attack. Eight in 10 said the government has gone too far in assisting minorities, a view shared by 76 percent of Cruz supporters. But Trump was unrivaled in claiming the largest number of supporters — 84 percent — who agreed that the U.S. needs a leader “willing to say or do anything” to tackle the country’s problems.

Political correctness entered the American vocabulary in the 1960s and 1970s. New Left activists advocating for civil rights and feminism and against the Vietnam War used it to describe the gap between their high-minded ideals and everyday actions.

“It was a kind of understanding that you can’t be perfect all the time,” said Ruth Perry, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who wrote a 1992 article on the early history of political correctness. “It was an awareness of the ways in which all of us are inconsistent.”

As it gained broader usage, political correctness came to mean a careful avoidance of words or actions that could offend minorities, women or others, often to the point of excess. Conservative critics have, for decades, pointed to it as an enforced ideology run amok.

“I think that the American people … are sick to death of the choking conformity, the intellectual tyranny that is produced by political correctness,” said Nick Adams, an Australian-born commentator who wrote Retaking America: Crushing Political Correctness.

Adams, who has lived in the U.S. since 2009, said he believes many voters are drawn to Trump’s rejection of that correctness, and his emphasis on reclaiming individualism, identity and self-confidence stripped away by it.

At the Wisconsin rally, a number of Trump supporters offered a similar appraisal.

“We have gone overboard with political correctness, everyone backtracking on their statements,” said Chris Sharkey, 39, of Wausau, who says he chafes at behavioral strictures in his workplace, where human resource officers tell employees to avoid discussing politics.

The U.S., Sharkey said, needs to step up screening of Muslims trying to enter the country and bring back jobs employers have moved overseas — and Trump shouldn’t have to apologize for saying so.

But some observers say Trump’s appeal is less about speaking a particular truth than it is giving frustrated voters a means to vent.

“There’s this sense of angry, white working-class discontent,” said Patricia Aufderheide, a professor of communication at American University who edited a book of essays on political correctness.

“Trump has given people permission to say things out loud that are usually tucked in until after the third drink at Thanksgiving dinner,” she said. “But I think they’ve always been there.”


UW-Madison makes a smart move in staging social commentary ‘Smart People’

Are white people biologically hardwired for bigotry or are people of all races and classes prejudiced to some degree?

Such questions are the driving force behind Smart People, the latest work by African-American playwright Lydia Diamond, opening at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mitchell Theatre on Feb. 25. The sharp-edged satire uses both humor and heart to take a pointed approach to the foibles of its four well-heeled characters, who all struggle with race, gender, sexuality and career issues.

UW–Madison’s theater department is mounting the country’s first authorized university-level production of Smart People, which just received its off-Broadway premiere at New York’s Second Stage Theatre on Feb. 10. Chuck Smith, resident director at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, helms the Madison production.

“It’s a play about racism and how it affects behavior in our private lives,” says Smith, who is African-American. “Mainly how it tears away at the self-esteem of people of color.”

Diamond generally agrees, but the playwright says there was a little more to her intent behind the play.

“I know that when I write about race, it can’t be seen as objective,” says Diamond, a Huntington Playwriting Fellow and playwright emerita with Chicago Dramatists. “My plays always deal with race, class and gender because that’s what I am interested in. With Smart People I want to own and elevate the conversation.“

Smart People also is the first of Diamond’s plays to feature a white male protagonist. The young neuropsychiatrist’s research is the primary catalyst driving the comic-drama’s narrative.

Brian White (Daniel Millhouse in the UW production), a Harvard professor on the verge of tenure, is friends with Jackson (Cylie Agee), an African-American surgical intern at Harvard Medical School. White wants Harvard to fund his study, which asserts that white people are biologically programmed for racial prejudice.

Harvard wants to distance itself from such incendiary research, a position largely embodied by psychology professor Ginny Yang (Lucy Tan), an Chinese- and Japanese-American woman who studies race and identity among Asian-American women. Valerie Johnston (Aaliyah Boyd), an African-American stage performer with a Harvard MFA in acting, rounds out the cast of characters.

The quartet members are well educated, attractive, bright and not a little bit smug about their own liberal intellectualism, characteristics that Diamond’s sharp-tongued dialogue repeatedly skewers. The play’s Harvard University setting and ivy-covered overload should seem achingly familiar to UW’s academic population.

Perhaps most alarming about Smart People’s premise is that White’s study is inspired by the conclusions of university-level research.

“I ran across a study, Dehumanizing the Lowest of the Low, by Susan Fiske, a neuroscientist at Princeton University who studied the brain’s response to different images of people,” says Diamond, a former assistant professor at Boston University. “Images of babies, for example, caused the brain to fire with joy, but when study subjects were shown photos of brown-skinned indigent people, the brains did not fire at all. I found that very startling.”

Fiske’s 2005 study, conducted with fellow researcher Alana Harris, used functional magnetic resonance imaging data to examine the brain activity of 22 volunteers shown photos of people and objects, with the images divided into four distinct response quadrants. The study went beyond questions of race, but the idea stuck in Diamond’s mind, forming the basis along with other similar studies for her protagonist’s research.

Comparisons between themes within the play, which takes place on the eve of President Barack Obama’s 2008 election, and current events are inevitable.

“Thematically, because it’s a play that lives in America, it reflects to a certain extent what’s going on in our culture,” Diamond explains. “It was written seven years ago, but the themes still resonate.”

Conversations about race are still uncomfortable for American society and for people of all races, Diamond says. While it’s important to have that discussion, the playwright is the first to insist that Smart People comes to the stage without an agenda or mission other than to inform, entertain, and even make people laugh.

“What the play does is start the conversation,” she says. “I want the audience to be entertained and maybe become a little uncomfortable. If the audience leaves still talking about the play, I think I will have done my job.

“It’s a very funny play,” Diamond adds, “and funny is the one thing that all races share.”


Lydia Diamond’s Smart People will run through March 13 at the Mitchell Theatre, 821 University Ave., on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Tickets are $15 to $22 plus a facility fee. Call 608-265-2787 or visit theater.wisc.edu.

To All Candidates Running for President: Reject Bigotry

Since the tragic attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, the world has watched some American politicians react with hatred, bigotry and vile untruths. They have exploited the politics of nativism and fear, using the atrocities committed by a few individuals to cast blanket suspicion on whole nations and all Muslims.

America must be better than this.

We are a nation of immigrants founded on the principles of justice, equality, and democracy. Our commitment to these ideals has not always been perfect, and it is horrifying to hear politicians use past examples of national shame, such as the internment of Japanese Americans, to justify discrimination today.  Our nation and political leaders should instead set an example for people around the world with resilience and hope. Equality and religious freedom are principles enshrined in our founding documents and reflected in our laws. They are not mere concepts to be discarded in difficult times.

Calls to ban Muslims from entering the United States and prohibit the resettlement of refugees fleeing the Islamic State in Syria undermine core American principles by fomenting hate, division, and discrimination. Such hateful rhetoric has given rise to a tide of racism, hatred, and violence against law-abiding American Muslims. It is deeply distressing that hate crimes against American Muslims — and those who appear to be Muslim — are up when all kinds of hate crimes are down. This terrible fact cannot be divorced from the dangerous rhetoric that has seeped into the mainstream in recent weeks.

American Muslims are our neighbors, friends, and colleagues. They are us.

Our political leaders not only set the tone for our nation. They also are the primary messengers to the rest of the world.  When they call for compassion, dignity, and equality, the world listens. When they call for exclusion and defend bigotry, the world also listens. In a time of global uncertainty, American leaders must do the right thing by projecting the America we have always aspired to be.

We challenge every candidate for the presidency of the United States to stand up against bigotry and division, to oppose the exclusion of individuals from the United States on the basis of religion or nationality, and to affirm a commitment to equality for Americans of all races and of all faiths.

The future of America — and the world — is in your hands. Do the right thing. The whole world is watching.

Year in Review: Uprisings confront racism, Black Lives Matter movement matures

Murders at a historically black church in the South.

Arsons at temples, mosques and chapels.

Police killings of unarmed black men and teens.

Citizens pledging allegiance to a Confederate flag.

Politicians seeking to build a wall to the south and proposing to ban people of an entire faith from entering the country.

Courts and lawmakers rolling back voting rights. 

And even the revelation that a fictional civil rights legend to many was first a racist.

In 2015, there were celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act and tributes to the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, but racism overran the nation — and no one could claim it was a hidden factor of American life.

In 2015, the path to Martin Luther King’s dream was littered with barriers and Black Lives Matter proved to be more than a fleeting campaign.

In January, President Barack Obama delivered the State of the Union to the nation: “We may go at it in campaign season, but surely we can agree that the right to vote is sacred; that it’s being denied to too many and that on this 50th anniversary of the great march from Selma to Montgomery and the passage of the Voting Rights Act, we can come together, Democrats and Republicans, to make voting easier for every single American.

“We may have different takes on the events of Ferguson and New York. But surely we can understand a father who fears his son can’t walk home without being harassed.”

But the events of 2015 would reveal that Americans don’t agree that the right to vote is sacred or entirely understand a father who fears for his son’s safety on the streets.

Obama, in the State of the Union address, looked back to an earlier speech in which he said there is no liberal or conservative America, no black or white America, but a United States. But the United States was not united in 2015 and all the signs suggested greater division to come, as polarization in the two parties deepened.

In February, the U.S. Justice Department released its report on the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson in August 2014 and complaints of race-based bias against the police department. Shortly afterward, the president, commemorating the anniversary of the Selma march, said it would be a mistake is “to suggest that Ferguson is an isolated incident; that racism is banished. … We don’t need the Ferguson report to know that’s not true. We just need to open our eyes, and our ears, and our hearts to know that this nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us.”

Open ears heard Donald Trump officially enter the presidential race and ride to the top of the polls in his party largely on the popularity of racist rants.

Open hearts ached after a white supremacist killed nine people attending a Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and the mourning was followed with a serious feud, mostly in the South, over the appropriateness of public institutions flying the Confederate flag.

Open eyes read news of each development in police killings of black men and black teenagers in Baltimore, Minneapolis, Chicago, Cleveland and also in Madison, where there were no charges brought against the white officer who killed 19-year-old Tony Robinson Jr., and in Milwaukee, where a white officer was fired but not charged in the shooting of Dontre Hamilton in April 2014. In fact, the latter officer was granted disability pay.

The year ended with a focus on Chicago, where a white police officer was indicted for first-degree murder more than a year after he fatally shot a black teen 16 times. Protesters marched on city hall, the courthouse, the state center and the Magnificent Mile to demand the ouster of the police chief, Cook County’s chief prosecutor and the resignation of Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel after the release of a dashcam video showing the teenager moving away from the officer as he was shot.

In mid-December, the U.S. Justice Department announced it would investigate patterns of racial disparity in the use of force by Chicago police officers. The wide-ranging probe could lead to calls for sweeping changes at one of the country’s largest police departments and elsewhere in 2016.

Or not. 

Hope amid hatred this July Fourth

Our national holiday this year is marked by hatred and hope.

The murders in Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church were a frightening reminder of how much hatred exists in our country. A week before the massacre, The New York Times reported that a study of 384 law enforcement agencies found that 74 percent believed the greatest terrorist threat facing us comes from domestic extremists, not the Islamic State group or al-Qaida.

Militias, neo-Nazis and “sovereign citizen” groups (who reject federal, state and local authority) make up the bulk of this domestic threat. These groups harbor racist elements; the most overtly racist are neo-Nazi and skinhead groups, which have a big presence online.

It was at the website of one of these white supremacist groups that the Charleston killer filled his head with racist blather about African-Americans “raping our women” and “taking over our country.” These racist tropes date back to the days of slavery. Yet they remain potent recruiting slogans for vengeance-minded fanatics who need someone to blame for their sorry, bitter lives.

The outpouring of grief around the country combined with renewed debate about flying the Confederate flag repudiated any message the killer was trying to get across. 

Hatred, access to guns and mental health issues may all have been factors, but what is it with this young, white, male demographic? From John Wilkes Booth to Lee Harvey Oswald, from John Hinckley to Dylan Klebold to Adam Lanza to Dylann Roof, these violent killers have predictable profiles. Are there studies being done on them? How can we identify these loose cannons before they go off?

Roof was able to buy the Glock he used to kill the nine Charlestonians with birthday money. The very day pundits were discussing that lethal purchase, Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill repealing Wisconsin’s two-day waiting period for handgun purchases, calling it an unnecessary “time tax.” How twisted by ideology do you have to be to dismiss a two-day waiting period for handguns as a “time tax”?

President Barack Obama delivered his stirring eulogy in Charleston a day after federal subsidies under the Affordable Care Act were sustained by the U.S. Supreme Court and on the day the high court ruled that the Constitution guarantees the right to same-sex marriage. No wonder Obama spoke with such passion.

Justice Anthony Kennedy grounded his marriage ruling in the rights to individual liberty, due process and equal protection of the laws. The four liberal justices voted with Kennedy, reminding us again why we take pride in liberalism. Thus did a determined minority of gay men and lesbians — subject to criminal sanction, medical torture and rejection by families as few as 50 years ago — obtain redress and state recognition of their relationships. 

I spent June 26 tuning in to TV and websites to take it all in. I watched excerpts of the Charleston eulogy, crying in sorrow, and then switched to coverage of the marriage ruling, crying with happiness. 

At the end of that historic day, the beautiful image of the White House swathed in bright rainbow colors was transmitted worldwide. It was an unexpected, celebratory symbol of hope that closed a period of national tragedy. 

May the rainbow continue to be our beacon as we fight hatred with love and learn to respect the diversity and contributions of all our people.

Confederate flag supporters rally in Alabama

Confederate flags returned to the cradle of the Confederacy yesterday as hundreds of flag supporters arrived at Alabama’s Capitol to protest the removal of four rebel flags from a Confederate monument next to the building where the Confederacy was formed.

Standing at the bottom of the Capitol’s steps, where 50 years ago Martin Luther King Jr. led a march for civil rights, Tim Steadman said it wasn’t right to remove the flags.

“Right now, this past week with everything that is going on, I feel very much like the Jews must have felt in the very beginning of the Nazi Germany takeover,” he said. “I mean I do feel that way, like there is a concerted effort to wipe people like me out, to wipe out my heritage and to erase the truths of history.”

Days earlier, Gov. Robert Bentley had ordered the flags taken down from the 1898 monument amid national controversy about whether Confederate symbols should be displayed on state grounds.

Standing next to Steadman was Ronnie Simmons, who wore a T-shirt with the face of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Davis, who was elected as the first and only Confederate president inside the historic Alabama Senate chamber inside the Capitol in 1861, once lived a block away in the First White House of the Confederacy while Montgomery was briefly the capital.

Simmons said Bentley was a “scallywag,” referring to a term used in the years after the Civil War during the Reconstruction period to describe white southerners who collaborated with northerners.

“It’s alienating the white people in the state of Alabama when you take something down in a historic setting,” Simmons said. “If scallywag Bentley thinks he’s improved race relations in this state, he’s as crazy as a bed bug.”

Some attendees dressed in Civil War attire while others arrived in motorcycle apparel with Confederate flag patches sewn into vests. Flags flew on motorcycles playing “Sweet Home Alabama” and rested on the shoulders of men in Civil War uniforms. One woman held a sign that said “Southern Lives Matter,” a variation of the “Black Lives Matter” phrase that became a rallying call after the shootings of unarmed black men in multiple states.

Many in the white audience said they feared their heritage was being taken away.

Sherry Butler Clayton said the flag is a way to honor her relatives tied to the Confederacy.

“I have many, many ancestors,” she said. “A lot of them are in unknown graves up North where they died on the battlefield. A lot of them came back maimed. And it’s just a way. I don’t hate anyone. I love all people. My daughter-in-law is black and I love her and I love her family. So it’s not a black/white issue. It’s a heritage issue.”

Bentley has received broad support for his decision to remove the flags. In an open letter to the governor, state Sen. Vivian Figures praised him for his action. Figures, who is black, said supporters of the Confederate battle flag “have used the guise of ‘heritage’ to mask the true meaning of the flag.”

“That flag is a message of hatred, bigotry, negativity, white supremacy, shackles, whips, segregation, church bombings, beatings, lynchings, and assassinations,” she wrote.

Event organizer Mike Williams said he was pleased with the turnout. Williams, who was one of the first protesters to arrive at the monument after the flags were removed, said he hopes anyone organizing similar events in southern states will keep rallies “about heritage and not hate.”

New Hampshire changing vanity plate rules after ‘CopsLie’ request

The New Hampshire Department of Motor Vehicles is not issuing new vanity license plates while it reviews the wording of proposed rules governing what those plates can say.

The temporary ban comes in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling in May that the agency’s refusal to issue a plate to a man who wanted to display “CopsLie” on his vehicle violated free speech rights. The court concluded the agency’s rules on plate messages were too vague to enforce.

In light of the ruling, DMV drafted new guidelines to prohibit language that relates to sex, violence, drugs, gangs or bigotry, the Concord Monitor reports.

The DMV has until mid-July to adopt or reject the new rules.

New Hampshire is known for its traditional license plate, which reads, “Live Free Or Die.”