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Confederate Flag Protest: Two Activists Arrested at South Carolina Statehouse

Two activists were arrested early Saturday after one removed the Confederate flag from a pole outside South Carolina’s Statehouse.
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Two activists were arrested early Saturday after one removed the Confederate flag from a pole outside South Carolina’s statehouse in Columbia, officials said. The flag was quickly replaced.

Brittany Ann Byuarim Newsome, 30, of Raleigh, North Carolina, was seen scaling the pole at about 6:15 a.m., and refused to come down until she had unhooked the flag, the South Carolina Department of Public Safety said in a statement.

She and a man who was inside the fence helping her — James Ian Tyson, 30, of Charlotte, North Carolina — were arrested and charged with defacing a monument.

“The flag was replaced with a new flag within about an hour and no further damage was done,” the statement from officials said.

Newsome and Tyson posted bond, set at $3,000 each, on Saturday afternoon, and were released hours later.

An online fundraiser for Newsome's bail raised more than $42,000 in just four hours.

In a statement, the NAACP praised Newsome as a "courageous young woman" and asked for leniency from prosecutors.

"We commend the courage and moral impulse of Ms. Newsome as she stands for justice like many NAACP activists including Henry David Thoreau, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and numerous Americans who have engaged in civil disobedience," it said. "The NAACP calls on state prosecutors to consider the moral inspiration behind the civil disobedience of this young practitioner of democracy."

The incident followed widespread calls for the rebel banner's removal after the massacre of nine black people at a Charleston church in the city earlier this month by a white gunman.

Image: Brittany Newsome, James Tyson
Brittany Newsome and James TysonAlvin S. Glenn Detention Center

The two face a fine of up to $5,000 or up to three years' prison time.

Civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson told MSNBC he was "delighted" that activists had pulled down the Confederate flag.

"They pulled it down in a non-violent way," he said. "Activists have a way of pushing the envelope for change."

Newsome, a writer and singer who goes by the first name Bree, could not immediately be reached for comment. On Twitter, supporters used the hashtag "#freebree," and shared video of her sliding down the 30-foot pole with the Confederate flag in hand, clad in climbing gear.

She and Tyson were still in custody as of late Saturday morning. As "#freebree" became a top trending hashtag, various people, including filmmaker Michael Moore, offered to pay her bail.

Activists who described themselves as a multiracial group of "concerned citizens" said they were behind the flag's removal.

"We took this task in our own hands because our President, Governor, mayors, legislators, and councilmen had a moral duty to remove the flag but failed to act. We could not sit by and watch the victims of the Charleston Massacre be laid to rest while the inspiration for their deaths continue to fly above their caskets," the group said in a statement.

The incident came hours before a pro-Confederate flag rally at the state capital. About 50 people who support keeping the flag gathered outside the statehouse, with many waving the banners as they shouted "Heritage Not Hate!"

"This is not a flag of hate. It's a flag of heritage, and we have a right to our heritage," said Leland Browder of Greenville. "And, you know, I'm from the South and proud of the South and, you know, proud of this flag."

Supporters also said the voters should decide the fate of the flag and shouted: "Let the People Vote."

Meanwhile, funerals were being held Saturday for three of the victims of the Charleston church shooting: Cynthia Hurd, 54, Susie Jackson, 87, and Tywanza Sanders, 26.

In an emotional eulogy on Friday, President Barack Obama paid tribute to the church's pastor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was among the nine killed.