State investigators are looking into numerous death threats against South Carolina legislators as they debate whether to pull a Confederate battle flag down from the state capital grounds, authorities said Wednesday.
"Legislators on both sides of the issue have received communications that include death threats," Mark Keel, chief of the State Law Enforcement Division, said in a statement. "We recognize the First Amendment protections offered for free speech. That's not what this is about."
House members continued deliberating well into the night on a Senate bill that would remove the banner and the pole where it flies. Republican Gov. Nikki Haley called for the flag to be removed after the fatal shootings of nine people at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church last week in Charleston, including its pastor, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney.
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Keel acknowledged that "there are strong emotions on all sides of this issue," but "to threaten the life or well-being of a lawmaker or their family is inexcusable."
Rep. Todd Rutherford, a Democrat representing Richland County, seat of the state capital, Columbia, told The Greenville News that he has received "unbelievable" mail.
"It's simply uncalled for in the legislative process, but it is also part and parcel about why the flag needs to come down," Rutherford told the newspaper. "We don't need any more divisive symbols that cause people to fight and issue threats."