TAMPA — Save Southern Heritage, a group opposing the removal of a Confederate monument from downtown Tampa, filed a defamation lawsuit this week against local critics.
The complaint names Ione Townsend, chairwoman of the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee; committee member Kenneth Copenhaver; Timothy Heberlein, director of political operations for the activist group Organize Florida; and their two organizations.
Save Southern Heritage accuses them of spreading letters and Internet messages calling the group "white supremacists," among other objections.
"Our group does not condone racism and as such we do not support any group or person that does," the complaint states, citing Save Southern Heritage's mission statement. "We respect the rights and privileges of all as bestowed on them by their creator and expect those in our association to respect and treat others as they themselves would wish to be treated."
The 32-page complaint was filed Thursday in Hillsborough Circuit Court and made public late Friday. Heberlein and Copenhaver declined to comment on the lawsuit. Townsend could not be reached.
The allegations center on events that followed a July 19 Hillsborough County Commission meeting at which citizens spoke about the proposed relocation of a Confederate memorial from outside the old county courthouse.
A few weeks after the meeting, Save Southern Heritage published a dossier on its website identifying people who had participated.
For example, an 89-year-old Tampa resident who fought in the civil rights movement was described as a "resentful black woman," and her phone number and street address were published. A historian who grew up in Tampa and moved to St. Petersburg three years ago was listed as a "resentful black man" who was "imported" from Pinellas County to urge removal of the monument.
According to the lawsuit, Save Southern Heritage published such information in order to demonstrate that many of the speakers were not Hillsborough County residents and had shared views that were not representative of the county.