Thursday, April 26, 2018
Politics

Southern Heritage group draws fire for posting personal information of Confederate statue opponents

TAMPA — Curtiss Wilson is an 89-year-old Tampa resident who fought in the civil rights movement.

But in a "survey" posted to the web recently by Save Southern Heritage Florida, Wilson is listed as a "resentful black woman." Her phone number and street address are included.

Charles "Fred" Hearns is a historian who grew up in Tampa and moved to St. Petersburg three years ago . In the survey, Hearns is listed as a "resentful black man" who was "imported" from Pinellas County to tell the Hillsborough County Commission to remove the Confederate monument in front of the old Hillsborough County courthouse.

The report and accompanying spreadsheet, posted by Save Southern Heritage on Aug. 10, includes the personal information, photos and "affiliation" of more than 100 people who spoke in favor of moving the monument at the July 19 County Commission meeting. The listed affiliations include specific groups or movements, such as "Democrat" and "Black Lives Matter," and more general descriptions such as "anti-Trump," "LGBT," "Muslim" and "resentful black man." One man was described as being "anti-law enforcement."

Activists on the list are calling the report a clear case of "doxxing" — publishing personal information as an act of intimidation — and say some people on the list have been targets of harassment on social media and, in at least one case, by phone. They plan to ask authorities to prosecute Save Southern Heritage to force them to remove the list.

"We're worried about the safety of our people," said Tim Heberlein, Tampa Bay director for Organize Florida, whose group has several members on the list. "Legally, it feels like a line has been crossed."

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Along with Sons of the Confederate Veterans, Save Southern Heritage Florida has been at the forefront of the opposition to moving the 106-year-old monument, called Memoria en Aeterna. The Commission voted in June to keep the statue in place, then reversed course at its July 19 meeting, voting 4-2 to move it to a private Brandon cemetery. The commission voted last week to require donors to raise $140,000 to cover half the cost of removal, a goal met in 24 hours.

After that meeting, Save Southern Heritage set to work on the report, obtaining sign-in cards completed by speakers who supported the removal of the monument through a public records request and culling information from social media sites, voter registration rolls, property appraiser records and other internet research sites, according to the group. The report also includes photos of each speaker pulled from the county's television broadcast.

The group posted the report and an accompanying spread sheet on its web site with a news release declaring that "Study Shows 'Anti-Fa' and Radical Left Drove Down Tampa Confederate Memorial." Anti-fa, or antifa, is a leftist movement whose name derives from "anti-fascism."

"(It's) a really hard core group of social justice warriors and left-wing democratic party activists, mixed in with Socialist-Marxists and Anti-Fa... certainly not mainstream America," David McCallister, a spokesman for the group, said in a news release. McCallister also serves as commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans' Judah P. Benjamin Camp and has been a leading advocate for leaving the Tampa monument in place.

Just one of the people on the list was described as having an affiliation with anti-fa, however. Many people on the list are elderly. Several are from outside of the Tampa Bay area.

The report includes a lengthy disclaimer stating, in part, that, "SSH FL assumes no responsibility for consequences resulting from the use of the information herein ... ," and that the group "is not responsible for, and expressly disclaims all liability for, damages of any kind arising out of use, reference to, or reliance on such information."

Doug Guetzloe, an Orlando anti-tax activist and board member for Save Southern Heritage, said the report is a form of "opposition research" to show who is addressing elected officials debating the removal of Confederate monuments in a half-dozen Florida counties.

"It's certainly a mainstay of politics nowadays to find out who your opposition is," Guetzloe said. "We wanted elected officials to know who's coming before them, who's from out of town and sort of traveling agitators."

Guetzloe said people who insert themselves in public debates can't complain when information gleaned from public sources is compiled by their political adversaries. He denied that the report was intended as a way to target people for harassment and said the descriptions included by the authors of the report, whom he declined to name, were based on a review of the comments during the meeting, social media presence and other public information. He said the group's attorneys reviewed the report before its release.

"Obviously, we don't support anything that would be illegal or contact with any of these folks that would not be appropriate in a public setting," he said. "It's an unfortunate part of the process and there are some angry people out there who will break the law and should be held accountable no matter what side they're on."

In response to the posting, the Hillsborough County Democratic Party, several of whose active members were on the list, called Monday for the commissioners to rescind McAllister's recent appointment to the county's Diversity Advisory Council.

"Someone who promotes racism and violence has no place on a council of the county," said county Democratic Chairman Ione Townsend in a statement approved by the membership.

Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren was at the Monday night meeting and told the 150 people there that while the actions of McAllister's group may be reprehensible, they probably aren't illegal.

In a statement Tuesday to the Tampa Bay Times, Warren said simply placing a name on a list is not a crime.

"We are working with law enforcement to monitor the situation and are ready to prosecute any criminal action,'' he said.

A specific threat of violence or a pattern of repeated contacts amounting to harassment or stalking could be a criminal violation, Warren said at the meeting. One example, he said, could be a message that members of the crowd said was directed at one individual, who allegedly received an email telling her, "You're a hunted bitch."

Jae Passmore, a 28-year-old Hillsborough County resident, said she was already receiving death threats before she spoke at the July 19 commission meeting. She suspects her tire was slashed by a monument supporter last week.

"I feel like it's a call for violence, plain and simple," Passmore said of the report.

Wilson, the 89-year-old Tampa resident, said she was perplexed when a Tampa Bay Times reporter told her she was described as a resentful black woman.

"That doesn't describe my nature at all," said Walker, the daughter of the late Charlie Walker, who pushed the county to build a school for black children in 1924 and who now has a middle school named after him. "The proponents for keeping it, they seem unable to understand why we as African-Americans don't want to see it. If they want to keep history, there's quite a bit of it in the history books. To us, it's an ugly history."

Fred Hearns, the speaker listed as a "resentful black man" and "imported" because he lives in St. Petersburg, said he is resentful.

"I resent racism and symbols of hatred," said Hearns, 68.

Hearns grew up in Tampa, retired from a job with the city of Tampa about a decade ago and moved to St. Petersburg three years ago. He called the Save Southern Heritage report "the act of desperate people fighting for a cause lost over 100 years ago" and said it called to mind the work of the White Citizens Councils, a network of white supremacists groups formed in the 1950s that used intimidation tactics to oppose racial integration.

Hearns said he won't be intimidated.

"People who believe in what they stand up for are going to stand up," he said.

Times correspondent William March contributed to this report. Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

     
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