TAMPA — The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office is investigating after granite monuments at the site of the massive Confederate flag that flies over Interstate 75 were vandalized over the weekend.
Deputies responding about 11 a.m. Sunday to a vandalism call at Confederate Memorial Park, 10418 Highway 92 East, discovered red paint had been thrown on all of the granite memorial pillars, said Debbie Carter, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Office. There were also derogatory comments written in paint on the memorial.
A passerby saw the grafitti and called 911, Carter said.
The park is on private property donated by a member of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans, which raised about $150,000 to erect the memorial as "a tribute to the men who answered the call of duty in defense of our Southland," according to a marker. The granite pillars at the park built by the Sons of the Confederate Veterans detail episodes and figures from the Confederacy.
Volunteers were able to remove the paint Sunday using pressure washers, said David McCallister, commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans' Judah P. Benjamin Camp, who was among those who helped with the cleanup.
One of the defaced monuments includes the names of two of McCallister's ancestors, Hugh McCallister and William T. McCallister.
"It really made me heartsick to see red paint dripping like blood down on my ancestor's name on a monument meant to honor him as a Floridian and patriot," McCallister said.
McCallister said the word "antifa" had been scrawled on the plaza's concrete. "AntiFa" is a sometimes violent anti-fascist movement that has been active since President Donald Trump's election.
The park has been a lightning rod of criticism because of its most prominent feature: a 139-foot flag pole and Confederate battle flag that measures 30 feet high and 60 feet long. The flag was raised first in 2008 to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Jefferson Davis, the only president of the Confederate States of America. Since its dedication in 2009, it has flown almost full time.
The vandalism comes during a bitterly contentious debate over Confederate monuments on public property. The Hillsborough County Commission voted this month to relocate a Confederate statue titled "Memoria In Aeterna" that sits in front of the County Courthouse annex property in Tampa.
Over the weekend, violent clashes erupted at the University of Virginia in Charlottesveille between white supremacists protesting the removal of a statute of General Robert E. Lee and counterprotestors. One woman was killed and 19 more were injured Saturday when an Ohio man drove his car into a crowd of counterprotestors.
On Sunday night, scores of people gathered at Joe Chillura Courthouse Square Tampa for a candlelight vigil to honor those killed and injured in the Virginia city. Several demonstrators then climbed atop the "Memoria In Aeterna" and left protest signs with slogans such as "I Will Build Statues of Love" and "White Supremacy is Terrorism."
McCallister said the Sons of Confederate Veterans had nothing to do with the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville.
"Robert E. Lee would not have approved of what went on in Charlottesville," he said.
Anyone with any information about the vandalism is asked to call the Sheriff's Office at (813) 247-8200 or Crime Stoppers at (800) 873-8477. To report anonymously, go to crimestopperstb.com or send a tip using the P3 Tips mobile application.
Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.