SEFFNER — The local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans took down the giant Confederate flag waving above Interstate 4 after people on social media threatened to set it on fire.
The call to remove the 30-foot by 60-foot battle flag came from the local chapter’s higher-ups in the Sons of Confederate Veterans, including Florida Division Commander Kelly Crocker.
The state division claims ownership of Confederate Memorial Park, the small parcel of land on U.S. 92 where a 139-foot flag pole was erected in 2008 — in time to raise the flag for the 200th birthday of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America.
Pulling down the flag, second largest of its kind in the world, wasn’t a decision made in fear, said David R. McCallister, who leads the Judah P. Benjamin Camp #2210 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
“The decision was we would temp take down the flag in the bests interests of preserving the park overall,” he said. “We don’t want the flag to be an excuse for anyone to do illegal acts.”
Still, the group has rarely removed the infamous roadside attraction near Interstates 4 and 75, like when hurricanes threatened. But never because of threats.
“We want to lower the temperature and defuse any problems,” McCallister said.
That wasn’t the case in 2015, when a racially motivated shooting at a church in Charleston, S.C., prompted Hillsborough County to remove its Confederate flag from County Center. And that wasn’t the case in 2017, when violent clashes in Charlottesville, Va., led the County Commission to remove a Confederate statue from its station outside the old County Courthouse.
Earlier Sunday, McCallister posted a notice to the Judah P. Benjamin Camp’s Facebook page that the monument’s new home in a Brandon cemetery was considered a “high visibility target” for protests this weekend in response to the death of George Floyd while in by Minneapolis police custody.
The post also mentioned as possible targets the Confederate Memorial Park, a bust of General Robert E. Lee in Fort Myers and the Lakeland Veterans Park Cenotaph.
The group hopes to leave the flag down no longer than a week.
The flag was already gone by the time Hillsborough County Sheriff’s deputies arrived at the park Sunday afternoon.
Four deputies in two marked patrol cars remained parked outside into the evening, lights flashing.
But as protests surged through downtown Tampa before Mayor Jane Castor announced a 7:30 p.m. curfew, the deputies told a Tampa Bay Times reporter that none of protests feared had materialized. The only visitors Sunday were members of a nearby church who brought the deputies water and prayed with them for safety and peace.