TEMPLE TERRACE — Travis Malloy was supposed to show up to the Temple Terrace Golf and Country Club on Thursday to pick up his Citizen of the Year award at the Chamber of Commerce banquet.
Instead, Malloy stayed away in protest.
The club, he recently learned, will be hosting a "Southern Heritage" event with a "War on the South" program on Sept. 2.
"While it is their absolute right to do that, I do not want to lend my support to a club that would host such a group," Malloy, who was honored for starting community gardens and a farmers market, wrote on a Facebook page.
"I love the Chamber of Commerce, the City, and most everything about Temple Terrace. I do not like the racist tones of fighting the War on the South. I would rather not give anyone my business who tolerates it."
The event is the annual banquet for the Sons of Confederate Veterans Judah P. Benjamin Camp. The invitation-only dinner has been held at the club in years past, including last year, and this year state Sen. Dennis Baxley is among the speakers. But in a country — and a county — riven by racial tension fueled in part by the removal of Confederate monuments, the event has garnered more notice and alarmed people who worry it will draw white supremacists and foment intolerance.
David McCallister, commander of the camp, called that "ridiculous."
"The Sons of Confederate Veterans have been very explicit and up front that they will not allow anyone who is a member of any racist, KKK or neo-Nazi group to be a member, nor will we allow any expression of anything racist or white supremacist," McCallister said. "These people are severely misinformed about this banquet."
Along with Baxley, the panel will include Doug Guetzloe, an Orlando tax activist and a leader of the Save Southern Heritage Florida, a chapter of a South Carolina-based non-profit organization that aims to "preserve and promote the history of the south," according to its website. The third panelist is H.K. Edgerton, an outspoken African American Sons of Confederate Veterans member who emphasizes the role of black Confederates.
According to the invitation, the panelists will discuss the fight against the removal the Confederate monument in front of the courthouse, the battle to rename streets in Hollywood, and a local ordinance to prevent the removal of other monuments. For $29.50 per person, attendees get the choice of fried chicken, salmon with citrus butter sauce or vegetarian pasta primavera.
McCallister, who lives in Temple Terrace, said this year's banquet leans toward the educational side because of current events. He said past years have drawn about 100 people. The group chose Temple Terrace because it's convenient.
A message left at the country club Friday was not returned.
Jessica Kings, who lives near the club with her boyfriend and young daughter, first learned of the banquet from a Miami New Times story that said Save Southern Heritage Florida is hosting the event. The group works to "pass and maintain legislation to protect history and the freedoms of those who wish to support their heritage" according to its website, and "does not condone racism and as such we do not support any group or person that does."
But Kings went to the group's Facebook page and was alarmed by some of the posts, most involving the removal of Confederate monuments.
"I was disgusted and disturbed by the hateful messages," she said. "I don't want that in my neighborhood."
There is an ominous tone throughout the Facebook page.
Under one post about Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn donating $1,000 toward relocating the Confederate monument at the old county courthouse, one person wrote: "Find out where he lives and me and the boys will slip in there and make him disappear!"
"Move it and pay the consequences by the southerners," read another post, on a news report about another monument. That poster's Facebook page has an image of a white-hooded figure and reads, "The KKK wants you!"
McCallister, who is active in Save Southern Heritage Florida and serves as spokesman, said the group and the Sons of Confederate Veterans have overlap in membership and leadership.
"But there is no membership overlap with the KKK or neo-Nazis," he said.
McCallister said many people who comment on the Facebook page aren't members of the group. "There's a lot of stuff on Facebook that's inflammatory and you try to police it the best you can."
Baxley, who is also a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said his goals as a panelist will include drawing "a clear line" between people passionate about the "disrespect and desecration" of monuments and fringe elements hijacking the cause.
"What we've allowed to happen is the most extreme elements to carry on the conversation on both sides," he said. "My purpose is to calm things down and say, 'We need to be the reasonable ones.'
Kings said she told management of the Temple Terrace golf club that she has changed her mind about joining. Opponents of the event plan a "Heritage of Love and Tolerance Picnic" the same time as the banquet, at Bonnie Brae Park near the club.
"We just want to make sure the community knows this is an inclusive community," Kings said, "and we don't support hateful messages."
Contact Tony Marrero at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.