A throng of Confederate flag supporters showed up to the "American & Southern Flag Rally" in Loxahatchee on Saturday to show support for the flag, which has been at the center of debate in the U.S. for the last month. Supporters adorned their cars and pickups with the rebel flag and drove through Seminole Pratt Whitney Road, Okeechobee Boulevard, State Road 7, and Southern Boulevard to express that the flag isn't, in their minds, a symbol of hatred or racism.
The lead truck played Toby Keith at full volume and had "I'll never apologize for being American!" written on the back passenger window. Others followed with both American and Confederate flags flying from their truck beds, honking their horns as the convoy slowly paraded down the pre-chosen route.
The rally was announced through Facebook and other social media outlets last week as a "peaceful and respectful" event that called on supporters of the Confederate flag to come show their pride in the wake of the flag being taken down from the South Carolina capitol grounds.
In Ocala, a reported 1,500 cars and trucks and 4,500 people showed up for the "Florida Southern Pride Ride" to show their support for the flag.
Debate has sparked over the flag being flown in government buildings ever since a self-proclaimed white supremacist gunned down nine African Americans at a church in South Carolina last month. The alleged gunman, Dylan Roof, cited the Confederate flag as an inspiration for the murders.
But some have spoken up to defend the flag, citing its Southern heritage and history.
"This is about our past and history, and it's unfortunate that because of one crazy guy who shot a bunch of people, those of us who see this flag as an important part of our past have to deal with this," one Confederate flag supporter told New Times last week. "If you look around, this flag is everywhere down here."
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The debate over the flag and its claims to heritage versus its symbol of slavery has hit Florida as well. Florida removed flags with the Confederate emblem on them from State Capitol grounds back in 2001, but the state has remained a hot bed of controversy over the flag since. In 2013 a Jacksonville high school petitioned to have the name of Confederate general and KKK founder, Nathan Bedford Forrest, removed from the school. Despite some pushback from some who wanted the name to remain, the school eventually removed Forrest as the name.
Recently, an underground group called #BlackOutWhiteSupremacy spray painted over street signs named for Confederate soldiers throughout the City of Hollywood.
Saturday's rally, which drew about a hundred people, was held just a day after South Carolina officially removed the Confederate flag from its capitol grounds.