COLUMBIA, S.C. — Authorities are investigating the vandalism of a statue of a segregationist South Carolina governor as the state grapples with heightened tension over Confederate symbols in the wake of a massacre at a black church.
Red paint was seen dripping Tuesday from the statute of "Pitchfork" Ben Tillman on the Statehouse grounds in Columbia. Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Sherri Iacobelli said an officer saw what appeared to be a red paintball on the statue during morning rounds. Workers were cleaning the statue Tuesday afternoon.
Tillman, a noted white supremacist who unapologetically advocated lynching any black who tried to vote, spent three decades — from 1890 to 1918 — as governor and as a U.S. senator. In 1940, the state commemorated him with an eight-foot bronze statue, on which Tillman is described as a "friend and leader of the common people."
Various efforts to make edits to Tillman's physical legacy in the state have gone nowhere. A 2008 legislative push to remove or change his Statehouse statue failed, and efforts in recent years to change the name of buildings named for Tillman at several South Carolina universities also have not succeeded.
The Tillman statue faces a Confederate flag and monument to Confederate soldiers, around which security has been increased following protests after the slayings of nine people June 17 at a historic black church in Charleston.
The suspect, Dylann Storm Roof, appears in a number of photographs online with the Confederate flag, prompting calls for removal of the flag from in front of the Statehouse. Activity around various portions of the sprawling complex — including the flag, a Confederate monument and statues of Tillman and Strom Thurmond, a long-serving U.S. senator who ran for president in 1948 as a "Dixiecrat" to protest the national Democratic Party's softening stance on segregation — has increased, with both planned and impromptu demonstrations.
"We want people feel safe to come down to the Statehouse, and we're just asking for people to maintain order and to demonstrate peacefully and respectfully during this time," Iacobelli said.
Iacobelli said more Bureau of Protective Services officers have been posted at the downtown complex, but she declined to give specifics on the number of extra officers or the total number of security personnel at the Statehouse. Jennifer Timmons, a spokeswoman for the Columbia Police Department, said that agency regularly patrols the Statehouse area and can quickly respond if help is needed.
Such a collaboration happened Monday night, when one man was arrested after a fight broke out over the flag that flies near the Confederate soldier monument. At around 7:15 p.m., about a dozen vehicles with Confederate flag supporters pulled up in front of the Statehouse and stopped in the middle of the street.
About 10 flag supporters clashed with about 30 people who were on the Statehouse grounds protesting the flag. About 50 officers contained the clash, including officers from the Bureau of Protective Services assigned to the Statehouse, as well as Columbia police, University of South Carolina officers and the South Carolina Highway Patrol, officials said.
Nicholas Thompson, 25, of Irmo, South Carolina, has been charged with disorderly conduct. Online court records showed Thompson posted bond late Monday and listed no attorney for him. His next court date is July 27.
Just after dawn Saturday, a North Carolina woman scaled the more than 30-foot steel flagpole and removed the flag. She and a man who also had climbed over a wrought-iron fence to get to the flag were arrested, and the flag was raised again.
South Carolina lawmakers are expected next week to consider proposals to take the flag down and move it to a museum. The flag has flown at the Statehouse since the 1960s. It was removed from the Statehouse dome and placed at a Confederate Soldier Monument in front of the Statehouse in 2000.
Confederate symbols have been vandalized in a number of states since the shootings. Earlier Tuesday, the words "Black Lives Matter" were painted on a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Seanna Adcox contributed to this report. Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP