A group of Charleston activists is calling for City Councilman Harry Griffin to resign after he discussed a downtown protest on social media reportedly attended by a hate group known as the Proud Boys.
On Saturday, a rally promoted on social media as a “Tea Party Grievances March” attracted a small camouflage-colored truck and activists waving “Don’t Tread on Me” flags to the steps of the U.S. Custom House downtown. It then moved to city hall on Broad Street. Black Lives Matter counter-protesters followed in an apparent show of force opposing the conservative rally.
The event was billed as speaking out against tax increases and gentrification, along with calling for Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg’s resignation. Organizers behind the Facebook pages Contemporary Conservative and The Overton Report promoted the event, later praising The Proud Boys’ presence at the event.
The Proud Boys, an all-male, so-called “Western chauvinist” group that has gained prominence in the Trump era, is designated as an extremist or hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League. In other cities, Proud Boys have been involved in violent clashes with anti-fascist protesters. A Charleston police spokesman Monday told the City Paper no incidents or issues were reported Saturday.
Before the Saturday event, Griffin’s photo appeared alongside organizers on a flyer circulated online and in a video promoting the event. In screenshots of a Facebook post that has since been deleted, Griffin appears to frame the Tea Party protest as promoting “ideas that all Charlestonians can get behind.” But Griffin did not attend or speak at the rally. He also did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.
But Griffin’s apparent show of support for the event and its organizers prompted quick outcry from left-leaning activists. On Tuesday morning, the Charleston Democratic Socialists of America issued a press release calling for Griffin’s immediate resignation for “inviting an overtly violent alt-right organization into our city.”
“Councilman Griffin has proven himself unfit to hold any kind of leadership in Charleston. This behavior is completely unacceptable from a sitting council member. He should and must resign immediately,” the group said. Nationally, DSA-aligned politicians such as U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders have left their marks in mainstream Democratic politics, helping drive progressive policies like universal health care.
A petition circulated by Charleston Black Lives Matter organizer Marcus McDonald calling for Griffin’s resignation garnered more than 1,200 signatures by Tuesday evening.
While Griffin did not return a phone call or text message Tuesday, he did respond to criticism on Twitter on Monday. Griffin said he agreed with organizers’ opposition to a proposal to raise taxes in Charleston, but said he declined to attend the rally when he “learned more of their other ideas.”
Griffin has opposed proposals to raise taxes in the fallout of the pandemic, which slashed revenues for local governments nationwide. Instead, Griffin said he would explore the possibility of part of suburban West Ashley breaking away to form a new municipality.
Charleston City Councilman Peter Shahid questioned Griffin’s promotion of the event in a phone call with the City Paper on Monday night.
“I don’t know why he backed out of it, what his rationale was, but he should not have been promoting it,” Shahid said.
In a phone call on Tuesday, Councilman Jason Sakran said he was “disappointed Councilman Griffin has aligned himself or formed a relationship” with the event’s organizers, “even if it’s a loose relationship with them.”
Condemning the Proud Boys specifically, Sakran said the local groups present on Saturday have contributed little to efforts to solve problems in the city.
“What I’ve seen from them is, whether it’s their anti-government, anti-feminist rhetoric, or divisive language around race, or their social media trolling … or the intimidation tactics that they use, I do think it’s wise for the community of Charleston to take notice,” Sakran said.
Shahid said there was agreement among other members of council he spoke with that Griffin’s support of the event was, in his words, “inappropriate and counterproductive to helping the city.”
“If he’s opposed to tax increases, I get it. I understand that, but don’t do it this way,” Shahid said. “We’re held to a higher standard as council members, as publicly elected officials, and we’ve got to honor that.”