COLUMBIA, SC (WCSC/WIS) - With more rallies both for an against the Confederate flag scheduled in the coming days, South Carolina pastors have a message for hate groups: don't show up.
A handful of local pastors gathered at the State House, joined by the National Action Network to call for peace, saying they hope if the Confederate flag does come down by a legislative vote, it will come down peacefully.
The Rev. James Johnson, state director for the National Action Network, acknowledged tensions are rising on both sides of the debate.
Lawmakers are taking up the bill Monday, the same day rallies both for and against the Confederate flag are scheduled.
The small, soft-spoken group of South Carolina ministers stood in front of the Confederate monument to pray for peace, in stark contrast to the group of pro and anti-flag protesters who were in the same spot Monday, when tempers flared and a fight broke out.
Johnson and other members of the network urged activists on either side to keep a cool head during protests and urged any hate groups or gangs to stay away from the State House.
"We are asking you of the Bloods and the Crips to remain calm and cool," the Rev. Darwin Miller, of the National Campaign for Tolerance, said. "Do not show up with the Ku Klux Klan show up on the 17th, I mean the 18th. We want you to please allow them to have a peaceful demonstration."
Both Miller and Johnson said they had heard some rumblings about gangs or groups like the Black Panthers showing up, and wanted to show they don't support their actions.
The state's Department of Public Safety says it is monitoring all tips and threats on social media and passing them on to law enforcement.
"This is as close as we've ever been from having the flag removed from the grounds of the State House," Johnson said.
A decision on the Confederate flag could possible come be made by the end of next week.