OCALA, Fla. (TheBlaze/AP) — Thousands of people rallied Sunday in central Florida in support of flying the Confederate flag.
Police estimated 2,000 vehicles, mostly motorcycles and trucks adorned with the Civil War-era flag, took part in the Ocala gathering. The event was being held to back a decision by Marion County in that area of central Florida to return the Confederate flag to a display outside its government complex.
The Ocala Star-Banner reported that participants wore shirts with phrases including "heritage not hate" and talked of defending Southern traditions.
A replica of the General Lee car from "The Dukes of Hazzard" TV show led the procession.
One of the participants, Rick Hart, defended flying the Confederate flag: "It's a history thing. The flag is also a military flag. It's not a race symbol."
Police told WFTV-TV at least six gunshots were fired from an apartment complex near the location where rally participants began their rides.
Residents of the predominately black neighborhood told the station that wasn't the case and that not only were they harassed by rally participants, but also the shots came from rally participants.
“They come, they watch them run through on their motorcycles, running red lights and throwing beer bottles," Ocala resident Jason Carter told WFTV. "The police didn’t stop them or nothing."
The Florida rally came weeks after the shooting deaths of nine people at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, that spurred a national debate about the flying of the Confederate flag. On Friday, South Carolina removed the flag from a flagpole near its Statehouse. The man charged in the Charleston shooting is shown in pictures with the Confederate flag and police say he was motivated by hate.
Meanwhile, lawmakers in Congress are debating a measure to block the display of the flag at federal cemeteries.
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