Joel Schaffer stood in the grass outside U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman’s Rock Hill office Tuesday. He wore an orange construction vest and held a stack of signs. A sign with the words “Make America America Again” was on top.
Dan Palmer, who wore a T-shirt that said “I stand for the flag. I kneel for the cross,” stood a few feet away and glared at Schaffer. They had been in the 90-degree heat for about an hour.
“We stand against racism,” Schaffer said. “Do you?”
“I stand against you guys,” Palmer said. “I stand against false accusations of racism. I stand against racism as being the excuse for opposition for everything.”
“It’s not an excuse.”
“Yes it is.”
“Ask any African-American here or ask any Jewish person here. It’s not an excuse.”
Schaffer, of Sun City Carolina Lakes in Indian Land, S.C., who organized the event, stood with about 30 demonstrators — all wearing orange construction vests — to protest racism and demand U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and Norman speak out against racism.
The protest was in response to President Trump’s attack on four congresswomen of color in a July 13 tweet thread, telling them to “go back” to the “crime infested places from which they came.” The U.S. House later voted to condemn the tweets as racist.
And over the weekend, Trump went on to slam U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings in a series of tweets and claimed his Baltimore district was “a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” where “no human” would want to live.
Norman wasn’t in his office Tuesday, but his spokesperson, Austin Livingston, said in an email to The Herald: “Whether we agree with his style or not, the President frequently calls out many of his critics. This is well-established, and has nothing to do with biases against their ethnicity, race, gender, age, or any other personal characteristic.”
The group in Rock Hill, which dubbed themselves “the orange vest movement,” included people from the Sun City Democratic Club, Lancaster Democratic Club and Indivisible Movement, a nationwide group that formed in opposition to Trump’s election.
The protesters stood outside Norman’s office at 10 a.m. and at Graham’s office at noon. Representatives for Elizabeth Warren and Beto O’Rourke presidential campaigns respectively were at the demonstrations.
“We ultimately want to stimulate the people of South Carolina to get off their sofas, to get out of their house and let their elected officials know they cannot enable racism,” Schaffer said. “And they cannot enable the politics of today. We are not happy with it.”
The group modeled its name after the yellow vest movement in France. Members wear bright yellow vests to protest aspects of the French government.
“What we’re trying to do is brand it and plant a seed to say, ‘If you see this, then you know what we stand for,’” Schaffer said.
Palmer, of York, was driving to the Rock Hill Business Technology Center, which is where Norman’s office is, shortly before 10 a.m. to visit his brother and saw the demonstration. He challenged the group.
“They talk about fight racism,” Palmer said. “Yeah, there’s racism in the United States. But it’s becoming like the boy who cried wolf. Every time somebody opposes or disagrees, it’s ‘racism, racism, racism,’ and so it camouflages what true racism is.”
As Palmer spoke, members of the group encircled him. They held up their signs and chanted “Love. Not Hate. Makes America Great.”
“Please don’t get in my personal space,” Palmer shouted. “Please don’t get in my personal space.”
The group eased away from Palmer, but continued to cheer.
Vicki Holt, of Rock Hill, who organized a similar protest outside Graham’s office earlier in July, said she was at the demonstration to demand that Norman and Graham listen to their constituents. People who attended Holt’s protest also participated in the protest Tuesday.
“Lindsey Graham has to stop being Trump’s lapdog,” Holt said. “I mean, let’s face it, he went from calling Trump out for what he truly was in 2016 to absolutely saying and agreeing with even the most outrageous things that Trump has to say. He has to be called out on it.”
Outside Graham’s office on Main Street in Rock Hill, the group stood on the edge of the road under a tree and chanted “We need a leader, not a creepy tweeter.” A man in a truck pulled up next to the group.
“Have you guys been down to Mexico?” he said.
“Yes,” Norm Zimmer, of Indian Land, said.
“Those kids are well taken care of,” the man said., referring to children held in detention centers at the border.
Members of the group shouted at the man, and one woman said: “Oh, go away.” The man sped off.
Schaffer said the orange vest movement plans to hold more protests in the area.
“We want to take it slow,” Schaffer said. “If we come here to protest everything that we don’t like, we’d be here for two or three weeks. So we’re here on what is the most pressing issue — the hate and the divide that manifests in racism.”