A North Carolina man was arrested on Aug. 17 after pepper-spraying Civil War re-enactors during a parade in downtown Newton.
The re-enactors were marching as part of the annual Soldiers Reunion parade, according to The Charlotte Observer. It is reportedly the longest-running U.S. patriotic celebration not centered around a specific holiday. The festivities are meant to honor U.S. servicemen, both past and present.
A group known as the Sons of Confederate Veterans marched in Civil War-era uniforms and carried Confederate flags to honor Confederate soldiers. It is the only group allowed to display Confederate memorabilia as part of an agreement with the city.
At around 5:34 p.m., parade participants notified police that a man was following the Sons of Confederate Veterans and was armed with a can of pepper spray. When the re-enactors stopped to fire their weapons as part of the parade festivities, the man pepper-sprayed them.
"He just walked up to the backside of the fellas that were fixing to do the salute," witness Amanda Chandler told WSOC.
The man, 56-year-old Karl Smith, was arrested without incident. Police confiscated the pepper spray canister as well as a .38 caliber revolver; Smith had a valid conceal carry permit for the gun.
Two victims were treated for pepper spray exposure and were released at the scene.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans were marching to protect a Confederate monument at an old courthouse. The group's participation in the parade and its use of the Confederate flag has been a hotly contested debate among residents.
"I feel it is a put down because of what the flag resembles, so I don't agree with it," said Erica Derr, who only attended the festivities to support her nephew who was in the parade.
Others say that they have no problem with the group.
"The people that understand the flag is not a hate group," said resident Gary Dellinger, who has attended the parade for years.
Jerry McCombs, president of the Catawba County chapter of the NAACP, has said that his group will continue to protest the parade as long as the Confederate flag is still involved.
"We do not like what it represents," he told The Charlotte Observer.
According to a statement from the Newton Police Department, the event was otherwise peaceful: "This was the only incident during the entire week of Reunion events. With the assistance of numerous emergency response agencies, the Newton Police Department considers the 2017 Soldiers Reunion a successful event."