Mom sues Secessionist Party for posting photo of her children with Confederate flag
Charleston, S.C. (WCIV) —
The South Carolina Secessionist Party is facing a legal battle.
A civil suit was filed by Alecia Greene, a mother who says the group posted a photo of her children, both African-American, posing with the Confederate flag that she says the group placed in their hands.
The photo was taken on June 24, 2017 when the family was picnicking at White Point Gardens in Downtown Charleston.
The Secessionist Party was across the street at the Charleston Battery flying the confederate flag and handing out stickers. That day, James Bessenger, the group's leader, was struck by a car and first responders, including a firetruck, showed up to the scene.
At one point, the children walked over to the scene to check out the firetruck, the lawsuit states.
"While they were up there, the Secessionists coerced them into holding confederate flags, put a photograph of them holding the flags on their Facebook page saying that the children supported their cause and Ms. Greene knew nothing about this until she got home that night," said Greene's attorney Roy Willey.
"By the time she arrived home, her inbox was full, her Facebook had been messaged, people had made an attempt to reach out to her because they thought she sanctioned this."
The post included the caption, "spreading the love of all our Southern brothers and sisters." The original post did not cover their faces. Both are under the age of ten.
Willey said Greene and her kids were ridiculed. The post was taken down less than 24-hours later, but Willey said the damage was already done.
"This is having far reaching impacts on the kids and will into the future," said Willey. "The thing about the internet and social media is that once the photograph is out there, it's out there forever and this could come back up when the kids go on to college or in their professional life."
The lawsuit cites a number of violations including common law right of publicity, wrongful appropriation of a personality, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent supervision, assault, battery and defamation.
"In the end, if justice is served, we will be able to financially bankrupt what is already morally bankrupt organization," Willey said.
Pastor Thomas Dixon, the family's spokesperson, said Greene was hesitant about taking legal action for fear of retribution.
"It's based on her understanding that as a parent, as a mother, she has an obligation to look out for the best interest of her children and what happened that day in June could have a long-lasting effect on their future," Dixon said. "What they did to these children was wrong and they're going to pay for it."
On Thursday, Bessenger said he's "amused and confused" by the lawsuit. He said no one forced the kids to do anything and said he's not sure who took the photograph, since he was dealing with police at the time.
He admits he authored the post, but said he removed it after learning the mother was upset. He said that contradicts the claim he had intentional infliction of emotional distress.
"What we find distasteful is the abuse of the legal system by using false claims in an attempt to grab money that doesn't exist," Bessenger sent via text message. "They (the law firm) should stick to chasing ambulances."
Bessenger also called the lawsuit a "publicity stunt" by Willey and Dixon. Willey's wife Kelsey is running for Charleston Probate Judge and Dixon is running for Mayor of North Charleston.
"Dixon has been very outspoken against us," Bessenger said. "If anyone was coerced in this situation, it was likely Ms. Greene by the political ambitions of Thomas Dixon and Mr. Willey."
Bessenger said he plans to counter-sue for defamation.