BRANSON, Missouri — Known for its country music theaters, over-the-top attractions and all-you-can-eat buffets, the Branson strip on Sunday was the site of an hours-long showdown between Black Lives Matter protesters and supporters of the Confederate flag.
For the second weekend in a row, demonstrators targeted the Dixie Outfitters store on the 76 strip. But this time, they had company.
A few dozen supporters of the store filled the parking lot of the business, hanging Confederate flags off their pickups, blaring songs like “Song of the South” and “Sweet Home Alabama” over loudspeakers.
Protesters said the store is a vestige of a bygone era and an offensive reminder of the nation’s racist past. Aside from selling all manner of Confederate-themed merchandise, store owners Anna and Nathan Robb have family ties to the Ku Klux Klan. Nathan is the son of Thomas Robb, an Arkansas-based pastor who assumed leadership of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1980s following the departure of David Duke.
“They have enabled the spread of hate,” said Quinn Foster, director of the group Arkansas Hate Watch who attended the protest.
Aside from the owners’ history, he said the Confederate flags on display there were simply unpatriotic.
“This is America. We don’t support states that rebelled against us for slavery,” he said. “It’s as simple as that. That flag up there is no different than burning the American flag.”
Foster, who is Black, was encouraged to see many white allies in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. The group of more than 150 demonstrators was mostly white.
“It means a lot. It shows they want us here with them,” he said. “They want us to participate in society with them. They want us to be full Americans.”
A week before, demonstrators marched more than two miles from Dixie Outfitters to the Branson Landing. But this week, they stayed put. At first, they stood across the street from the store, but eventually most moved across and stood on the sidewalk directly in front of Dixie Outfitters.
“With them being here, we thought it’d be more impactful if we stayed,” said Damz Mikhail, an organizer with the group, which was joined by protesters from Springfield and the surrounding area.
Anna Robb was in the parking lot Sunday but declined to speak with reporters. At one point, a man went into the store and distributed Confederate flags still wrapped in plastic to supporters outside. The store’s Facebook page posted several video clips of the protest, calling demonstrators “thugs” in one post.
“They hate our country! They hate patriotism, faith and freedom! But God still reigns over Branson, MO!” the store’s post read.
Several supporters of the store declined to be interviewed.
Dennis and Teresa Beck stood in disbelief in the adjacent parking lot of the TNT Old Time Photo store. They agreed with protesters that the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer was wrong.
“They ought to hang him for it. What he done wasn’t right,” Dennis Beck said.
But he said defining the issue as one of race was dividing the nation.
“What gets me is they talk about how Black Lives Matter. Well, what about the rest of us?” he said. “All lives should matter. There’s good people in all races. And there’s bad people in all races.”
The white couple, who had both an American flag and a Confederate flag hanging off their pickup, said brave men fought and died on both sides of the Civil War. They didn’t see the Confederate flag as a racist symbol.
“They make it sound like everybody here is sporting the KKK. Not me,” Teresa Beck said. “But I will support that flag.”
While a few protesters attempted to speak with supporters at Dixie Outfitters, they mostly avoided direct conversation. Cars driving down the strip honked in support of both the protesters and the store.
A little boy in an SUV with Florida plates stuck his tongue out at the Black Lives Matter Group. Seconds later, a man in a black Audi with Missouri plates stuck his hand out the window to flip off those in the Dixie Outfitters lot.
Both sides heckled each other.
As the crowd chanted “Black Lives Matter,” a woman wearing a Trump T-shirt responded, “No they don’t.”
As Dixie Outfitters supporters began packing up and revving their engines to leave, the protesters delighted.
“The South is surrendering again,” yelled one from a megaphone.
For Laura Umphenour, the store’s prominent display of Rebel flags along Branson’s main drag is an embarrassment.
“It has no place anymore. It’s just ugly,” she said.
From Nixa, about 30 minutes away, Umphenour said she laughed about the store on some previous trips to Branson. But the current social climate has brought a new severity to the issue, she said.
“I used to joke about it. I used to think it was funny,” she said. “But it’s not funny.”
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