ATLANTA (CN) – Two men caught on surveillance video leaving Confederate flags on two prominent black landmarks Thursday morning could face criminal charges, Atlanta police said.
Confederate battle flags were placed in front of Ebenezer Baptist Church and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site Visitor Center in an act that local leaders are calling terrorism.
Rev. Raphael Warnock, Ebenezer’s pastor, said “We will not be intimidated” at a press conference. Civil rights icon Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once led the church.
Three flags were placed on the church’s grounds, the other near the MLK Visitor Center. Police say a maintenance worker saw the flags at 6 a.m. and contacted a federal park ranger, who then notified law enforcement.
The flags were removed around 9:30 a.m. and placed in a police car as evidence.
Images from surveillance cameras will be released to the media, Atlanta Police Chief George Turner said. Turner also said he won’t rule out classifying the incident as a hate crime.
Once identified, the men could be charged with criminal trespassing, terroristic threats and littering, police said.
The Confederate flag has been at the center of a nationwide debate in the wake of June’s mass shooting at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Nine black men and women were gunned down at a bible study by a self-proclaimed white supremacist who told police he wanted to start a race war.
The accused shooter, Dylann Roof, has been seen in photographs posing with Confederate flags.
As a result of the shooting, the South Carolina state Legislature voted to remove the flag from state grounds after days of intense debate. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley had the Confederate flag quietly removed from his state’s capitol building.
The Confederate emblem was added to the Georgia state flag in 1956. Former Gov. Roy Barnes had it removed in 2001, which angered many who view the emblem as a symbol of Southern pride.
Barnes, a Democrat, lost his bid for reelection the following year.
NAACP leaders in Georgia are pushing for the removal of carvings of Confederate president Jefferson Davis and Army generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson on the side of Stone Mountain.
Supporters of the Confederate flag plan to hold a rally at Stone Mountain on Saturday. As of Thursday afternoon, more than 900 people have RSVP’d on the rally’s Facebook page.
The rules for the rally, as seen on its Facebook page, discourage the use of alcohol, racial slurs, taunting and flag burning.