Memphis police said Friday that a warrant has been issued for the arrest of George “K-Rack” Johnson, 46, who taunted a local Black leader at the soon-to-be-former grave of the first head of the Ku Klux Klan this week.
The Memphis Police Department confirmed the existence of the arrest warrant shortly after Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer said on social media that authorities had issued it after Tuesday’s verbal altercation.
The confrontation occurred in front of cameras as Ms. Sawyer spoke with members of the media gathered by the grave of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a former Confederate general later elected the Klan‘s first “grand wizard.”
Forrest is currently buried in downtown Memphis near where a statue of him once stood, but work began this week to relocate his remains to a museum owned by the Sons of the Confederate Veterans in Columbia, Tennessee.
Ms. Sawyer, a Democrat who helped lead the successful effort to remove the statue in 2017, was attempting to address reporters at the gravesite when she was repeatedly heckled by a volunteer for the Confederate group.
Video shows Mr. Johnson waving a Confederate battle flag while loudly singing “Dixie,” hurling obscene insults at Ms. Sawyer and calling her a communist from the other side of a construction fence separating her from the grave. He also said he would fight her if she wasn’t a woman.
Ms. Sawyer said afterward that she felt physically threatened and harassed and that she had filed a complaint with the Memphis police and would be pressing charges against Mr. Johnson, a local Confederate activist.
“Many don’t understand why it’s not ok to wave a Confederate flag and threaten to beat the ass of a person, a woman, a Black woman. I’m not going to explain it to you,” Ms. Sawyer said Friday in a social media post.
Tennessee media has previously described Mr. Johnson as a leading member of Confederate 901, a local group that has protested in the past against the removal of Confederate monuments.
Prior to Ms. Sawyer posting on Twitter, Mr. Johnson had uploaded a video to YouTube earlier Friday where he bragged about staying out of jail and claimed his actions were constitutionally protected free speech.
“I’m still free. I’m still free as s—-. Because you know why? Because I did nothing wrong. I was completely within my First Amendment right,” he said in the video.
The earliest iteration of the KKK came into existence after the Civil War ended in 1865 and the former Confederacy and its failed effort to further perpetuate the forced enslavement of Black people were defeated.
Forrest briefly led the Klan starting in 1867. He died in 1877 in Memphis and was originally buried in a local cemetery, but his remains were relocated in 1904 to near where the statue of him stood for over a century.
Scores of Confederate monuments and symbols have been removed from display across the U.S. in recent years, including more than 100 following the racially charged murder of George Floyd in May 2020.