Streets were blocked for hours and police appeared ready, high atop Johnson Hagood Stadium as former presidential advisor Steve Bannon arrived in Charleston Friday to speak at a student fundraiser just off the Citadel campus. People with several civil rights groups peacefully gathered across the street from the Holliday Alumni Center where inside there was a party and the guest of honor relived the glory days of helping get Donald Trump elected president.
"Let me take you back a year," said Bannon before a sold out crowd of roughly 300 people. "Jared Kushner and I were in what we called the crack den which was this beat up place on the sixth floor where we had this data center, no heat, no paint, you know a chipped floor and we got the first exit poll."
Bannon recounted the final hours of last year's election, detailing how and why he believes business tycoon Donald Trump landed the nation's highest office. He gave himself plenty of credit and repeatedly took aim at former Democratic presidential rival Hillary Clinton.
"I said that's it. Right there is the whole campaign. You're going to paint her. We're going to focus, focus and focus." It's real simple. She's the tribute for the corrupt and incompetent elite and you are the tribune for change."
Amond the crowd, three Republican candidates running for South Carolina governor, including Lt. Governor Kevin Bryant, current Governor Henry McMaster and Mount Pleasant attorney Catherine Templeton. She took to the stage, revving up the crowd and introducing Bannon as her good friend.
"Today's establishment politicians are shaking in their boots," said Templeton. "The fake news is howling and liberals are actually screaming at the sky."
Phrases like "fake newas" and "liberal media" were repeatedly used and Steve Bannon seemed well aware of the crowd of nearly 200 people that had gathered outside. At one point, a woman who claimed to have a ticket to the event heckled Bannon as she approached the stage. She was physically escorted away. Bannon told the crowd she has a right to free speech, outside.
He repeatedly referred to CNN. "There are so many good captions down there," he said. "They're running white nationalist, supremacist Bannon at the Citadel talking to the hot heads down in South Carolina, Charleston no less."
Outside, people began lining up to rally two hours before the annual student Patriot Dinner. State representative Wendell Gilliard said Bannon had no place here. "Charleston is still healing," he said. He was referring to the shooting death of an unarmed black man at the hands of a white officer and the shooting deaths of nine parishioners at Mother Emanuel AME Church by a self proclaimed white supremacist two years ago.
Former teacher Rosemary Serpa held anti Bannon signs with a friend. She says she came for the same reason she marched on the streets 50 years ago. "Because the same, sick, sad biogotry has reared its head and we can't go back to the era, we can't have that again."
Many of those who rallied say Bannon is a bigot, a white supremacist and a messenger of hate. 10 year-old Miles Beylotte held a sign with his sister that read, "Peace and Love". Others held posters with slogans like, "Alt right, all wrong". One man's sign said, "Racism, still a Citadel tradition."
The school has been quick to point out this was not a Citadel event, instead organized by an independent student group, the Citadel Republican Society. We asked the group's president, Cadet Cameron Brown how society students choose a speaker for their annual fundraiser. He paused for some time. "As we said before, Mr. Bannon was integral in the success of Donald J. Trump," he said.
Earlier this week, the Vice President of the society, Cadet Conrad Geis told us the group has a long standing policy of not disclosing how it gets its speakers. We asked Cadet Brown about that as well. He said he was not aware and would have to look int it.
Inside, the crowd was clearly thrilled. There were several standing ovations and th applause was overwhelming as cadets honored Steve Bannon with the Citadel Republican Society's Nathan Hale Patriot Award. He quickly held the rifle they gave him over his head.