Standing on Independence Mall on Friday afternoon, Mannwell Glenn doused two Confederate flags with lighter fluid and stood back to watch as the flames licked at the fabric.

"If you burn a Confederate flag, to some people, that's painful," he had said earlier to a small cluster of TV news cameras. "But whatever you're feeling about us burning your sacred flag, we feel that about 100 times more when nine people are killed."

The deaths of nine people at a historically black church in Charleston, S.C. - killed by a white gunman who reportedly told police he wanted to start a race war - had been weighing on him, he said.

"There are some things you just don't do," said Glenn, an activist and former talk radio host.

And he was incensed, he said, to see that a Confederate flag still flew outside the statehouse in South Carolina so soon after the tragedy.

So he wrote a Facebook post, called a lawyer to make sure burning the flag would be legal, and arrived at Independence Mall that afternoon with three friends, including Asa Khalif, founder of the activist group Racial Unity USA.

"This flag represents generations of fear, bigotry, and hatred," Khalif said. "I love this country, and I want it to be better - I want to make it better. This is how I chose to express myself, by burning a symbol of hate."

Glenn also called for a boycott of goods produced in South Carolina - "if you want to get someone's attention, stick your hand in your pocket."

He and the small group piled the flags into a tin basin with Independence Hall at their backs, clicked a lighter, and stood silently for a moment as passersby looked on curiously.

A group of schoolchildren on a class trip ran through the grass a few hundred yards away. Tourists in line for the Liberty Bell peered at the demonstration, feet from an exhibit on George Washington's slaves.

Afterward, the group put out the flames with a fire extinguisher. Khalif spoke of a sense of catharsis.

"I do feel better," said Natalie Moore-Taylor, who had supplied the flags. "I just hope it reaches."

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