Conservative Twitter trolls attack activist DeRay McKesson after Charleston appearances
DeRay Mckesson speaks to CNN (screen grab)

A prominent young civil rights campaigner was targeted in a divisive spat on social media, after joining crowds mourning the shooting deaths of nine people in a church in Charleston, South Carolina this week.

The appearance at gatherings in the South Carolina city of DeRay Mckesson – who has played a prominent role in the national race relations debate sparked by a police shooting in Ferguson last summer – and his comments on social media about race and the Charleston shooting sparked a hostile “hashtag” on Twitter: #GoHomeDeray.

On Saturday the subject was popular enough to be trending. It was not immediately possible to establish who generated the hashtag, which prompted race-tinged comments and then a backlash from users accusing those speaking positively about the hashtag of acting out of hatred . Other commenters praised Mckesson for having the power to rile those posting racist messages sufficiently to cause the hashtag to trend .

“I wouldn’t be here [in Charleston] if those people had not been killed,” Mckesson told CNN when asked about #GoHomeDeray, referring to the allegedly racism-driven church shooting.

On Twitter, he said : “I continue to talk about race because race continues to impact my life and the lives of those who look like me. I’m not the enemy, racism is.”

Mckesson became an outspoken figure in the Black Lives Matter movement that developed following the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teen, Michael Brown, by a white police officer in the predominantly black town of Ferguson, Missouri, last August, then rippled across the country in protest at other police killings of unarmed black men.

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He left his job as a school administrator in Minneapolis to join the demonstrations in Missouri and rose to prominence after starting an online newsletter with a fellow protester. Mckesson was later named by Fortune magazine as an important new popular leader.

The increasingly heated Twitter exchanges included a post that appeared to show pictures of local businesses with anti-DeRay messages spelled out on public display boards, although the veracity of the images could not immediately be established.

One carried the message: “The people of South Carolina have spoken.” Another post accused Mckesson of leading a “rent-a-mob”.

Supporters hit back, telling the campaigner they were behind him and the trending hashtag was a compliment to the power of his voice. © Guardian News and Media 2015

In May, McKesson criticized CNN for racism and you can view video of that incident below: