By Wayne Hester
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (Reuters) - A police officer in Anniston, Alabama, has been fired and a second retired after they were linked to a neo-Confederate group that calls for the South to secede from the United States, city officials said on Friday.
The move followed a report by the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, which investigates extremist groups, highlighting a speech by Anniston police Lieutenant Josh Doggrell and the attendance of Lieutenant Wayne Brown at a 2013 conference by the group League of the South.
The removal of the two officers follows a mass killing this week of nine African-Americans in a suspected hate crime at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, which has renewed calls to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse grounds and other places where it still is flown.
"I was shocked by the allegations brought against two Anniston police officers," Anniston Mayor Vaughn Stewart said in a statement.
"Anniston has come a long way since bigots attacked a bus of Freedom Riders in 1961. We will continue to move forward, not backward. Rest assured I am working hard to get to the bottom of it. Anniston has no tolerance for racism and hatred."
Anniston City Manager Brian Johnson said on Friday that he fired Doggrell and allowed Brown to retire over their ties to the group.
League of the South calls for a second move to secede by states of the old Confederacy and is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
A representative for League of the South could not be reached for comment on Friday. No one answered at a phone number listed for Doggrell and Brown could not be reached for comment.
According to a report in the local Anniston Star newspaper, Doggrell claimed superiors and fellow officers knew about his beliefs, but that was denied by officials in the city of some 23,000 residents, about 60 miles (100 km) east of Birmingham.
Anniston officials said they placed Doggrell and Brown on leave after learning of the Southern Poverty Law Center report.
Doggrell was a nine-year veteran of the department, while Brown had served 21 years, according to the police department.
(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis)