It’s been a fun week in Flagger land. The announcement the the protest group was making plans to erect a fifty-foot-flag pole on private land in Chesterfield County off I-95 so that they could fly a modest 10′ by 15′ Confederate battle flag gave the always attention-hungry Susan Hathaway and company a chance to appear on television (one Flagger, watching herself, commented that she’d have to start losing weight for future appearances). No word yet on whether Tripp Lewis‘s good friend, Rob Walker, will shoot a documentary film commemorating the event.
Not everyone welcomed this announcement. Within a day a Facebook group, calling itself “Richmonders against the Confederate Flag on I-95,” appeared. Other groups also popped up, and, as one might suspect, the media began to search them out as well for reaction. There’s now a petition campaign underway. Elsewhere commentary on the proposal was mixed and rather predictable, if sometimes pointed. Some were humorous. Suffice it to say that not everyone welcomed the idea, and some editorials were blunt about it.
It did not take long for some Flaggers and their supporters to begin whining and name-calling in various message board and comments sections, a sign that they aren’t able simply to stand behind their message. These folks may seek media attention, but they often don’t know how to handle themselves in such situations, giving credence to the notion that they are bitter, angry, and a bit immature. Several reminders of how some Flaggers have handled themselves in past situations have added to that impression.
Flaggers have also embraced their victim mentality, complaining that opponents of the flagpole are against free speech. This suggests just how flawed their understanding of the concept of free speech is. Objecting to the exhibition of the flag is in itself an exercise of free speech. Several opponents of the project have been very careful to say that they aren’t seeking prior restraint: they are simply looking for ways to protest the idea, because they think it is an embarrassment that tars all Richmonders with the Flagger brush. Some opponents have gone so far as to attempt to contact Hathaway to present their opinion, but those who know her by reputation understand how far that will go. Even she is not immune from expressing her frustration through name-calling.
The facts are simple: the Flaggers have the right to erect their flagpole and fly their banner, because the pole will be erected on private property. They need to recognize that other people have the same free speech rights to protest that act. Apparently the Flaggers don’t understand the Constitution very well, but then again, many of them are also southern separatists/nationalists. including the person who helps administer their own blog, a certain Florida-based romance writer.
It’s difficult to escape the feeling that this is all a quest for attention and publicity and has very little to do with heritage. It would have been a shrewd move to erect the flagpole and hoist the banner without any warning and present the result as a fait accompli. Instead, Hathaway’s announcement serves as an attention-getting device, with her as the always media-ready spokesperson. The last time she went public like this, of course, was the Walker taser story shared with her by Tripp Lewis, who is still dealing with the fallout over his arrest at the VMFA. Perhaps the Flaggers will look into having the proceeds from Lewis’s defense fund reallocated to support their endeavor, although I doubt they’ll have a problem raising the initial estimated cost of $3,000. Maintaining the pole and the lease (Hathaway’s press release says that the Flaggers have “finalized a lease to acquire property”) may be another matter. We can expect reports of attempted vandalism, although, given the Walker episode, we can’t take them at face value. Perhaps anti-Flagger groups will flag the flagpole; perhaps their interest in producing counter messages will bear fruit.
One thing about these sorts of stories: if the interest at first seems intense, it soon dies down, especially once the Sunday papers have had their swing at the issue. Oh, there will be battles in the comments section of many an online article, but even that soon declines. Meanwhile, it’s a long time until September 28. Perhaps the Flaggers should have rethought their media strategy. All they’ve done to date is to allow other southerners to remind us that the Virginia Flaggers represent themselves … and no one else. I doubt that was their intention.