Mark Twain once observed that while history did not always repeat itself, it often rhymed. I am waiting to see whether this will be the case with the Virginia Flaggers’ dalliance with Matthew Heimbach. After all, in case you haven’t seen this before, I have two words for you: Rob Walker.
After all, Susan Hathaway saw Walker’s presence and participation as a case of divine intervention (“There is no denying God’s hand in this… in bringing Rob to Monument Ave. last November, and then, miraculously again last night at the exact moment and time to prevent what could have been irreparable damage to one of our most treasured monuments AND facilitating the first arrest [that we are aware of] of these punk vandals that have no regard for the rule of law: neither God’s nor man’s”). Of course, as she later had to admit, the Lord works in wondrous ways. Yet she couldn’t wait to congratulate her fellow Flagger Heimbach on getting an award from the SCV and shared a picture of Heimbach behind the Flaggers’ banner. And we all know who brought Walker to the attention of the Flaggers, right? Why, Tripp Lewis, of course … the same guy who’s openly testified that Heimbach’s a “nice guy” and who’s standing next to Heimbach in the picture that started it all. And we’ve had Connie Chastain try to explain it all, and we all know that doesn’t work.
What would an intelligent person do here? Simple. First, shut up while you prepare a response. Investigate the matter. Tell people you take these charges seriously. Then, at the right time, declare that you were wrong, disavow what Heimbach believes in, and move on to reaffirm the message you want people to believe you believe. Admonish your own supporters by telling them that they haven’t helped matters, and to keep quiet until this blows over. Devote your energies to the event twenty-seven days away.
For the most part, in fact, this is exactly what Hathaway and the Flaggers did in the Walker taser incident. Hathaway remained silent while investigating the claim, leaving it to Chastain to engage in a feeble exercise in what Hathaway terms “heavy hitting.” Then Hathaway issued a statement (one Chastain sent to me) explaining and apologizing, while reaffirming her commitment to the cause. Somehow they made sure that Lewis remained silent (always a good idea).
For some reason, the Flaggers failed to learn from history. Of course, this time the evidence is even more damning, especially as so much of it was provided by the Flaggers themselves. It appears that they were not unaware of Heimbach’s principles. They could not claim (as Chastain originally tried to do) that this was a single point of contact (make sure your spokesperson has the story right before she flies off the handle). Lewis openly embraced Heimbach: seems they are good friends. Hathaway pledged not to answer questions (last time she actually thanked bloggers for alerting her about Walker). Chastain’s just being Chastain, which leaves outsiders wondering why such a person handles Flagger communications and manages their blog.
I would have advised the Flaggers to proceed as they did last time in controlling the damage, but you know they won’t take my advice. Instead, they have forgotten yet another lesson of history: it’s the coverup that often sinks you. Their decision to attack their critics without dealing with Heimbach directly will prove costly. Their decision to share their warm and fuzzy feelings about Heimbach will prove costly. Their decision not to disavow his beliefs (and how he associates the Confederate flag with them) will prove costly. Their decision to let Lewis chime in uncontested will prove costly.
Oh, in the end the Flaggers may try to recover. They may offer their excuses. They may try to invent explanations, delete Facebook conversations, and the like. They may try to undo the damage they have inflicted upon themselves.
It’s too late. We’ve seen them for who they are, and so will everyone else.