… you guessed it!
1. The Little Flag in the Woods: Smarting after a series of setbacks throughout the first half of 2013, the Virginia Flaggers came up with an idea which, while not original, seemed to offer a way to escape the humiliation of Tripp Lewis’s arrest and Rob Walker’s tall tale. They would erect a flagpole along I-95 south of Richmond and put up a really big Confederate flag so that everyone could see their pride in Confederate heritage. Nothing says welcome to Richmond like a Confederate flag … or so we were told.
From the moment the project was announced some people were prone to treat it as a joke, but many Richmonders were unhappy that they would continued to be linked to that albatross known as Confederate heritage. Other Virginians echoed that opposition. People engaged in mudslinging fights in many a comments section as the media covered the announcement. Although the Flaggers claimed they were simply interested in honoring Confederate heritage, it didn’t take long to discover the seamier side of some of their supporters.
From the beginning this blog said that the Flaggers were firmly within their rights to erect a flagpole and fly their flag, a statement that Flaggers and their allies ignored in their rush to pose as victims who were going to triumph over their foes when the flag went up (as it most surely would, sooner or later). However, it was also worth pondering whether this quest for attention (a hallmark of Flagger activity) might prove problematic. Other bloggers chimed in on this question. Before long the Flaggers were flailing away in response to criticism, a suggestion that the spotlight revealed their shortcomings. Flaggers and their supporters offered ridiculous statements on the past and the present that compounded their foolishness and hysteria. Nor did it help that the Flaggers’ primary spokesperson, Susan Hathaway, took a lower profile for reasons already explained in the countdown. Her stand-ins proved less adept at dealing with the media.
Just when it looked as if things couldn’t get worse, they did, with the discovery that the Virginia Flaggers had embraced outspoken white supremacist Matthew Heimbach as one of their own. Nor did they back away from Heimbach: one Flagger, the always dependable Tripp Lewis, said he was a great guy, while others continued to be his friend (and Susan Hathaway actually asked him to the Flaggers’ picnic). It did not help that Flagger spokesperson Connie Chastain badly fumbled the story at the beginning, only to discover that the ties between Heimbach and the Flaggers (as well as between Heimbach and the Sons of Confederate Veterans) were a bit more extensive than she would have people believe. Chastain was left to scream and stomp her feet in typical style, to the amusement of many: other Flaggers, including Hathaway, fell silent. Heimbach’s association with the Sons of Confederate Veterans also raised eyebrows among those who had swallowed that organization’s “heritage not hate” slogan.
As September came, Flaggers threatened critics. They tried to explain history. However, they did take my advice when it came to selecting the flag to fly. But criticism continued and opponents got their say.
Finally, the big day came. And, as it turned out, that was all that was big about it. The flagpole was too short, with trees obscuring the view from the interstate. That it was erected downslope in what appeared to be a depression didn’t help, either.
It was much ado about nothing. Media coverage barely suppressed widespread giggling. Other Richmonders showed us what a really big flag looked like. In the end, it was one big Flagger fail.
It did not take long for the Flaggers’ flag to fade away as a source of attention. Sure, the Flaggers had to address some permit violations, and Grayson Jennings got real upset when someone swiped his excavator. But people who drove by the flag site intending to see it often came away disappointed and underwhelmed, and that’s if they actually got to see the banner (which was no longer the original flag). Meanwhile, Flagger supporters yearned for what might have been.