Today the Virginia Flaggers will dedicate yet another flagpole bearing the Confederate navy jack, this time along I-81 near Lexington, Virginia.
How many people really care? I know I don’t.
Of more interest to me is the notion that despite over forty-two months of picketing the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, complete with many, many pictures of Flaggers posing for effect (and a few embarrassing videos involving law enforcement and security), it appears unlikely that the VMFA will heed the cries of “Restore the Honor (sic)! Return the Flags (sic)!” directed at the decision to remove two small Confederate flags from the portico of the War Memorial Chapel. Forty-two months for two flags. Nor does it seem likely that the SCV chapter in question will decline to sign the agreement offered by the VMFA, which renders them complicit in the decision (note that the national organization of the SCV remains silent about the approaching lease renewal).
Several years ago the Virginia Flaggers received a lot of attention for their first effort to raise a flag along an interstate highway. The actual event proved to be something of a letdown and offered critics reasons to laugh. Since then the Flaggers have learned from their mistakes, making sure to find taller flagpoles and better viewsheds, while they have given way on the style of flag that is flown in most cases (one would honor the fighting men of the Army of Northern Virginia by flying the ANV’s battle flag, not other flags not associated with that army). The result is that people drive by those flags much like they drive by billboards: even if they notice a flag most people soon forget it. Realizing this, the Flaggers post photos of the flags whenever they can.
One assumes that their next preferred target is Charlottesville.
These flag raisings constitute the organization’s biggest (and some would say sole) accomplishments. Time and again the Flaggers have failed to carry the day across the commonwealth, whether it be with the VMFA, the Museum of the Confederacy, Washington and Lee University, or the Charlottesville City Council. Threats to initiate legal proceedings against organizations, institutions, and individuals have not resulted in any action. Rather, Flagger spokesperson Susan Hathaway no longer appears in front of the VMFA, having decided that discretion is the better part of valor. Norwood B. “TriPp” Lewis is busy playing with his drone. Other Flaggers save their best efforts to pose for photographer Judy Smith. Only in Danville did the Flaggers enjoy any success, and that was due to that city’s decision that the agreement they concluded with the SCV gave them no choice.
With the sesquicentennial drawing to a close, one expects that come this summer the media will no longer be quite so interested in the antics of the Virginia Flaggers. Oh, we can expect a few snippets of coverage in print and on video this weekend, but nothing major after that. It’s an easy story to cover, after all, next to a lost puppy or the opening of a new restaurant. Show video of flag going up, interview a few Flaggers, and perhaps give airtime to someone who disagrees with the display of the flag. But changing hearts and minds? Please. Educating the public about Confederate heritage? No way. Exhibiting symbols that even SCV proponents in the Texas licence plate case classify as “offensive speech”? Yup.
Even Flagger blogs have suffered. Unable to engage their critics, they simply chirp away, offering short-lived amusement to anyone but true believers. Were it not for signs that other Virginians do not share the Flaggers’ definition of heritage (such as it is), the Flaggers would be even less visible, for only the discussions in Danville and Charlottesville opened up an opportunity for protest. Other than erecting flagpoles and circulating photographs of their meager numbers outside the sight of their latest defeat, the Flaggers have no game, no plan, no way to get their message across.
We are well aware of the observation made by some that the Flaggers would fade away altogether were it not for the attention given them on several blogs, including this one. This, of course, comes with a contradiction: at times the Flaggers and their supporters discount the importance of such blogs (as do others), which renders such criticism meaningless. To say that these blogs give these people attention is to concede that these blogs have an audience that attracts wider attention that some people want to admit, and I for one accept the compliment. With the end of story lines in Danville, Charlottesville, and elsewhere, the only story worth following is the 2015 VMFA/SCV lease concerning the War Memorial Chapel. Thus we can anticipate a decrease in attention paid to the Virginia Flaggers (including on this blog), which can only serve to damage their cause. Even signs that the Flaggers continue to be irritated by what some people say to the point that their outrage prevents them from offering sensible counterarguments have lost their capability to amuse (take as an example their feeble efforts on Twitter to defend a flawed slogan). We’ll see what happens.
But raising flags is no longer raising awareness, and it no longer raises some people’s blood pressure … if it ever really did. After all, there were lots of Confederate flags at Appomattox … especially at Surrender Triangle.