Karen Cooper and the Virginia Flaggers: Another View

One of the more striking aspects of the current Confederate heritage correctness movement, at least in the eyes of the national media, is the presence of African Americans in the ranks of such advocates. Sometimes these people receive a great deal of attention, while sometimes they seek it (and look to make a little money off it, as in the case of H. K. Edgerton).

Black-Woman-Confederate-Flag-2
Karen Cooper and H. K. Edgerton

Karen Cooper has climbed to national prominence as a member of the Virginia Flaggers. Confederate heritage groups love to photograph her holding a Confederate flag while standing defiantly alongside her white associates. She’s a favorite interview subject. Her declaration that “slavery was a choice” made headlines in the online world, while her performance in front of the Charlottesville City Council left people scratching their heads. Occasionally the Flaggers and their advocates slip in their treatment of Cooper, and it is in those moments that we catch a revealing glimpse of their true sentiments. Those moments do not escape careful observers.

Daryle Lamont Jenkins
Daryle Lamont Jenkins

One such observer is Daryle Lamont Jenkins, founder of One People’s Project. This organization keeps an eye on white supremacy groups, exposing their actions and highlighting their beliefs.  Fresh from an appearance on The Rachel Maddow Show, Jenkins reflected on what the recent Facebook exchange between Cooper and Flagger celebrity Tripp Lewis says about how Confederate heritage advocates have used Cooper to advance their own agenda while struggling to define her role … and her place.

Over the past few years, I have seen an uptick of Black, Hispanic and Asian people embracing White Supremacists and neo-Fascism. There’s no other way to put it really. It is truly that black and white. It might cause folks to scratch their heads over the notion, but a few weeks ago I went to a neo-Confederate rally in Mississippi and got into it with a Black neo-Confederate from Oklahoma who was rubbing elbows with members of the White Supremacist League of the South – and he was one of several at that rally doing so. My group One People’s Project also had to recently deal with a Black/Dominican man posing as a Muslim that infiltrated our small organization to gather information about anti-racists and give that information to a neo-Nazi organization he was affiliated with. So there’s no hyperbole when I say that they are supporting right-wing hatemongers.

Now it’s nothing new, really. I am used to seeing people of color embrace the right and ignoring how much they are being used as a shield against very valid charges of racism. But in 2016, that is a much different animal. We have more persons of color becoming a part of mainstream society, more than we ever had in American history. It makes complete sense that there will be some that will become a part of mainstream conservative society as well, and it isn’t going to always mean that they are selling out or hating on their culture and heritage, although there are still a huge number of those that are more than happy to do so. There is a more defined dividing line between those of color who are truly conservative and those who are simply surrogates for racists.

Karen Cooper’s history would indeed suggest that she was a part of that latter crowd when her strong defenses of the Confederacy and a particularly downright laughable and appalling comment in a video spotlighting those defenses that “slavery was a choice” because slaves could have “chosen to die” instead. Then she speaks out publicly against police brutality and the bigoted attacks on Muslims in this country (she is a former member of the Nation of Islam). She is a Libertarian and at the very least, that means she is more about bringing people together than pulling them apart. So although many might think she might be a little wrongheaded in her approach, ultimately she is not what we see in the rest of that Flagger crowd, the ones who thought they could use her as that aforementioned “shield”. And that is where they come to their current conflict.

The Flaggers are treating Cooper as their pet Negro, and when they saw her effectively talking back to one of them, they wanted to make her heel. Her butting heads with Tripp Lewis, a Virginia Flagger who is a little too supportive of hate politics and the people who push them caused one of them, Gary Adams, to want to reign her in after she clashed with Lewis for his anti-Muslim shots at her, as opposed to him. To be clear about it, many in that group are defending Cooper, but Adams wanted her to delete the entire exchange and call him and other Flagger leaders about the situation. If Cooper has ever felt she needed to inch away from this group, she more than likely went a few more inches away with this incident.

As well she should.

I don’t think Karen Cooper is a bad person. I definitely don’t think she’s a stupid person. I think that she has bad politics, or at the very least a bad approach to them. But I truly hope that this particular episode causes her to realize that the people around her might not be her friends and she is on a very wrong road. You can be sure the rest of us do.

We await the usual cries of outrage from Confederate heritage advocates. We also wonder whether Karen Cooper will respond … or whether her white handlers friends allow to her respond.

11 thoughts on “Karen Cooper and the Virginia Flaggers: Another View

  1. Andy Hall September 3, 2016 / 4:36 pm

    Karen Cooper did a number of interviews between 2013 and 2015 where she talked about what got her involved in flagging, and she was very consistent in what she said. She was drawn to that by her present-day political interests and leanings as a libertarian, specifically her views on taxes, Obamacare and legalized weed. She was very clear that her Confederate heritage effort is a direct extension of her modern day political beliefs and activism. That’s fine, but it’s a mistake to assume that in her case it really has anything to do with the events that happened between 1861 and 1865. It is the Flaggers’ good fortune that when Karen Cooper happen to be looking for an outlet for her political activism back in 2011, they happened to be the group that caught her eye.

    Given some of the Flaggers’ willingness to turn on her for having the audacity to disagree with them, now might be good time for her to evaluate just how they, individually and collectively, have stood by her. It’s clear to everyone how committed Karen Cooper has been to the Virginia Flaggers over the last five years; how committed are they to her now in return?

  2. Shoshana Bee September 4, 2016 / 12:14 am

    Hi Andy,

    Since I am not on facebook, I miss a lot of the diatribe put out by the Flaggers. Are they openly political so that one would join them for like-minded politics? I get confused between where the heritage stops and the modern agenda starts — meaning that I am not sure if they openly admit to modern politics, or if they keep it ‘heritage based” propaganda. Also, did any of usual female suspects in the leadership defend Cooper? (A thought occurred to me: I am learning that women played an important role in how the image of the Confederate was rehabilitated & cultivated into the warm fuzzy of the Lost Cause, so our usual suspects are carrying on a time-honored tradition)

    • Andy Hall September 4, 2016 / 10:18 am

      “I get confused between where the heritage stops and the modern agenda starts — meaning that I am not sure if they openly admit to modern politics, or if they keep it ‘heritage based” propaganda.”

      It would mostly be considered “heritage-based,” but particularly these days that covers a lot of territory. In the case of the Virginia Flaggers, they started in late 2011 or early 2012 actively campaigning against the mayor of Lexington, Virginia in her bid for reelection. Ulimately she won with a larger margin than before in November 2012, and as far as I know the flag ordinance there never became an issue in that election to anyone but the Flaggers themselves.

      Especially since last year, when Confederate symbols became a particular flashpoint at all levels of government, heritage groups have had their sights set on politicians and administrators who, in the heritage advocates’ view, has failed to live up to their obligation to a regime that died more than a century and a half ago. The current slogan seems to be, “No Votes for Turncoats!” Some of the elected officials that have been targeted in this way have been defeated in city council elections or primaries this year, although I don’t know enough about those individual districts to have any idea how much that involved the confederate campaign against them, or other, more fundamental issues. I suspect in most cases it was the latter, because the reality is that the Confederate flag doesn’t really move the needle for most of the electorate on either side of the issue.

      Just as Karen Cooper was awesome as a Virginia Flagger until she had the audacity to speak up on behalf of Muslims, Governor Haley in South Carolina has come under some of the nastiest racial and religious vitriol you can imagine since leading the effort to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds in Columbia. Haley is a native-born South Carolinian, but “anchor baby” is just about the nicest thing she has been called by the self-described defenders of Southern honor. The Mayor of Charlottesville at the time the City Council there was considering doing away with the city holiday for Lee Jackson Day was a Sikh, and so wore a turban; a Flagger group in Alabama dismissed him as a “raghead,” and explained that Islam and Sikhism “are the same thing.”

      The takeaway for me here is that, over the last year, as Confederate symbols I have become increasingly beleaguered and under fire at all levels, the heritage folks find them selves very much at a loss in how to respond. In their frustration, they are becoming both more politically strident and more willing to embrace open bigotry when it is directed against people they disagree with on heritage issues. As with so much else, when they do this they receive the applause of their fellow believers, and the distain a virtually everyone else who notices. They continue to march themselves farther and farther away from normal political and cultural discourse, but they’re cheering each other on so loudly but they haven’t noticed, and aren’t likely to.

      • Shoshana Bee September 4, 2016 / 12:28 pm

        Thank you for the excellent tutorial, Andy. I am starting to understand the situation for the Flaggers as a “Desperate situation requiring Drastic measures”. This is all so very interesting in a cultural anthropology petri dish sort of way.

  3. Leo September 4, 2016 / 7:18 am

    I’ve never understood why Karen allows herself to be used by this group. Edgerton is in it for the money, but Karen is simply being used. The comments by Mr. Jenkins are informative and help shed some light on this for me. I do believe we are going to see more of this in the future.

    The Mississippi rally mentioned above is likely the one in Tupelo. The League of the South is becoming very active with the recent state flag controversy in Mississippi. There’s even a new group called something like ” confederate patriot society”. They have recently issued a list of demands to the city of Tupelo

    There is also a group called “Our State Flag Foundation” bringing up the next generation of Karen Coopers to be used as shields against charges of bigotry. The founder of this group has taken to Social Media in a dispute with the Chsncellor of Ole Miss over various confederate symbols. Andrew Soper, the founder of the group, is basically stalking the chancellor by calling him a liar and tagging him in online rants. It got so bad the chancellor had to block him. Shortly after this happened, a Facebook page went up called “the unsafe space” with the slogan of “Make Ole Miss Offensive Again”.

  4. bob carey September 4, 2016 / 9:36 am

    Poor Karen Cooper, she an angry person that’s not quite sure what she is angry about. Tripp Lewis doesn’t have that problem, he knows what he is angry about and that is Karen Cooper not toeing the line when it comes to Muslims. Adams is playing the PR game in order to clean up an ugly situation. These Flaggers are so clever.
    Mr. Jenkins is a well spoken man who shows a lot of courage in standing up to white supremacy, and I suspect has many enemies because of it. I wish him well in this endeavor.
    BTW Brooks, thanks for posting the link to the Charlottesville public hearing about Lee-Jackson, besides Karens’ rant I was intrigued by Hathaways’ reasoning as to why the holiday observance should be continued. She stated that both Lee and Jackson were patriots partly because they served in the US Army before they led troops against that army, by this reasoning we should have a holiday in honor of Benedict Arnold.

    • Andy Hall September 4, 2016 / 11:37 am

      “I was intrigued by Hathaways’ reasoning as to why the holiday observance should be continued. She stated that both Lee and Jackson were patriots partly because they served in the US Army before they led troops against that army.”

      They need to make a few unusual rationalizations to justify their actions. Hathaway has repeatedly dismissed the criticism that she and the Flaggers from Richmond are “outsiders” interfering in the local affairs of Danville, Lexington, and Charlottesville with the explanation that she is the descendent of Confederate veterans, while this or that person on city council moved to Virginia from out of state, even if that happened decades ago. The fact that those people were actually elected by their fellow citizens to represent them in city government is apparently insufficient against Hathaway’s special butternut-flavored genealogical magic.

      • Leo September 4, 2016 / 8:28 pm

        She doesn’t mind sticking her nose into affairs in Mississippi. She can object all she wants, but the woman is an outside agitator in every sense of the word.

      • bob carey September 5, 2016 / 1:45 am

        Not unlike their fire-eating brethren from the past. Fair elections in our democratic-republic mean nothing to these people.

  5. Charles Persinger September 7, 2016 / 7:33 am

    I’m confused how any so called “libertarian” can have any love for the Confederacy? Of course, I’m trying to rationalize an irrational person but come on!! Any person who goes from the Nation of Islam to the flaggers is a pretty confused person to begin with–so I have no sympathy for any of them.

    • Shoshana Bee September 7, 2016 / 9:59 am

      I cannot help but to refer to page 47 chapter VI labeled: “Misfits”, in a beat-up old copy of Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer:

      “They are restless, dissatisfied, and haunted by the fear that their best years will be wasted before they reach their goal.They are receptive to the preaching of the proselytizing movement and yet do not always make staunch converts.”

      There is a great passage about “permanent misfits” but I will leave that for another time🙂

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