Later this week the Virginia Flaggers, and various other
heritage activists outside agitators will head for Lexington to celebrate Lee-Jackson Day, and to protest that city’s ordinance barring non-official government flags from municipal light poles. Again this year, the Virginia Flaggers are calling on everyone who attends to avoid spending any money in town, going so far as to post a convenient map showing the boundaries of the city.
To recap briefly, in the late summer of 2011, the Lexington City Council adopted an ordinance that limited the display of flags on city-owned light poles to the official United States, Virginia and City of Lexington flags. Contrary to what many people seem to believe, this move didn’t impinge on anyone’s individual rights — people are still welcome to display Confederate flags on their own property, parade with them, or loiter on street corners with them. Even their right to act like batshit crazy people remains unaffected by the new ordinance. Personal freedom of expression is alive and well in Lexington.
By barring all flags other than official government ones, the city put itself on solid legal ground. At the time the ordinance was passed, lead Virginia Flagger Susan Hathaway admitted as much, describing the language in the ordinance as “air tight.” The subsequent legal battle in federal court has proved her right, with the Virginia SCV’s challenge to the ordinance being rejected at both the district and circuit court levels.
Not long after the City of Lexington passed its ordinance, the Virginia Flaggers announced a couple of other initiatives to get the city’s position reversed. The first was a political campaign (right) to oust the city’s mayor, Mimi Elrod, in the November 2012 municipal elections. That failed when Elrod was handily re-elected with a larger share of the vote than she’d received in 2008. The other initiative was a boycott of businesses in Lexington, the idea being that by making tourism-related small businesses suffer, the Virginia Flaggers would build a groundswell of local support for having the ordinance repealed. This was in spite of the fact that when the City Council held a hearing on the proposed ordinance in 2011, almost all the residents of Lexington who chose to speak on the ordinance expressed support for it; opposition to it came almost entirely from people who don’t actually live in Lexington.
The Virginia Flaggers, and Susan Hathaway in particular, openly acknowledge that the purpose of the boycott is to punish “the town that has turned its back on Lee and Jackson and its rich Confederate heritage.” (Ignore the fact that Lexington and Rockbridge County continue to use Lee and Jackson prominently in their tourism promotion.) Over the last three years the Virginia Flaggers have, from time to time, gleefully pointed to some bad economic news item out of Lexington and taken credit for it. They take considerable pride in claiming to be responsible for imposing economic hardship on their fellow Virginians, which is odd given their tendency to wrap themselves Christian righteousness. Nevertheless, there’s no clear linkage between the Flaggers’ boycott and these events — e.g., the closing of a local theater that had been struggling financially for years prior to the ordinance — and some of their claims, such as increasing unemployment in Lexington since the initiation of the boycott, are patently untrue.
As I’ve noted before, anecdotes about individual businesses and selected datum points don’t really tell the full story. After all, businesses fail and people lose their jobs even in boom times, for reasons that have little to do with the overall local economy. The real story has to be told with the most comprehensive information and data available, and that’s where Lexington’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report comes in.
Lexington’s annual fiscal year (FY) runs from July 1 to June 30. About sixth months after the end of the fiscal year, the city publishes on its website a detailed report on the city’s finances — revenues, expenditures, debt servicing, all that stuff that makes most peoples’ eyes glaze over. (You can download reports going back to FY2010 here.) But there is one table that’s very relevant to anyone interested in measuring the effects of the Virginia Flaggers’ boycott of the city, the one that lists the City of Lexington’s sources of revenue. Three of them are particularly important measures of tourism-related business activities in the city — local sales and use taxes (i.e., people buyin’ stuff), restaurant food taxes (people eatin’ out), and hotel and motel room taxes (people stayin’ overnight). In the absence of hard (and importantly, all-encompassing) data on business activity in Lexington, these numbers seem to be a pretty good indicator of how things are going.
And how are they going? By these important measures, economic activity in Lexington continues to improve, as it has steadily since the Great Recession. With the recent publication of the FY2014 comprehensive report, we now have five years’ worth of annual data, extending back to July 2009, more than two years before the announcement of the boycott. Here are the actual numbers:
And the trends:
Sales Tax Revenue:
Restaurant and Food Tax Revenue:
Motel/Hotel Tax Revenue:
So things are looking up in Lexington generally — and steadily — as they have been for years now. There’s no real evidence that the Flaggers’ boycott, that began in the middle of the city’s FY 2012, has had a negative impact on the local economy, much less a substantive one.
That’s not to say that everything’s rosy in Lexington, in terms of the economy. For many years now, Lexington has had a much higher unemployment rate than both the Commonwealth of Virginia and the United States as a whole, but unemployment in Lexington peaked in July 2010, more than a year before the flag ordinance was passed, and has been on a downward trend ever since. (Lexington’s unemployment rate is extremely seasonal, spiking every summer and dropping in the winter, but again that’s a pattern that’s been there for years.) Lexington’s (and Rockbridge County’s) economy draws heavily on Civil War tourism, and that’s likely to drop off some with the end of the sesquicentennial this year. But in broad terms, Lexington appears to be in better shape economically today than it was a year ago, when it was in better shape than the year before, and so on back to 2010. So congratulations to Lexington on another pretty good year economically, and to an even better year in 2015.
Today is the Friday before the third Monday in January, and that means it’s Lee-Jackson Day in Virginia. This seems like an opportune time to check in on Lexington, and see how the Virginia Flaggers’ boycott of the city is going.
Long-time readers here will recall that, as part of their campaign to force the city council to reverse its September 2011 flag ordinance, Confederate Heritage™ advocates urged area residents and visitors to boycott city businesses as a means of putting pressure on the council.
When we last checked, the city had released its comprehensive financial report for FY2012 (July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012), that covered a period for about ten months after the council vote and the initiation of the boycott. The results were pretty good for the citizens of Lexington, but not so good for those actively working to harm that city’s tourist economy — business activity as measured by sales tax revenue, restaurant food tax revenue and hotel/motel tax revenue all improved substantially over FY2011.
So how did things go in FY2013 (July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013)? As it turns out, by those same measures, FY2013 was another good year for tourism-related business in Lexington. Here are the numbers from the city’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for FY2013 (p. 91):
Note that in each of those tourism-related categories, actual revenues exceeded the city’s own budget projections by several thousand dollars (last column).
So after nearly two years of a tourism boycott led by local SCV leader Brandon Dorsey and promoted by the Virginia Flaggers, what’s been the effect on revenues for the city? An increase of nearly $340K over FY2011 levels, led by a whopping 25.5% boost in restaurant food tax revenue in the past year alone:
I know Dorsey and the Virginia Flaggers want folks to believe that Lexington has turned its back on Lee and Jackson — a claim that seems ludicrous, given those mens’ prominence in local tourism literature (above) — but their boycott doesn’t seem to be having any more more effect than the”Boot Elrod” campaign did in 2012, when the Lexington mayor was re-elected with a larger share of the vote than in 2008. Unemployment in Lexington remains higher than the national average, but it has been for a long time, since well before the flag ordinance, and is substantially lower than in September 2011. The reality is that Lexington’s tourism-related business numbers are strong, and that part of the local economy is doing better than the U.S. national economy overall.
I sure hope Brandon Dorsey and the Virginia Flaggers decide to organize a boycott of tourism in my town; we could use the boost!
I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to the Virginia Flaggers for my previous blog post, “Welcome to Crackertown (formerly Richmond, Virginia)!” That post was based on an erroneous assumption on my part, specifically that the I-95 flag would be viewed by many thousands of drivers on the freeway daily, a bold, unmistakable, scarlet landmark visible for miles around. What I didn’t fully understand was that the plan all along was to put up a 50-foot flagpole in a clearing completely surrounded by 60- and 70-foot trees — including between the flagpole and the freeway:
Ostensibly the purpose of the flag is to welcome visitors to Richmond driving north on I-95. But just 100 yards away — that’s about 3 seconds at highway speeds — the flag will not be clearly visible to drivers because of the trees. Here’s the drivers’ perspective, via Google Streetview:
Once you get directly abreast of it, this is the view from the northbound lanes of I-95:
Even the photographer from the Richmond Times-Dispatch had to get up on the Old Bermuda Hundred overpass to get a shot of it, through the trees:
The Times-Dispatch on Sunday, in an article titled, “Confederate flag difficult to see along I-95 in Chesterfield,” has this to say
A large and contentious Confederate battle flag raised Saturday next to Interstate 95 near Chester is largely obscured by trees bordering the highway. . . . Interstate 95 is the most heavily traveled highway on the U.S. East Coast, but tall trees along the road’s shoulder make the flag difficult to see for northbound traffic and, with the Old Bermuda Hundred overpass, nearly impossible for southbound.
The good news, of course, is that the nearly-hidden nature of the flag will protect it from would-be vandals, who will have difficulty finding it.
So please, Virginia Flaggers, accept this apology for my accusation that the I-95 flag would be seen as a bold, brash symbol that many view as one of divisiveness and bigotry. I was completely wrong about the “being seen” part, because it doesn’t look like that many people are going to see it at all.
So we’re cool now, right?
This post was updated Sunday, September 29 to reflect the corrected view of the site from the highway.
It’s been a little over a year since the Lexington, Virginia City Council voted to bar all but the U.S., Virginia and municipal flags from city-owned light poles in the town. The decision was met with protests then, but there have been relatively few developments since. There was a lawsuit, of course, that was tossed out by the judge in June, and if there have been any other major developments on the legal side of the dispute, I’m not aware of them.
So to keep stirring the pot, now local SCV Camp Commander Brandon Dorsey points to the closure and layoffs as a local tourist attraction the Theater at Lime Kiln. This, Dorsey, claims, is “thanks to Lexington City Council,” and somehow vaguely the result of political correctness. Dorsey doesn’t actually explain the connection, though, which is not really surprising, given that the attached news item about the closure makes no such inference. Indeed, the article makes it clear that the theater has been in dire straits financially for the better part of a decade:
When the theater launched the fund drive earlier this year, Russell said Lime Kiln “has been on life support for the past several seasons.” He said the theater has managed with a staff of three doing the work of 10, but that there were no more expenses that could be cut, while the theater’s facility continued to deteriorate and consume what little cash reserves exist. The theater has asked Lexington and Rockbridge County to make $200,000 in multiyear pledges by Dec. 31, in order to make needed repairs and build a new permanent rain structure. It also is seeking a $93,000 rural development loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. When it asked for that help earlier this year, Lime Kiln said it needed a total of $300,000 by the end of the year to do all the work it needed to do in order to present a 10-performance season in 2013. It hopes to grow to 15 performances in 2014 and to become self-supporting. The theater closed for a while in 2005, and now says its signature production, “Stonewall Country,” seriously overstretched its ability to operate, because of its high cost.
My emphasis. For the record, 2005 is SIX YEARS before the Lexington City Council took action on the flag ordinance.
What we have here is, pretty obviously, a case where a long-standing business that’s been teetering on the precipice for years eventually succumbs to hard economic times and competition for visitors’ entertainment dollars. Although the theater’s signature production, “Stonewall Country” (above), focuses on the life of Stonewall Jackson, there’s nothing in the news story that suggests that show, in particular, was struggling due to lack of attendance or a general antipathy toward Confederate subjects.
Dorsey offers no evidence supporting his suggestion that Lexington Mayor Mimi Elrod and her PC minions are the root cause of this event, or why, exactly, they would want the closure of a cultural venue that brings visitors and their dollars to town. And of course the ordinance passed had no bearing on the theater or any other business in Lexington. Dorsey’s claim doesn’t even make sense, frankly. But while we’re busy making unsubstantiated accusations, I’ll toss in one of my own, that at least has some logic to it.
Gary Adams claims that the SCV/Virginia Flagger boycott of Lexington has cost local merchants $633,271 in lost revenue already. Where that number comes from, I have no idea — citing the source of material he posts is not a big priority for him — and I’m dubious that it’s even a real number than can be attributed to the boycott.
But just for the moment, let’s assume this is a real number, and the boycott has cost local visitor-oriented businesses well over half a million dollars. It’s not hard to see that under those circumstances the boycott, cheered on by folks like Dorsey, Billy Bearden and Susan Hathaway, may have played a very direct role the demise of the Theater at Lime Kiln. I remain dubious that the boycott has had much real effect at all, but if it has, as its backers claim, then their fingerprints are all over the pink slips handed out to theater employees last week.
Once again, Stonewall Jackson has been killed by his own troops. Well done, asshats.
There’s been some discussion about the Virginia Flaggers’ recent appearance at an event in Fredericksburg, a commemoration of a procession on Decoration Day in 1871 when local residents and visitors from as far away as Washington, D.C. and Richmond to honor the Union dead buried in the national cemetery there. The Flaggers weren’t invited, they just showed up and trailed along at the end of the procession, to bring “a Confederate presence” to an event that, historically, didn’t commemorate or involve real Confederates at all. The group’s leader, Susan Hathaway, has said that the Flaggers “were greeted warmly by all the participants,” and John Hennessy notes that the Flaggers “were respectful and genial every step, as was, I think, the audience toward them.” But despite the civil tone, at least one participant disputes the notion that the Flaggers’ presence was appreciated by the procession’s participants, stating bluntly, “within the column itself they weren’t welcome.” That’s one of the tricky things about the South; just because people are polite doesn’t mean they actually like you.
Other bloggers have mentioned this event, but in concentrating on the Flaggers’ participation in the recreated Decoration Day procession, a number of folks have “buried the lede,” as the saying goes, which is that the Flaggers did not participate in the ceremony at the nearby Confederate cemetery (above). Michael Aubrecht and Ryan Quint have both noted this, but to me it’s a tremendous “tell” that the Flaggers opted to participate in the Decoration Day march, rather than honor their own Confederate forebears. The rationale seems pretty transparent; people carrying Confederate flags at a Confederate ceremony in a Confederate cemetery is not news. Marching in a procession to commemorate an event held years after the war to honor Union dead, that’s gonna make the papers.
Mission accomplished, y’all!
The Virginia Flaggers have shown consistently that their priorities lie less with spending time and effort doing the quiet, dogged work of preservation and education, than with self-promotion and generally stirring up resentments about “traitors and scalawags” and so on. They have a bad habit of picking unnecessary fights, setting up confrontations for the cameras, and claiming that a civil disagreement with them constitutes an “attack.”
The Flaggers like to call themselves Confederates. But last Monday they had the opportunity to honor real Confederates, and they took a pass, opting instead to “advance the colours” at an event that had no historical involvement of real Confederates, where they were neither invited nor especially welcome, but that they knew would attract attention and publicity. That pretty much epitomizes the Flaggers’ approach to “restoring the honour”; it’s all about them.
Image: Confederate cemetery at Fredericksburg on May 28, 2012, via Fredericksburg Remembered.
Update: Over at SHPG, Susan Hathaway responds to this post, which she refers to as an “irresponsible hit piece on the Flaggers. . . full of holes and untruths.” Okay.
Looks like the Virginia Flaggers are doubling down in their efforts to pick a fight with the leadership of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. You may recall that, back in March, they intentionally violated directives from the UDC not to come onto UDC property — a warning given in person, a few days previous, to Susan Hathaway, the leader of the Flaggers — and then portrayed themselves as the oppressed victim when the local police were called. Of course, the Flaggers initially neglected to mention the whole you were-warned-in-advance part, and only later acknowledged that after the President-General of the UDC, Martha Rogers Van Schaick, released a detailed statement and timeline of her organization’s interactions with the Flaggers, going back to late last year. Hathaway subsequently acknowledged that “the account in the the statement today by Mrs. Van Schaick, with a few minor exceptions, is accurate, and in fact, is almost exactly as has been previously reported.” Well, no, it wasn’t “as has been previously reported,” at least by the Flaggers themselves. They put out a self-serving, incomplete account of events, and it was President-General Van Schaick who called bullshit on them.
This eagerness to pick an entirely unnecessary fight with a group like the UDC, simply because they refuse to play along with the Flagger’s particular brand of activisim (i.e., “restoring the honor”) is just nuts. It’s short-sighted, self-gratifying idiocy. Yes, the UDC is a low-key group and probably pretty set in its ways. Yes, the UDC doesn’t seem interested in making dramatic headlines. The UDC is certainly not beyond criticism, but they’re entirely within their right to decide what issues they want to make a public stand on, just as they’re free to decide who is and who is not welcome on their property. The only thing the UDC is guilty of is choosing not to play host to the Flaggers’ protest of of the VMFA, the UDC’s own next-door neighbor; everything else is just bombast and angry chest-thumping on the part of the Flaggers.
I read an observation the other day on a completely unrelated subject, to the effect that true believers “always require someone insufficiently pure enough to set themselves against, and they’ll manufacture them out of allies just as soon as they run out of enemies.” There’s a world of truth in that, and it strikes me as a fair assessment of the state of the Confederate Heritage™ movement generally, and the Virginia Flaggers in particular. For all their bluff and bluster, they haven’t got many victories to claim. They did succeed in getting Confederate flags restored to grave sites at a rural cemetery in Georgia, but in their primary protests they’ve been spectacularly unsuccessful. Their first big effort, to prevent passage of a city ordinance in Lexington, Virginia that would bar non-governmental flags from city light poles, was a flop. (No doubt local support for the measure, which was widespread, was in no small part due to the ludicrous spectacle that the out-of-towners brought with them.) There are no Confederate flags displayed at the Pelham Chapel in Richmond. After telling local media to expect “about 1,000 marchers” for the much-heralded Confederate Heritage Rally 2012 in Richmond in February, the actual turnout was about a third of that. No Confederate flag flies outside the Museum of the Confederacy at Appomattox. Mimi Elrod is still mayor in Lexington.
Waite Rawls is still gainfully employed.
With a track record like that, it’s easy to see why folks like Hathaway would decide to create melodramatic stories and faux confrontations. Thus a completely civil sidewalk encounter gets depicted as “Black woman attacked for carrying Confederate Flag.” A Flagger — does he always go around wired for sound? — actually catches on audiotape the egregious abuse of power in which a security guard says, “because I said so.” It’s played up for yucks when, outside the Museum of the Confederacy at Appomattox, the horse of a reenactor portraying General Grant gets spooked by a CBF carried by — you guessed it, a Flagger. They “restore the honor” by flashing a CBF, hastily pulled out of a back pocket, near the Lincoln Memorial. Something tells me the sixteenth president would be highly amused by that sophomoric foolishness, like one of Tad’s infamous White House pranks. “Lucifer’s Temple,” seriously?
Did y’all remember to write “Abe is a doo-doo-head” in the Park Service restroom stall while you were at it?
So the Southron Heritage™ movement is now, increasingly, turning its rhetorical weaponry on its own members. It’s not an entirely new phenomenon, of course; there have been grumblings about insufficiently-activist SCV camps that “meet, eat, and retreat” for years. Mark Vogl, who was reportedly pushed out of his senior role in the Texas Division of the SCV because that group didn’t want to get dragged into the culture wars battles he was waging, continues to complain about the “grannies” who now lead that group. But the gray-on-gray sniping does seem to have taken on a sharper edge of late, and the Flaggers are in the front rank. The vitriol now directed against fellow heritage advocates is remarkable, with an unprecedented level of nastiness. Conservative Republican governors of a Southern state are derided as “scalawags” and “traitors” for failing to embrace Confederate symbols. A well-known SCV color guard is targeted with epithets of “stink faces (above)” for refusing to renege on a prior agreement to participate in ceremonies at the new Appomattox facility. And now the leadership of the UDC, by declining to participate in shenanigans like this, is guilty of “sell[ing] off their birthright!!!“
It’s important to understand that folks like the Flaggers and their supporters, regardless of how much time they spend
fluffing reassuring each other that they’re the true Defenders of Southron Heritage, are a small-but-noisy group of folks who aren’t aren’t very representative of Southerners, or even of the descendants of Confederate veterans. They certainly don’t represent the SCV or UDC members I’ve known over the years. The name-calling, sneering mockery and over-the-top rhetoric isn’t the sign of strong, self-confident movement; it’s emblematic of deep and abiding insecurity, a realization that it’s they who are badly out of step with society as a whole, and consequently are desperate to make a name for themselves, even if they have to pick utterly unnecessary fights to do it. The UDC, I’m sure, will survive this just fine, as will the Museum of the Confederacy and the City of Lexington. The Flaggers, not so much, because every contrived outrage distances themselves a little more from the people with whom they should be making common cause.
I used to be pretty ambivalent about the Flaggers; while I thought they were often injecting themselves, as outsiders, in matters that were fundamentally local in nature (e.g., the Lexington ordinance), I also have sympathy, even admiration for acts of smart, clever protest. But after months of watching them their supporters, through their own YouTube clips, blogging, and elsewhere, I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s not a lot of there, there. There’s much angry vitriol and puffery about this or that party not “honoring” the Confederacy, which really seems to begin and end with prominent display of the Confederate Battle Flag. It’s protesting for the sake of protesting, to establish — mainly to each other — that they’re more Southron than all the rest.
So they go off on their own would-be allies, who (in their view) are insufficiently patriotic about the Confederacy. It’s fratricide, it’s unnecessary, and it’s ugly. The Flaggers and their partners will come out on the short end of this one, and it will be of their own doing.
Have at it, y’all. Knock yourselves out.
The hot new topic this week in Confederate Heritage™ is an incident that happened last Saturday in Richmond, where the Virginia Flaggers, a group that protests perceived slights to the Confederate flag, was put off the property of the national headquarters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, with the assistance of local law enforcement. You can watch a video of part of that encounter, above.
The video went viral on the Internet machine, as the kids say these days, among Confederate Heritage groups, spurred on by posts by folks like Billy Bearden and Mark Vogl. It prompted the vitriolic hyperbole one has learned to expect from such quarters, including comments like these, posted at the Southern War Room:
the guardians embrace treason
The South has been betrayed by her very daughters, the United Daughters of the Confederacy!
Sucking the breast of the PC crowd!
Well for me, they have Sold Their Soul To The Devil, they are Traitors Of The Highest Measure…
Maybe we could convince the UDC chapters to secede from the National Chapter.
If it sleeps with the enemy, acts like enemy, talks like the enemy…. It IS the enemy!
The SCV National & your camp…. Should have their hands around the necks of those that don’t up-hold the charge.
And of course, there’s the casual, sort-of-joking-but-maybe-not-really reference to lynching:
Well, we all knew what the founders did to treasonous leaders……..there was usually rope involved. The founding fathers would roll in they’re graves if they could see what we’ve allowed. Please understand I’m talking about federal leaders…..but some of our UDC are giving in to liberals and their ideas.
While Bearden, who argues that the UDC leadership are trying to “sell out their birthright!!,” claims to have witnessed the incident himself, he leaves no hint that Saturday’s confrontation has been one brewing for months, and one that went entirely according to script, at least from the perspective of the Flaggers. In fact, none of the righteous outrage over this incident acknowledges that was a long time coming, and in fact was set up by the Virginia Flaggers themselves — or at least one of the group’s leaders — knowing full well that they would be removed from the property by the police.
On Wednesday, UDC President-General Martha Rogers Van Schaick posted a lengthy response to the allegations being made by the Flaggers, including a detailed chronology of the UDC’s interactions with Susan Hathaway of the Virginia Flaggers, going back to late 2011. Van Schaick’s account makes it clear that the UDC had repeatedly declined to participate in, endorse or host any of the Flagger’s activities. Hathaway subsequently acknlowledged that “the account in the the statement today by Mrs. Van Schaick, with a few minor exceptions, is accurate, and in fact, is almost exactly as has been previously reported.” But she didn’t specify what her “few minor exceptions” were, so we’re left with is President General Van Schaick’s account as the only detailed description of the events leading up to Saturday. It’s long, but worth reading in detail:
On December 14, 2011, an email was received from Ms. Susan Hathaway by the UDC Office Manager requesting that the VA Flaggers be allowed to use two flag poles outside the UDC Memorial Building to fly one Confederate Battle Flag on each. The email was forwarded to me for action.
On December 26, 2011, I responded to Ms. Hathaway advising that Pelham Chapel is not a UDC memorial and that our involvement in this issue could be construed as a ‘political activity’ that would possibly put our 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status at risk. I further advised that our Bylaws prevent our involvement in ‘political activity’ and for that reason; the UDC was unable to allow the use of the flag poles located on the front of our UDC Memorial Building. I reminded her that the First National Flag flies daily in front of the UDC Memorial Building in perpetual honor of our Confederate ancestors.
On Wednesday afternoon, March 7, 2012, Ms. Hathaway came to our building and asked to speak with me. Mrs. Lucy Steele, Chairman of the Memorial Building Board of Trustees (who was in the building on other business) and I met with Ms. Hathaway. The request was that they be allowed to ‘gather’ on the front of our property. She was advised that we would not allow that.
The request was then made to allow them to ‘gather’ on the back corner of our property. Mrs. Steele pointed out that the property at the back corner belonged to VMFA but that we did not have a problem with it but she would have to seek approval from VMFA.
Ms. Hathaway then asked if the “No Trespassing” signs that had been posted recently were because of them and if they gathered on our property would the police be called. She was told that, as with any trespasser, we would call the police.
We explained to Ms. Hathaway that there have been instances of people sleeping under the bushes around the building. Recently during a work day, a man was seen crouching between the bushes and the building with binoculars which raised questions as to his intentions. The police were called at that time. “No Trespassing” signs were placed on our property in an effort to protect not only our building but our employees as they come and go, often times during early morning and evening hours.
On Saturday, March 10, 2012, during our Annual Spring Board Meeting, the VA Flaggers gathered on the sidewalk in front of the UDC Memorial Building. A short time later, they were observed leaning and perched on the cannons ignoring signs stating do not climb on the cannons. They then moved from the cannons to the steps leading to our building for a group photo. At this point, Mrs. Steele went out to ask them to move from the steps to the sidewalk – some moved immediately. Others remained on the steps. During this time, the Richmond City Police were called.
Reasonable people can disagree on whether or not the presence of the Virginia Flaggers on their property threatened the UDC’s tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) status. But whether on not the UDC had a good reason to reject the Flaggers is immaterial; they’re a private organization and they chose to do so. The bottom line remains: the UDC had (1) repeatedly denied the Flaggers authorization to use the UDC headquarters property, (2) explained that any such activity by the Flaggers would be considered trespassing, and (3) stated that such a circumstance would be handled according to the UDC’s usual practice, which is to call the Richmond Police Department. According to Van Schaick, Ms. Hathaway was told this in person at the UDC headquarters by herself and the Chairman of the Memorial Building Board of Trustees, Lucy Steele, on the Wednesday preceding the rally.
So, of course, the Flaggers went anyway. And the UDC did exactly what it said it would, which is to order them off the site and call the po-po. And then the Flaggers — without mentioning any of the events or discussions that had gone before — tossed it up on YouTube and various Southron social media sites. Dodging bullets…FROM BEHIND! The guardians embrace treason!
It was a set-up, staged and orchestrated to make the Virginia Flaggers look like victims of PC oppression. It’s ludicrous. Oh, there are victims here, but they ain’t the Virginia Flaggers; they are President General Van Schaick, Chairman Steele, and other members of the UDC leadership who’ve made clear their unwillingness to get dragged into the dispute over the Pelham Chapel next door, and for their troubles have now been framed by the self-appointed Defenders of Southron Heritage™ as traitors to the memory of their Confederate ancestors, and made the target of “jokes” about lynching.
I haven’t posted much about the Virginia Flaggers, because until recently I was ambivalent about them. I like the idea of peaceful protest; in general, it’s a healthy thing. It’s small-d democracy in action. While I think the Flaggers are wrong about Lexington, I’ve also thought they had a legitimate case to make for the Pelham Chapel.
But they’ve also proved to be mendacious and dishonest in promoting their efforts, eager to depict themselves as victims, and constantly trying to stir the pot. Take this video from last fall on their YouTube channel, for example, titled “Black woman attacked for carrying Confederate Flag.” What “attack” are they referring to? The passerby on the street engages another Flagger, Karen Cooper, in a discussion about their protest. There’s no shouting, no name-calling; no one gets all in anyone else’s face — where’s the “attack,” exactly? It’s dishonest, self-serving navel-gazing, in which the True Southrons™ are always the victims. “Attacked,” really?
Then there’s this video, “Va Flagger Tossed off State Property at VMFA for Carrying “That” Flag! 2-18-2012,” where Flagger Jimmy Jones is set up to confront a security guard at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the main target of the Flaggers. The video is shot from a distance, but — by remarkable and fortuitous coincidence — Jones is wearing a mic to catch the dialogue with the guard. Perhaps the Flaggers were looking to record the security guard saying something incendiary, but the best they got was him saying, “because I said so.” Now there’s an outrage for you!
And now we have this foolishness with the UDC. Hathaway claims she wasn’t looking to pick a fight with the UDC, and I doubt she’ll get one — if for no other reason, because the leadership of the UDC has consistently sought to avoid getting dragged into the rough-and-tumble over display of the Confederate Battle Flag, as is their right. The UDC had made their position very clear, well in advance. So why deliberately force a confrontation? Perhaps posing in front of the UDC headquarters was perceived as a win-win; if the UDC did nothing, the image might imply UDC support of the Flaggers; if the UDC had them removed from the premises (as warned, and as actually happened), the Daughters could be depicted as the unreasonable aggressors in the incident, arbitrarily bringing down the boot heel of the PC police (literally, police) on innocent protesters, just out to display their pride in their Confederate heritage. And of course, that latter narrative is exactly how the Flaggers ended up depicting it. It’s a spiteful, manipulative and cynical approach, but it works, at least for folks who aren’t paying attention.
Of course, that narrative only works when listener doesn’t know the long backstory of the discussions and communication that went on before last Saturday. President General Van Schaick managed to put the lie to that narrative when she provided the actual context of Saturday’s event, a context that Hathaway acknowledged is “with a few minor exceptions. . . accurate.” If the Virginia Flaggers — or rather, the leadership of the Virginia Flaggers — set out to make the UDC look bad, they only ended up making themselves look shrill and desperate. Somehow, I think the United Daughters of the Confederacy will survive.
If the Virginia Flaggers, and the larger Confederate heritage movement, really believed themselves to be under siege, they’d be trying to build alliances with others, not seek conflict with them. They’d look to find common ground with folks like the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and the Museum of the Confederacy, and all the rest. But they don’t because, at some deeper level, folks like Martha Van Schaick, Waite Rawls and the rest are more useful as exaggerated, cartoon-like enemies, a common foe against whom the true believers can unite in shared resentment and carefully-stoked outrage. Even in the short time I’ve observed it, it’s clear that the Confederate heritage movement defines itself as much or more by whom they oppose, as by what they believe. It’s an ever-tightening spiral of anger and bile, and it won’t result in any positive outcome; it puts off people more than it attracts. It’s an approach that unites them, but also increasingly isolates them from the rest of American society — Southerners, Civil War buffs, the general public, everybody — and that’s a dead-end road. These folks may feel like they’re circling the wagons, but increasingly it looks like they’re circling the drain.