Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

The Virginia Fraggers

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on May 19, 2012

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.