Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Virginia Flaggers, Manufactured Outrage and the UDC

Posted in Genealogy, Leadership, Memory by Andy Hall on March 16, 2012

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.