It now stands on the west side of the Chesapeake Expressway just before the toll plaza heading south towards the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It will be seen by countless thousands of vacationers driving to the beach for their summer vacation along the Atlantic Coast. A vast majority of those vehicles will have license plates from northern states. Yankees traveling from Ohio, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and the New England States. They will all get a glimpse of it in the breeze. And some of them will know that they are not welcome here. The message will be quite clear, flapping in the wind as they continue their trek south.
The flag flying there is the Confederate battle standard, an 8 X 8-foot flag that accompanied the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia into battle. Although romanticized over the last 150 years, this flag represents an attempt to fracture this country. To many, it was the battle standard of treason.
I don’t usually drive that far south on my daily commute, but I was made aware of the placement of the flag from an article in the Virginian Pilot. I drove south this morning to have a look myself. While to the passer-by this may seem to be as innocent as the placement of a flag noting the position of a Confederate unit on a battlefield (the nearby exit is Battlefield Blvd, although that is a reference to a Revolutionary War battle) it will be clear to most locals that this flag’s purpose is to further the cause of Southern Identity Politics. The placement is meant to be a challenge, to be off-putting, threatening. They are trying to parlay the flag’s presence to stir up sentiment in the Commonwealth that will divide us.
The flag was erected by a group called “The Virginia Flaggers.” If you look at their Blogspot, they are advocating for the return of the flags of the Confederacy and the Restoration of Southern Honor. They have placed 26 Confederate Flag displays, on private property, throughout the Commonwealth in positions to attract attention to their cause. The crown jewel of the collection is the 20 X 30 foot Confederate Navy Jack in Chester, Virginia, alongside Interstate 95.
Rallying around those flags are people who feel marginalized by a state that has turned Blue in the last few election cycles. These people feel like their state has been overtaken by “carpetbaggers” from the North who have come south and diluted the gentile quality of southern society. Of note, in recent years the Commonwealth’s Governor, Terry McAuliffe, a Syracuse, New York native, stripped these very people of their coveted battle flag license plates. This group seems to think that their way of life has been threatened by transplanted northern liberals. As we enter the gubernatorial election cycle, they are recruiting Republican candidates who will support their cause and continue the rhetoric that demonizes those who are geographically challenged by not having been born in the Commonwealth or the other states that seceded from the Union over 155 years ago.
I think there is a place for Confederate flags and monuments. I believe that they should be displayed on battlefields to mark lines. I believe it is appropriate to use them to mark the graves of Confederate dead in private cemeteries and in museums throughout the country. I think that the monuments to Confederate dead in nearly every Virginia town and city are appropriate and should be left in place. I don’t see them as a threat, but as a reminder of the rank and file soldiers who may have romantically believed their cause was righteous and their home state more sovereign than the federal government. I think the cry for removal of statues of Robert E.Lee, for example, by groups like the NAACP and Black Lives Matter is shortsighted and equally divisive. They are promoting their own vile brand of identity politics.
This flag is flying on private property. So a lengthy discussion of flying it on public land or the exercise of the groups 1st Amendment rights does not apply here. In fact, if you travel the rural roads of Virginia, you will see all manner of Confederate flags, from the Bonnie Blue Star to battle standards adorning the front porches of thousands of houses and vehicles. That speaks to a larger issue.
What does matter to me is that this is sending a message about the City of Chesapeake, the Commonwealth of Virginia and those who cling to the “ideals” of the old South. It screams intolerance, hate and a nineteenth century failed economic system reliant on enslaving other human beings. How can that help our communities or state?
I am a big fan of the first amendment. I think people have the right to speak their mind and spew their hate as much as the next guy. I spent over 23 years wearing the uniform of the United States to protect and defend those rights. I will gladly stand up and say that this group, hiding behind the defense of their “heritage,” has every right to show their ass. To reveal what they really are. I also believe that their mission is to further their own version of identity politics and has nothing to do with their heritage. That is not conducive to life in this country or in this century.
At some point, we need to all be Americans. I think it is time to look forward, not cling to the failed political and economic systems that nearly destroyed this country over 150 years ago.