This the kind of story that makes Americans cynical. I’m more cynical from just reading it. Air Force veteran Michelle Manhart saw protesters stomping on a flag in a demonstration at Valdosta State University in southern Georgia, and took action. She briefly snatched the flag away, but police officers intervened, arrested her, handcuffed Manhart, returned the flag to the protesters so they could continue abusing it, and escorted the comely counter-protester away. The protestors, all African-Americans, proceeded to say some silly and offensive things (Can we stipulate that “You killed off our people. You enslaved our people…You put us in this white supremacist place” is silly and offensive? I think that’s fair… and a lot fairer than accusing Manhart of “killing off” African-Americans.) Neither the demonstrators nor the police pressed charges against Manhart, but she did receive a campus trespass warning that bars her from campus activities. Let us pause for a brief ethics audit, shall we?
1. The flag desecrating protest, as the Supreme Court has clearly ruled, was legal and protected, except to the extent that it incites others to violence, like a burning cross. In some settings, it might be so judged. Not on a college campus, unless the college is West Point.
2. Legal or not, it’s a disrespectful and irresponsible protest, not to mention dumber than a Justin Bieber Fan Club.
3. I think many veterans would react as Manhart did. My father would have. I might have on his behalf. A lot of non-veterans would as well, and I salute them. Remember Rick Monday?
4. The police were correct to intervene and arrest Manhart.
5. The protesters were correct not to press charges.
6. The university correctly ordered her to stay away.
Unfortunately, the story began to rot soon after it was first reported. First the news media took sides. The Washington Post called Manhart a “Playboy-posing veteran.” What does her modelling in Playboy have to do with this incident? Nothing. This description was designed to marginalize and denigrate her and her actions; it’s the equivalent of an ad hominem attack. I also have to wonder why the mainstream media reflexively defends black students who attack the nation they owe so much to by any calculation, and treats a military veteran who feels she should defend the honor of the flag she fought under as a villain. The flag-stomping protest deserves technical respect but not substantive respect. Reverend Wright is an ungrateful, bigoted, and ignorant fool for bleating “God damn America!” and this protest was just as wrong. Then it was revealed that Manhart had posed tastefully nude in a PETA ad that used the flag as a prop, along with some other artistic uses of the flag in a less than purely patriotic manner.
That’s not quite desecration, perhaps, but it is still using Old Glory in less than dignified circumstances, and treads too close to hypocrisy. Finally, we learn that Manhart owns a restaurant called the Bacon Bunker in—three guesses!—yes, Valdosta. Might the whole incident have been plotted as a device to get free marketing, and not been a spontaneous display of patriotic passion?
I don’t want to think about it any more.