Stephen Lemons Column

Lefties in Arizona Go Overboard with Political Correctness on the Confederate Flag

If there is anything more idiotic than rallying round the Confederate battle flag in a Walmart parking lot in Phoenix, it may be assembling for a counter-protest in the same parking lot.

As reported by my colleague Miriam Wasser, it was the rednecks versus the radicals at the Walmart Supercenter near 19th Avenue and Bell Road on a recent Sunday, part of a national day of action to protest Walmart's corporate decision to stop selling items bearing the image of the battle flag.

On one side, fat-necked dudes in T-shirts whined about their lost "heritage," while anarchists and others engaged them in playground shouting matches.

Fisticuffs were threatened. Beefy Confederate flag lovers stared down skinny, pasty-faced subversives. Children played in the back of flatbed pickup trucks with large rebel flags flying.

Despite the presence of fire extinguishers, there were no Confederate flags barbecued, as had been promised online by local Kropotkins.

As a sort of consolation prize, a couple of protesters ripped up handmade Confederate flags, and one dude stomped on an American flag.

Not that I care much about how someone abuses a piece of dyed cloth, but isn't the latter action what mass murder suspect Dylann Roof was pictured doing in photos posted to his racist website,

Roof was seen waving the battle flag in some pics, stomping Old Glory in others.

The discovery of the photos after Roof's heinous attack on worshipers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, helped spawn a nationwide frenzy for eradicating from the public sphere the Confederate flag and other symbols of and memorials to the Confederacy.

In the South, where the Confederate battle flag has the most resonance, the debate over the flag's display is more than appropriate.

Whether it's South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley's support for removing the flag from the grounds of the state capitol, or Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe's seeking to rescind state-issued license plates bearing the symbol, or Alabama Governor Robert Bentley ordering Confederate flags taken down from a memorial at the Alabama capitol, such actions make perfect sense.

Because in the context of Southern history, these moves are long overdue.

The modern use of the Confederate battle flag by Southern politicians mostly has been in defiance of federal dictates in the advance of civil rights and desegregation.

For some white Southerners, it represents a good ol' boy mentality, devoid of racism. For others, like Roof, it stands for white supremacy.

For most blacks, it's a symbol of fear, oppression, segregation, and terror.

So when I saw that it was an African-American activist from the state of my birth, North Carolina, who traveled to Columbia, South Carolina, to climb the flagpole and take down the battle flag from a Civil War memorial at the capitol there, I felt proud.

Bree Newsome's act of civil disobedience was thrilling to behold. Even more so since she submitted to arrest and will face charges in court, not unlike her spiritual predecessor, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was arrested and jailed many times during the Civil Rights struggle.

Newsome's defiance also makes perfect sense, in the context of the South.

On the other hand, if you visit some of the older cemeteries in any of the former Confederate states, you might find whole sections filled with dead Confederate veterans, their graves marked by miniature battle flags.

That, too, is understandable, as are memorials to the Confederate war dead erected in front of Southern courthouses from Virginia to Texas, no matter how podunk the town.

I even get the use of the Confederate flag as some inchoate expression of rebellion or Southern nationalism.

I would never sport a Confederate belt buckle or patch myself, but the sight of that flag is so common down South that it cannot be equated with racism every time you see it.

Yes, the Ku Klux Klan marches with it. But the Klan also marches with the American flag.

In the 1920s, at the height of the Klan's power, thousands of klansmen carrying the Stars and Stripes marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in their white robes.

In Arizona, the hysteria among lefties in regard to the Confederate battle flag strikes me as a kind of lunacy driven by social media.

Arizona had almost nothing to do with the Civil War. It wasn't even a state yet.

Yeah, there was a skirmish on Picacho Peak, but it didn't amount to much. And Confederate forces briefly occupied Tucson, but they abandoned it for Texas as soon as they found out Union soldiers were heading in their direction.

Yet on both sides of the argument, some Arizonans strain at a gnat while swallowing a camel.

State Representative Reginald Bolding recently announced an effort to rename a stretch of Arizona highway named for Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America.

"Naming a marker, road, highway, statue, or anything after someone who supported slavery is a mistake," Bolding stated on his Facebook page.

I agree that having a stretch of Arizona highway named after Jeff Davis is a huge non sequitur, but he and his fellow progressives will have a hard row to hoe if they want to rename everything named after someone who "supported slavery."

Guess they should start with the streets in downtown Phoenix named after U.S. Presidents who owned slaves: Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Van Buren, to name a few.

Extend this same logic to our nation's capital and you'd practically have to tear down and rename the entire city.

The U.S. flag? That's gotta go, too, right? After all, liberals can argue that it represents imperial aggression against other nations, as well as the genocide of Native Americans.

Liberals often seem prone to a silly sort of magical thinking. The argument du jour inevitably becomes about removing offending images, as if this would change everything.

And yet, the Confederate flag did not kill nine African Americans in a Charleston church. The massacre is only the latest in a line of mass killings that the nation now accepts as the new normal.

Meanwhile, in Tucson, lefties want the Confederate flag removed from an August 20 ceremony celebrating Tucson's birthday, which features the various flags that have flown over the city during its history.

Talk about a First World problem.

In this context, the use of whatever Confederate flag flew over Tucson at the time is about as offensive as the Confederate flag that tops the "General Lee" in reruns of The Dukes of Hazzard.

Which TV Land recently pulled, naturally.

At the Walmart the other day, the store manager called the cops and asked the protesters and counter-protesters to take their Picacho Peak-like battle off Walmart property, which they did.

Wasser reports that the manager was nonplussed by the demonstration.

"We never sold Confederate flags here," he told her. "We're not in the South."

Guns? Now those they sell. But who cares about that?

Email [email protected].

On Twitter @stephenlemons.

Valley Fever on Twitter: @ValleyFeverPHX.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons