The controversial group that says they’re dedicated to the protection of Confederate monuments and mementos is making the news again as organizers promise to continue spreading images of the various versions of the Confederacy’s flag.
The Virginia Flaggers, who have more than 20,000 likes on their Facebook page, are responsible for placing a 15-by-20 foot flag commemorating the Confederacy in Chesterfield County along Interstate 95 earlier this year. They then doubled down on that action by placing another identical flag alongside Interstate 64 in Henrico County.
The member of the group whose property the flag was placed on, Grayson Jennings, told WWBT NBC12 News that the group would continue to “pepper this town” with flags.
“It was misused — hijacked, if you will — by some hate groups,” Jennings said to NBC12. “You keep taking our heritage away, we are going to put up more.”
A century and a half after the end of the American Civil War, controversy continues to surround the flag that represents the group that seceded from the north largely over the issue of slavery. Recently, South Carolina lowered the flag from its capitol grounds following the mass shooting of nine black churchgoers in Charleston. The shooter was photographed posing wearing the flag.
While the flaggers argue on their Facebook page that the flag is meant to “commemorate the Confederate soldiers who bravely fought for the commonwealth,” Phil Wilayto, the Executive Director of Defenders for Freedom, Justice and Equality, said he disagrees with the group’s tactics.
Wilayto said that the group’s spreading of the flag was only to cause commotion, and was possibly outright racism.
“If they want to honor the Confederate dead, no one’s got a problem with that,” Wilayto said. “But when they take a symbol that they know is a symbol of racism, and they force it in people’s faces on highways, streets, public places, they’re going to get a reaction.”
The two groups butted heads during the UCI Road World Championships when the Virginia Flaggers called the Defenders for Freedom a hate group after the Defenders announced they would be holding a press conference at the Jefferson Davis Monument.
Ana Edwards of the Defenders told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the conference would “tell the world that Richmonders do not support showcasing these monuments of Confederate military and political leaders during this world-famous sports event.”
Dr. Kimberly Brown is the Interim Chair of the Department of African American Studies and Chair of the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at VCU. She said that if the flaggers display symbols commemorating the confederacy to honor their ancestors, then the same action has a reverse effect on her heritage as an African-American.
“If the flag honors the Flaggers ancestors, then it most assuredly dishonors my own. I see it as a symbol of hate and white supremacy. The truth of the matter is that the Confederates lost,” Brown said. “I don’t know of any other country that flies the flag of the losers of its civil wars.”
She said that the flag is a symbol of racial injustice, and that its ties to slaveholding mean that anyone who flies it is honoring a time scarred by violence and oppression.
At the press conference, a small plane carrying a banner with a Confederate battle flag and the phrase “Confederate heros matter” circled above as the speaker’s discussed the historical significance of slavery in Richmond.
The Virginia Flaggers took credit for the banner on their Facebook page and said the misspelling of the word “heroes” was due to “pilot error.”
The Commonwealth Times reached out on two separate occasions to members of the Flaggers, who did not respond to requests for a comment.
According to the Times-Dispatch, speakers at the conference announced their support of a proposed nine-acre memorial park in Shockoe Bottom to commemorate victims of the domestic slave trade, which operated in Richmond prior to the Civil War.