After getting drenched by protests, threats and obscenities from those who said they were members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, those who run Washington & Lee University in Lexington told the group to stay the hell away from the school.
“The persistent name-calling, villification and uncivil attacks in messages to the university, letters to the editors of local newspapers and social media postings have persuaded us that our original intent to make the chapel available would not be appreciate,” said W&L spokesman in a statement printed Wednesday by The Roanoke Times on its web site.
“We are simply not going to allow our own facilities to be used as a place from which those attacks can me made.”
Sons of Confederate Veterans have been part of Lee-Jackson Day activities at the school in the past.
As someone who has written about the recent furor over removal of the Confederate flag from government locations after a young madman in South Carolina posted for a photo waving the flag, I understand the school’s response to threats and vile comments.
I received numerous email threats and anonymous voice mail messages. Someone left a .223 cartridge in our mailbox.
To be fair, such threats and vile comments were not limited to those who support display of the Confederate flag. Those who wanted it removed from the face of the earth were equally vicious in comments after I apologized to a Floyd County resident organizing a “Heritage Not Hate” ride that starts in Check next weekend. I also apologized to others for two articles that were removed from Blue Ridge Muse.
The anger on both sides of the issue showcases how difficult it can be to have a rational discussion on hot-button issues.
“It you show up with your camera at the rally on August 29 you better bring a gun too,” said one message to me. “If I see you there you will need your gun.”
An opponent of the rally called me “a chicken-shit coward who should be shot.”
Facebook posters claimed I had “backed down” and bragged about how they have “put fear in his eyes” that they said “forced” me to change my position on the Confederate flag issue.
Others said a fear of lawsuits “put you in your place. ” If anyone threatened to sue me, they never made their threats to me. I get such threats from others on other issues from time to time. It goes with the territory. Threats do not guide my decisions.
Washington and Lee University President Kenneth Ruscio received many threats and vile insults after he announced removal of Confederate flag replicas from the school’s chapel.
“A CRIME IF GOING TO BE COMMITTED,” said one email provided to The Roanoke Times.
“May you and the 5 idiots burn in hell,” said another. The six referred to in the email were W&L laws students who asked the university to remove the flags, saying the presence offended minority students.
Ironically, one local supporter of any and all efforts to remove the Confederate flag and other Civil War icons from public view also said, in an email he signed, that I should “burn in hell” for supporting any effort to display the flag.
Supporters of banning the Confederate flag called me “a sinner” who will “be judged by God for your obvious endorsement of slavery.”
Both sides of the issue have called me “racist.”
In a nation where free speech is supposed to be guaranteed by the Constitution, any citizen should have a right to display items or materials that support their political or philosophical beliefs. Others may disagree with those beliefs but disagreement should not include the right to ban or prevent other beliefs and politics.
At this writing, a post on Facebook with more than 300 comments focuses on tea party activists Dennis and Linda Wagner and their proliferation of political banners and symbols displayed in the front yard of their home on South Main Street in Floyd.
Some decry and others support a banner urging the government to “defund” Planned Parenthood.” A Confederate flag flies from a column on the front porch.
The Wagners have a long history of blasting right-wing talk radio from a speaker in their back yard. Many have cited those actions while questioning the appointment of Linda Wagner to the county planning commission by the all-Republican and hardcore conservative county board of supervisors.
As readers know, I neither support or endorse the tea party. I dislike the extremist positions it promotes. But I also dislike censorship from the right or the left and while the Wagner’s front yard, in my opinion, looks junk filled, they have their right to live how they want or to express whatever points of view they have.
Significant questions, however, can and should be raised about the planning commission appointment. The board of supervisors has now put two active members of the tea party on that body. The tea party claims there is a “conspiracy” threatening landowners in America. They call it “Agenda 21.” One wonders if the board of supervisors buys into that conspiracy hype or if they support their constituents or just select political factions.
Such actions by the supervisors in recent months have lead to spirited races this fall for the Little River and Burks Fork District. Candidates in both races say change is needed.
A fight is also expected in the campaign for sheriff and the rhetoric will heat up after Labor Day.
Will the debate be based on issues or on personalities and anger?
Odds favor anger getting in the way. We see such anger at Washington and Lee University, in emails, on voice mails and all over so-called, and misnamed, “social media.”
When anger rules, reason heads for the door and disappears.
(The writer of this article is a contract writer and photographer for BH Media, owner of The Roanoke Times, The Floyd Press and many other newspapers. Opinions expressed here are his own.)