Charlottesville was no starting point. The Confederate flag appeared at multiple rallies during President Trump’s campaign. High school students in Silverton, Oregon displayed it at a Trump rally on Election Day, telling Hispanic classmates: “Pack your bags; you’re leaving tomorrow.” The two students were suspended, which wasn’t an option for other post-election Trump supporters who waved it in Durango, Colorado; Traverse City, Michigan’ St. Petersburg, Florida’ Hampton, Virginia; and Fort Worth, Texas.
White supremacists have been rallying around the Confederate flag for over a 150 years, but even Donald Trump supported removing it from South Carolina’s statehouse in 2015: “I think they should put it in the museum, let it go, respect whatever it is that you have to respect, because it was a point in time, and put it in a museum.” I’m not clear what there is to “respect,” but the “point in time” is called the Civil War. If you read the declarations of secession, the South began it for one reason and only one reason: to continue slavery.
President Trump’s chief White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon is the former head of Breitbart News, which said the Confederacy was “a patriotic and idealistic cause,” and that its flag “proclaims a glorious heritage.” This was posted after the Charleston, South Carolina church shooting, in which white supremacist Dylann Roof murdered nine people.
Now even conservative Republicans are calling on the President to remove Steve Bannon from his administration. Senator Cruz’s former campaign spokesperson Rick Tyler said yesterday: “If he doesn’t want this to consume his presidency, he needs to purge anyone involved with the alt-right. Breitbart has become a pejorative … It has been a vehicle for the alt-right. You can’t allow the Oval Office to be a vehicle for the alt-right.” Governor Kasich’s former campaign adviser John Weaver tweeted similarly: “Bannon, Miller, Gorka must go. Probably more. But I don’t want to hear this primarily staff issue. Give Kelly time my ass. Trump owns this.”
The white supremacist rally in Charlottesville literally centered around a statue of Robert E. Lee. The people of Charlottesville want to remove it; the KKK and other domestic terrorists drove into town with military weapons to preserve it, sailing Confederate and Nazi flags side-by-side. Whatever you may feel about “heritage,” the Confederate flag is irredeemably tainted by its use as a white supremacist symbol.
You said in the e-newsletter I received this morning: “We are all praying for our Commonwealth to come together and heal at this difficult time.” Private prayer is not enough. You must demonstrate where you stand on this moral issue by joining other Republicans to demand that the President remove Steve Bannon and other representatives of the alt-right from his administration. And you must acknowledge the Confederate flag as the defining icon of white nationalism and condemn its use.