Websites fan flap over flag display
O’Rourke campaign denies its people asked for banners’ removal
WASHINGTON — A Veterans of Foreign Wars commander in Navasota says two people asked him if they could take down an American flag before a campaign event for Rep. Beto O’Rourke on Aug. 25.
O’Rourke aides deny that anyone affiliated with the campaign asked to remove any flags. The El Paso Democrat routinely campaigns at venues that display the American flag, and there are countless photos of him speaking with voters with flags nearby. The flags were never moved, and photos of the event show a large American flag on the wall behind O’Rourke.
But that hasn’t stopped conservative websites and commentators from pounding him for alleged disrespect of the flag.
“Our campaign absolutely did not request that any flags be removed or taken down from the walls,” O’Rourke spokesman Chris Evans told The Eagle, a Bryan-College Station newspaper. “It is incorrect to say that we did. We have hosted dozens of town halls in VFW posts across the state, and always ensure that the flags are prominently and respectfully displayed.”
Sen. Ted Cruz has sought to make O’Rourke’s defense of NFL players’ protests of police brutality a campaign issue, with ads calling it disrespectful to kneel for the national anthem or otherwise show disrespect for the flag. He recently leveled a false allegation that O’Rourke said he is “grateful” for flag-burning.
VFW Post 4006 Commander Carl Dry, 84, told The Dallas
Morning News on Friday that as people were filing into the venue for the Aug. 25 campaign event, a young woman approached him and asked if the flags that were displayed could be taken down.
He said he refused.
Dry said the woman did not identify herself and was not wearing a name tag, and he didn’t know if she worked or volunteered for the campaign.
A large American flag hung on the wall behind the stage, as did a large Texas flag. Smaller versions of each flag stood flanking the stage.
Dry said Friday that he wasn’t sure which flags the woman was referring to or what she wanted to do with them. The Navasota Examiner reported that attendance was upwards of 450 people, and the hall was packed. The contract dictated that the renter would not remove anything from the walls, he said.
Shortly after the woman left, a young man approached and also asked permission to remove flags. “I didn’t only say no, I said hell no, you don’t take the flags off the wall. I can’t believe any American would ask us to do that, and I don’t know why he wanted them down or what he was going to put up instead,” Dry told the Navasota Examiner.
Dry said Friday that he regretted getting “kind of upset” but had assumed at the time that the two were from the same group. “It rubbed me the wrong way that they would ask twice,” he said.
For the last two weeks, conservative websites and commentators have circulated Dry’s quote to The Navasota Examiner.
“We can now add stripping American flags from a VFW hall to things he thinks are good,” reported RedState.com, which called the El Paso Democrat a “hard-leftist.” A report on TopStoriesUSA.com stated that “there seems to be an aversion to the American flag and symbols of patriotism.” Erik Erickson, a prominent conservative writer, drew a link to O’Rourke’s “defense of protesters taking a knee to the national anthem. Now he’s going directly after the American flag.”
Revive America PAC, which supports Cruz, sent out an email soliciting donations, stating that “we can now add stripping American flags from a VFW hall to Beto O’Rourke’s hard-left repertoire.”
Two fact-checking websites looked into the issue.
Snopes.com rated the claim that the campaign had asked for the flags to be taken down as “unproven.”
PolitiFact rated “mostly false” the claim that O’Rourke’s campaign showed an “aversion” to the flag, saying that while it was reasonable for Dry to assume the individuals who approached him were affiliated with the campaign, it wasn’t clear why they asked. PolitiFact also noted that flags are prominently displayed at O’Rourke’s public events, and the top photo on his campaign website features the flag.
Dry said that at the time of the event, he had not heard that O’Rourke supported NFL players’ protests.
“I did not know anything about Mr. O’Rourke,” he said. “My own personal take on this is that he and myself would probably have been better accommodated had they just said that maybe some of their young interns made a mistake and let it go.”
As he did at the Texas Democratic convention in June, Beto O’Rourke routinely speaks with the flag behind him, and he’s pictured with a flag on his website.