Web­sites fan flap over flag dis­play

O’Rourke cam­paign de­nies its peo­ple asked for ban­ners’ re­moval

The Dallas Morning News - - State - By RACHEL COHRS Wash­ing­ton Bureau rachel.cohrs@dal­las­news.com Twit­ter: @rachel­cohrs

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.”

Ash­ley Lan­dis/Staff Pho­tog­ra­pher

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.

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