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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control

Sunday Spin: Why did the Chinese flag go up at the Capitol, and how did it come down?


OLYMPIA – Hey, did you hear about how some true patriots tore down the Red Chinese flag that was flying over the Capitol last weekend because the pinko governor was coddling commies?

Well, if you heard it that way, or read a version close to that on some Internet website, you might be wondering what the heck has affected everyone’s brain in the South Sound. And if that’s the way it went down, you’d be right to wonder.

Reality is never as interesting as the Internet, so much the pity for reporters.

The flag of the People’s Republic of China (aka Red China) was flying on the middle flag pole in the plaza between the Capitol and the Temple of Justice by the dawn’s early light a week ago Saturday, with the Stars and Stripes on pole 1 and the Washington state flag on pole 3.

The bright red flag with the four little stars and one big star had been there since the day before, when Chinese ambassador Cui Tianaka paid a courtesy call on Gov. Jay Inslee. When visiting dignitaries stop by the Capitol, it’s customary to fly their flag out of diplomatic courtesy. The governor or other state official getting the visit notifies the Department of Enterprise Services, which manages the buildings and grounds, and the flag is up before the visitor arrives.

Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, was highly critical of Inslee for this action in a Face book posting last week. Ordering the flag to be flown over the Capitol, on Good Friday no less, was “disgraceful” for a governor who banned travel to Indiana because of the new law there interfered with the civil rights of some people there. What about the civil rights violations of China, like torturing Christians and demolishing churches, he demanded. He also offered props to the “freedom-loving patriots” who help to have the flag taken down.

Factual point here: The flag did not technically fly “over the Capitol,” as Shea and others describe. The flag poles are anchored in the ground and stand a couple stories high, but they aren’t at a height that makes them taller than the Capitol Building. They’re about level with the doorway.

The department has a closet with 39 different foreign flags, from Angola to Uzbekistan, available for official visits, a spokesman said. The Chinese flag goes up fairly regularly, he added. The last time was about three weeks ago, when the Chinese consul general in San Francisco paid a courtesy call on Inslee, Lt. Gov. Brad Owen and Secretary of State Kim Wyman, the governor’s office said. No one squawked that time.

Why all this interest by the Chinese, you might wonder. Maybe related to the fact that Red China is actually green China for Washington; it’s our largest trading partner with $20.7 billion in exports last year. Or maybe they are planning to invade Washington and scouting a place to come ashore in the Puget Sound. In that case, the generals should keep their landing craft out of Capitol Lake, lest they pick up the insidious zebra snails which are a real pain in the patoot to control.

Cui visited for a bit, hit the road and in the afternoon the governor’s office e-mailed DES it was OK to take the flag down. Those requests go on the grounds crew’s to-do list, and it didn’t get done before quitting time Friday. The flag poles are lighted, so flags don’t get raised in the morning and lowered in the evening; the U.S. and Washington flag stay up 24/7. Because the grounds crew was off for the weekend, the Chinese flag would have been taken down by the crew on Monday morning.

Thus the three flags were flapping in the breeze the next morning when about 15 people, at least some of them members of the Oath Keepers organization, arrived with video cameras and carrying two rattlesnake-coiled yellow Gadsden flags and their own Stars and Stripes. They made their displeasure known at the seeing the Chinese flag in such an official station. A state trooper making rounds at the Capitol called the dispatch office about 7:30 a.m., which contacted DES, which sent over a supervisor, who lowered the flag. The lowering was dutifully recorded for posterity – the four-minute video can be found in multiple places on line – including the observation by a protester of the trooper: “There’s an Oath Keeper. . . This is what happens when America speaks.”

The trooper is probably more of a job-doer, although the job did involve taking an oath. He is not, a state patrol spokesman said, a member of Oath Keepers.

Spokane residents might recall Oath Keepers as the group that mounted a protest in March over the right to bear arms in the plaza of the federal courthouse after one of their members, Anthony Bosworth, was cited for failing to disperse after a disagreement over carrying a rifle there. They had hoped to get arrested at the March protest, but without success. Bosworth and other Oath Keepers also tried to get arrested at the Capitol early this year for violating the ban on weapons in the House gallery, but were thwarted by poor scheduling: they protested on a Saturday when legislators were gone and the gallery doors locked.

Bosworth was among the flag protesters, too. Whether they planned any civil disobedience over the flag isn’t clear, but their efforts that morning  were successful in at least one respect. Oath Keepers, through their action, managed to get the state to take the Chinese flag down about 48 hours quicker that it would have sparing visitors, and perhaps the Easter bunny, from wondering “what the ?” on Easter weekend.

The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.