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This column reflects the opinion of the writer. To learn about the differences between a news story and an opinion column, click here.

Opinion >  Column

Spin Control: As expected, Gadsden flag column generated some angry calls and emails

UPDATED: Mon., Feb. 1, 2021

Donald Trump supporters gather outside the Capitol in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6.   (Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press)
Donald Trump supporters gather outside the Capitol in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6.  (Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press)

When my cellphone rang at 5:15 a.m. two weeks ago, I didn’t answer it. First of all, I was asleep and the phone was in another room, so it was unlikely I’d get there before the call went to voicemail.

But the main reason was, when a columnist’s phone rings at oh-dark-30, it’s best to let it go to voicemail and handle it later.

Some Spokesman-Review readers are early risers and digest their morning paper before I’ve had my first cup of coffee. But if they’d made it to the third section of the paper some two hours before dawn to read the column about why I was putting away my father’s Gadsden flag that formerly hung on my office wall, the odds were about a million-to-one it was someone complimenting me on the brilliance of my prose.

I knew the column was going to strike a chord and some people weren’t going to be happy. That’s fine, because as a political reporter almost everything I write makes someone unhappy.

The phone call was from South Carolina – the column got picked up on the internet, possibly because it made references to the U.S. Capitol riot and the Confederate Flag – but the caller didn’t leave a message so I suppose it could’ve been a wrong number. But the phone kept ringing during the day and the email inbox filled up.

Not everyone was angry, of course. Some wrote to say they agreed with me or had wondered about the origin of the yellow flag with the coiled rattlesnake and the “Don’t Tread on Me” warning. One offered hints on how to store a flag so it won’t fade. Another wrote to say she remembered the protest in a St. Louis, Missouri, suburb that was the reason my father bought the flag nearly four decades ago.

But more people wanted to tell me what an idiot I am.

That’s OK, and I refrained from replying to those who wrote “your an idiot” to point out that should be “You’re an idiot,” not to sound like the grammar police. I even deserved that for calling the Confederate battle flag that was carried into the U.S. Capitol the Stars and Bars, which one writer pointed out. I also said it was designed for one of the first units of “American Marines” when they were, instead, “Continental Marines.”

A few accused me of treason. One called me an anti-Semitic reference, which was a first for someone of English-Irish-Swedish-French descent who was raised Catholic.

Several dozen asked if I was putting away my American flag, too, because so many of them were carried by the protesters. Nope (duh). The American flag means many positive things to me, and many other people. Its denotations far outweigh its connotations, to borrow a vocabulary instruction from my seventh grade English teacher. On a positive note, someone suggested an initiative to encourage everyone to fly the American flag to counteract the images of people charging the Capitol with the Stars and Stripes and using flagpoles that carried it to attack police.

Some accused me of telling people to put their Gadsden flags away. Not true. A corollary of the fact that I’m free to put mine away is the fact anyone else can display theirs. And, no, I won’t send you mine so you can fly it.

The most annoying letters were from people who said they knew my father would be ashamed of me for putting it away. Of the ones that were signed – only about half were – there were no names I recognized as his friends, coworkers or neighbors. I’m pretty sure he would have agreed with me, but anyone who wants to prove they knew him better is free to email me. Just be able to tell me the name of his ship in World War II, how he met my mother or at least how he mixed his favorite cocktail. Otherwise, feel free to shut the heck up.

Something to watch

People tuning in to the virtual legislative hearings or floor debates might be surprised at the variety of backdrops behind lawmakers who are participating from elsewhere.

Many use something Olympia-based, such as the ornate legislative chambers or an exterior of the domed building. Others uses something from their home district, like Sen. Jim McCune, R-Graham, with a shot of a boat on the Sound and snow-covered mountains in background, or Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, who had a vintage black-and-white shot of oxen pulling a log wagon.

Maybe someone should give out awards for the most colorful or creative backdrops, or sponsor a “Where is this?” for state trivia buffs.

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