Tuesday, March 02, 2004

The devil down in Georgia

If it isn't clear by now, then this story in today's Orlando Sentinel should make it quite obvious that far-right neo-Confederates are taking a leading role in Tuesday's vote in Georgia on a referendum for the state flag:
Their stated mission is to restore Confederate symbols to prominence on the Georgia state flag and to remove from office Perdue and any other "scalawags" that oppose them. But some fear the flaggers and their sympathizers across the South have racist and anti-government agendas.

Georgia business and political leaders are concerned that the determined group might create a national spectacle by raising the specter of slavery and racism when state voters go to the polls Tuesday.

"The flaggers talk about preserving their Southern heritage, but that is mostly for Yankee consumption. Nobody around here believes that. The underlying theme is race," Georgia political columnist Bill Shipp said. "They are a 21st-century manifestation of the Klan, but they also symbolize disenchantment and alienation with government."

As it happens, though, the classic 'rebel X' flag isn't among the choices from which they get to choose. And they're not happy about it:
The two flags offered are the Barnes banner and the current state flag selected last year by the Georgia Legislature and Perdue. That design was actually drawn from the "Stars and Bars" of the First National Flag of the Confederacy, but flaggers are not impressed with its lineage because it lacks the rebel cross.

The powerful Georgia State Chamber of Commerce last month issued a bulletin to its members urging them to vote for the Perdue flag design. They fear flaggers will turn out for the Barnes flag with its tiny Confederate emblem to keep the issue alive.

"Our state does not need another round of bad publicity over this issue and the negative effect it would have on our economic development efforts," the chamber's advisory said.

Some strategy-minded flagger factions have advocated voting for the "Barnes rag" flag design but only "while holding our noses." Others have called for turning in blank ballots or simply skipping the election, said Davis and Coleman, who claimed to know of no flagger plans to disrupt the primary with demonstrations.

There is at least one advantage to this vote taking place now: It makes it less likely that it will be a motivating issue in this fall's presidential election, as it was in last fall's gubernatorial race in Mississippi. That's probably a good thing.

As Mark Potok observes, the "flag issue" played a big get-out-the-vote role in unseating at least two governors: Mississippi's Ronnie Musgrove, and South Carolina's David Beasley.
"It's debatable whether the flaggers were the sole cause, but there is no question they played the same role in all of those elections," said Potok, whose organization tracks hate groups nationwide.

Many who pose as Confederate-heritage preservationists are actually "pushing an entire revision of the history of the Civil War in the service of present-day racists," Potok said. "They are trying to cleanse the Confederate flag and the Civil War itself of any association with racism or slavery."

The problem, of course, is that this particular wellspring for empowering the extremist right never seems to run dry. The flaggers, it's important to note, fully intend to target "scalawags" who oppose their attempts to resurrect the old banner of the Confederacy in the coming election. You can bet that just about includes anyone on the Democratic ticket.

And don't be surprised to see a Republican or two follow Haley Barbour's lead in Mississippi and openly embrace the flag -- and then demagogue their opponent on it.

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