News & Politics

The Confederate Battle Flag Is Still All Over Virginia

South Carolina takes it down, but some in Virginia want to see more of it.

The Virginia Flaggers planted this flag next to Interstate 95 in 2014. Screenshot via WTTG.

A group of Southern-history enthusiasts in Virginia who promote the display of the Confederate battle flag say they aren’t giving any interviews to media in the wake of last week’s murder of nine members of a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, but that hasn’t stopped them from parading through Richmond hoisting the antiquated banner.

In an emailed statement, the Virginia Flaggers say they “join the entire country in mourning” the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church allegedly carried out by 20-year-old Dylann Roof. But the massacre, allegedly carried out by a young man who wrote openly of subjugating blacks, Jews, and Hispanics and wrapped himself in the Confederate banner, hasn’t quenched the Flaggers’ committment to their cause. On its Facebook page, the group has posted many photos—taken since last Thursday—of its members toting the flag outside the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The Flaggers are also responsible for a large Confederate battle flag that flies over Interstate 95 between Quantico and Fredericksburg.

Since last week, the Virginia Flaggers have been especially irked by the sudden coalition of elected officials in South Carolina calling for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from a Civil War memorial at the statehouse in Columbia. In their lengthy statement, the Virginia Flaggers say they are the ones being victimized by a push to remove public displays of a sigil first carried by an army that lost its war to defend slavery:

“We are deeply saddened to watch the disgusting attempts by some media representatives, self-appointed ‘historians,’ activists, and even elected officials to exploit this national tragedy by using it for political purposes, and as an excuse to advance their hate-filled agenda, by calling for an all-out war on the Confederate flag and our Confederate heritage, beginning with the removal of the flag from a Veterans’ memorial on the Capitol grounds in South Carolina, over 100 miles away.”

But the effort to scrub out public displays of the Confederate flag isn’t limited to South Carolina. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe announced Tuesday that he will take steps to remove the commonwealth’s specialty license plates featuring the rebel icon.

“Although the battle flag is not flown here on Capitol Square, it has been the subject of considerable controversy, and it divides many of our people,” McAuliffe says in a press release. “Even its display on state issued license tags is, in my view, unnecessarily divisive and hurtful to too many of our people.”

The plates were issued after a 1999 bill backed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, but a Supreme Court decision last week ruled that states are allowed to reject license plates featuring the battle flag.

The Virginia Flaggers did not respond to a request for comment on McAuliffe’s move, but on its expressive Facebook page, it dismisses him as “our carpetbagger governor” and says he “has just declared war on the Sons of Confederate Veterans.”

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.