News & Politics

Did Eugene Vindman Pose With a Confederate Flag?

The Virginia candidate for Congress apologized for a photo—but the truth may be more complicated.

Photograph by Virginia State Parks/Flickr.

It may be the first political scandal caused by not posting a picture of an exposed breast.

Eugene Vindman, a retired US Army colonel who gained prominence for reporting then-President Trump’s alleged attempt to coerce Ukraine into investigating the Biden family, leading to Trump’s first impeachment trial, gained a different kind of notoriety on Saturday amid his race to represent Virginia’s 7th Congressional District as a Democrat, after Democratic operative Jim McBride posted a picture of him on Twitter with a slightly different version of the state’s flag.

But eagle-eyed Virginians may notice something odd about the flag Vindman posed with: Virtus, the bare-breasted symbol of peace on the state seal, was now covered up in a suit of armor. Which led to the question: Where the heck did that flag come from?

As the Prince William County-based Potomac Local News first reported, Vindman’s flag appears to be a re-creation of the one used by the Confederate government of Virginia beginning in 1861: the state’s first flag, adopted after the state voted to secede from the Union.

“When I saw the news that a Democratic candidate for Congress was campaigning with the confederate era Virginia flag I was angry and stunned,” L. Louise Lucas, the longest-serving Democrat in the state’s senate, wrote Tuesday on X. “How could someone who wants to represent us be so ignorant of our history?”

In a statement Tuesday, Vindman apologized for the photo, writing that he “would never have knowingly taken a picture of a flag representing the brutal, dehumanizing past of this commonwealth.”

“When I realized this mistake, I directed my team to reach out to this attendee to ask him to take the picture down as it in no way aligns with any of my core values or background,” the statement continued.

As of this article’s publication Tuesday, the photo was still up on McBride’s Facebook page. In a statement to Washingtonian on Wednesday, after the publication of this article, McBride wrote that he was initially unavailable for comment “due to our hill meetings and a press conference with Gold Star Mothers,” but that it “appears that the flag was unintentionally included in a collection of 50 flags that were provided for use by our delegations by an out-of-state volunteer and it has been discarded.”

“As someone born in New York state who now lives in Northern Virginia I am not intimately aware of the variations of the state flag design and was unable to catch the error unfortunately. I will do my best to better educate myself on the history of Virginia in the future to ensure it never happens again,” McBride’s statement continued.

Peter Ansoff, the former president of the North American Vexillological Association—a group dedicated to the study of flags—told Washingtonian that while the flag Vindman posed with may have been used during the Confederate era, it had no symbolic ties to the Confederacy itself, as it follows the specifications of the Virginia state flag that have been encoded in state law since 1861.

The modestly dressed Virtus also appears on an iteration of the seal used by former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in 2010. Cuccinelli, who told reporters back then that he cribbed the seal from an “antique state flag that hangs in the Virginia Capitol,” used the more-safe-for-work emblem for less than a week after public ridicule.

“There’s really nothing specific about that flag, or the colors of the flag that [Vindman’s] displaying, that are different from the ones today,” Ansoff, himself a Virginia resident, noted—beyond the curious decision to cover up Virtus’s breast.

“People tend to get hung up on this sort of thing. If Jefferson Davis touched it, it’s a bad thing,” Ansoff continued. “But that’s a pretty big stretch. Whoever painted that seal on the flag in 1860 or 1861, painted it that way, and that’s as far as you can take it.”

In his statement Tuesday, Vindman himself made note of the similarity, appearing to signal support for changing the state flag.

“While monuments to the confederacy have been coming down and roads glorifying traitors are being renamed all around the commonwealth, we need to look at all symbols that represent this tragic history including our current banner which frankly too closely resembles the civil war version,” the statement read.

For some Virginia political insiders, the gaffe is emblematic of Vindman’s run for Congress as a whole, the ex-military man making his first foray into electoral politics—and Virginia politics as a whole.

“Millions of out of state grifter money and he wants us to change the state flag because he campaigned with the confederate version,” longtime Virginia Democratic consultant Ben Tribbett wrote Tuesday on X. “Is this all a Veep episode?”

This article has been updated to include comments from Jim McBride.

Arya Hodjat
Editorial Fellow