If there’s anything worse than having to read the details of Vester Flanagan’s murderous rampage, it is watching cynical right-wing nutbags try to make political hay of it. This week in “Tales of False Equivalency from the Rabid Right,” we have this lovely meme, which has been popping up on social media:
The notion here is pretty simple: if the Confederate flag must come down in the wake of Dylann Roof’s Charleston rampage, the LGBT rainbow flag must come down in the wake of Flanagan’s actions, for Flanagan was a gay African American.
If you recall, Roof operated a white supremacist website, on which he posted a nasty manifesto defending segregation, railing against the racial deficiencies of n-words, and finding common cause with white minorities across time and space. Pictures on the website depict Roof among Confederate flags.
In response, an unprecedented public campaign to remove the flag from the South Carolina state house resulted in the state’s governor compliance. The march goes on, however. New Orleans officials are in the process of removing a public monument to Robert E. Lee. Yale University may rename one of its residential colleges, which was named after southern nationalist John C. Calhoun. And students at the University of Texas-Austin are petitioning to remove from campus a statue of Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederate States of America.
Flanagan, allegedly, is a figure much like Roof, but he is from the left (being gay and African American). And it is of course true that Flanagan issued his own manifesto, in which he explained his actions as a response to personal experiences of racism and homophobia. Therefore (can you see it coming?), everything about the two is exactly the same, except reversed (as sometimes happened in old Star Trek episodes).
This of course is complete horseshit.
First of all, let’s be clear about the differences between these two men. The subtext of the meme is that Flanagan, like Roof, called for violence on behalf of his movement. But Roof had a movement, and Flanagan did not. Roof participated in a large, longstanding, and deeply networked campaign to foster white supremacy through racial violence. In contrast, no one has yet to find among Flanagan’s effects a membership card to the Rainbow Panthers, or whatever the analogous group would have been for him. This is, of course, because no such comparable movement exists.
This gets us to the symbols at stake. In the wake of the Roof shooting, activists quickly associated has actions with the Confederate battle flag. This made total sense, as Roof literally wrapped himself in that flag. Flanagan, on the other hand, was found to possess a rainbow flag. Clearly, then, (at least according to Breitbart) this was Flanagan’s membership card, and he was essentially an inverse of Roof.
Uh, no. Because of course all flags are not the same. The Confederate flag began as the symbol of a nation dedicated to slavery, and was resurrected a century later in defense of racial segregation. It is historically and presently associated with white supremacist ideology and violence. The Confederate flag has blown over battlefields strewn with the bodies of massacred black Union soldiers, just as it has flown over the capitols of southern states denying blacks’ constitutional right to equal education. The rainbow flag, which has existed since the late 1970s, has flown on the national mall, as well as in innumerable rallies on behalf of its values of diversity, tolerance, and healing.
No one flying a rainbow flag ever claimed it stood for race war. The same cannot be said of the stars and bars.
Roof was a deranged maniac who murdered people for the cause of the Confederate flag, which exists solely to distinguish some humans as better than others. Roof acted for the principles of his flag — oppression, terror, and inequality.
Flanagan was a deranged maniac who murdered people not for the cause of the rainbow flag, but for the cause of Roof’s flag (“race war,” as both shooters termed it). Flanagan acted against the principles of “his” flag, and instead for the principles of Roof’s flag.
Look at the difference in reactions to these two events. There is a veritable army behind Roof (some of whom are likely readers of Breitbart.com), and none behind Flanagan. The Roof shooting sparked an outburst of white supremacist sentiment across the country (sympathizers have contributed over $4M to his legal defense). In the wake of the Flanagan shooting, you haven’t, and will not, see queer people taking up arms against straights.
So here’s the key difference: Roof represents an actual social movement, with a history of ideology and praxis. Flanagan was just a poor crazy bastard who did not get the help he so desperately needed. Any effort to associate him with queer or race politics is a shallow attempt to politicize a mental health tragedy, and deflect attention away from our nation’s studied indifference to preventing similar tragedies in the future.