WASHINGTON — A flag-burning demonstration that’s popped up at NASCAR races and at courthouses appears to be headed for Leesburg.
Activist Gene Stilp, a lawyer who lives in both Loudoun County and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, has now received conditional approval to burn a combined Confederate-Nazi flag outside the Loudoun County courthouse on June 12 at noon.
Stilp called the event “a very simple, symbolic First Amendment demonstration” and stated in his application that he expected five people to attend.
The event aims to pose a question, Stilp said: “Is there racism, bigotry, hatred, racial intimidation in Loudoun County in Northern Virginia?” He added: “That’s not a question for me to answer, that’s a question for the people to answer.”
Mary Frances Forcier, a Loudoun County government spokesperson, told WTOP the courthouse grounds are a public forum and rules for its use are meant to provide equal access. She added that officials are working on plans for monitoring the event and responding to any possible outcomes.
Stilp must obtain a waiver from the fire marshal in order to burn the flag in a trash can he provides.
Even if he receives a waiver, Stilp said he’s been told a final determination will be made by the fire marshal in the moments just before the protest is set to begin. If certain safety conditions are not met or if wind gusts are over 10 miles an hour, the demonstration could be called off.
Kraig Troxell of the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office noted that while Stilp’s previous demonstrations have not led to any problems, authorities are discussing potential security concerns with several groups, including the Leesburg Police Department.
Stilp said in past demonstrations, “People have not been violent … some folks have been angry, but it’s been amazing the amount of support we’ve also gotten.”
The activist said he came up with the idea of combining the two flags — with a Confederate flag on one side and a Nazi flag on the other — after seeing the symbols together during last year’s deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville.
“In this case, a lot of people understand what the Nazi flag means, and a lot of people don’t think about the Confederate flag, but they both represent similar value systems,” Stilp argued. “And by joining the two, I’m educating the people and making them think about what the Confederate flag really stands for.”
Stilp said he chose the courthouse in Leesburg as the latest site for his display following some confusion involving the release of information by city police.
Christopher Cantwell, who’s described as a prominent white nationalist, was arrested in Leesburg in March for public swearing and intoxication. Police have said the incident was listed in a weekly arrest report, but that Cantwell was listed under the wrong last name because of a clerical error.
The mistake led to questions over whether the incident was “hushed up” in Stilp’s words. In an editorial, the Loudoun Times-Mirror said police “bungled” the handling of incident.
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