On Saturday, a group that must have either a twisted sense of irony or a complete disregard for history will gather to celebrate the Confederate flag in Osawatomie, Kansas.

Inexplicably, the local chapter of CSA II: The New Confederate States of America plans to host an event at John Brown Memorial Park, which was named for an abolitionist with extreme anti-slavery views, in the free state of Kansas.

The planned Heritage not Hate cookout in Osawatomie will coincide with the raising of the Confederate flag at the state capitol in Columbia, South Carolina. The flag was removed in 2015 amid a national controversy over Confederate monuments.

Osawatomie City Manager Don Cawby said officials are aware of the planned event, and the park is open and available to the public.

“Individuals, families and groups … have always been welcome to come together and use the park in a legal and peaceful manner for any or all such purposes,” he said.

Tennessee-based CSA II has held similar protests in Virginia in recent years. In 2017, the group was run out of its own pro-Confederate rally in Richmond, Virginia, by a crew of counterprotesters.

Of course, Thomas Crompton, the commanding general, president and CEO of CSA II, tries to argue that the Confederate flag has nothing to do with slavery or oppression.

“It’s just a battle flag, nothing more,” Crompton said, adding that Heritage not Hate honors all those who fought for the Confederacy, no matter their background or creed.

Crompton’s deliberately simplistic explanation conveniently ignores the fact that the Confederate flag represents institutionalized hatred, racism and slavery. While the history is complicated, white supremacists today brandish this symbol with pride. And for most African Americans, the flag is a painful reminder of racial oppression and division.

That’s nothing to celebrate or commemorate, especially at a park in the free state of Kansas that was named to honor Brown, a fanatical and influential abolitionist.

“Clearly they are trying to be offensive,” said Kevin Willmott, an Oscar-winning filmmaker and film professor at the University of Kansas. “It’s always important to remember besides all the connections to slavery, the Confederate flag represents the people who murdered an American president, Abraham Lincoln. It is against the American flag. It is the symbol of treason. The best thing about the Confederate flag is that it reminds us of who we are not supposed to be.”

The local chapter of CSA II has a right to free speech. But unless its members’ aim is simply to provoke, what sense does it make to host such an event in Kansas, a state that was not part of the Confederacy?

“Kansas was founded on being a free state, and the Civil War was catalyzed by this very fact,” said Osawatomie resident Chuck Weismiller, who is organizing a counterprotest on Saturday. “The fact that certain groups within Kansas have forgotten these facts and plan to hold a pro-Confederate rally in (John Brown) park should sicken all Kansans who know the state’s history of violent struggle against these ideals of oppression, racism and bigotry.”

Kansans should send the message that we don’t glorify such divisive symbols here.

“It is their First Amendment right to fly the ‘Stars and Bars,’ and it is also our First Amendment right to voice our opposition,” Weismiller said. “Freedom of speech does not free one from the consequences of society, morality and decency. Just as they plan to execute their rights, so do we.”

Kansans should stand up and peacefully demonstrate against hate, telling the pro-Confederate crowd that this is not what our free state is all about.

The city of Osawatomie is working with other area law enforcement agencies to prepare for any potential issues that might arise, Cawby said.

Osawatomie officials are right to be vigilant in identifying any potential threats of violence. The 2017 Charlottesville, Virginia, rally where a Nazi sympathizer plowed his car into counterprotesters, killing Heather Heyer, is an ever-present reminder of the risk of violence and escalation at such events.

Hate groups want confrontation. Counterprotesters should make sure they don’t get it. Weismiller and other counterprotesters should be vocal and visible, but no one should go to John Brown Memorial Park looking for a fight.

On Saturday, Kansans have an opportunity to send a peaceful and powerful message that this is not the place to celebrate the Confederacy — not during the Civil War and not now.


The Kansas City Star