Alt-right members preparing to enter Emancipation Park holding Nazi, Confederate Battle, Gadsden “Don’t Tread on Me,” Southern Nationalist, and Thor’s Hammer flags, August 12, 2017. / Anthony Crider / CC BY 2.0
The Arizona legislature began the 2018 session with a controversy between two of its newest members, State Representatives Todd Clodfelter (R-LD10) and Geraldine Peten (D-LD04).
The issue was over Clodfelter’s display of the Confederate flag on his laptop screen. Peten, one of two African-American state legislators who happens to sit behind Clodfelter in the House chamber, said that his display of the flag was “intimidating.”
“It creates a hostile work environment,” said Peten.
Although he initially said he wouldn’t remove the image of the Confederate flag from his laptop, Clodfelter relented. After speaking with Clodfelter on January 10, Peten said her colleague ensured her that she wouldn’t see the image again. Ultimately Clodfelter said that he would leave his laptop at home.
At the time that appeared to be the end of the story, the issue has been revived by Rep. Clodfelter who authored an article in the Arizona Daily Star about his decision to display the Confederate flag and to address accusations of racism.
Representative Clodfelter explains that he is not racist or treasonous, saying that “anyone who actually knows me realizes these accusations couldn’t be further from the truth.”
It should be remembered, however, that the Civil War began with the unconstitutional cession of southern states from the United States and the attack on Fort Sumpter by southern troops.
It should also be remembered that the war was fought in order to preserve the institution of slavery. This is evidenced by the words of the men who would serve in the Confederate government and lead Confederate troops in battle against the United States military.
So while Clodfelter himself may not hold any overtly racist or treasonous beliefs, the flag which he displays was unquestionably born out of racism and treason.
Clodfelter goes on to disparage the angry, closed minded people whose opinions of him will not alter after reading the article. Clodfelter attacks the culture that is eroding individualism, which “thrives on collective control rather than freedom of the individual thought.”
Furthermore, he says, “Innocent until proven guilty has been replaced by instant crucifixion via social media.”
“The venom achieves nothing other than to inflame ideologues, and promote ignorance,” Clodfelter continues. “Condemning someone without first having all the facts is intellectually bankrupt, and crucifying people in the name of justice is no more effective now than it was in Roman times – the people being crucified aren’t going to start agreeing with you when they get nailed to the cross.”
The problematic comparison between himself and Jesus Christ aside, Clodfelter fails to see how displaying a symbol widely used by white supremacists might provide evidence that he shares their beliefs.
Clodfelter goes on to defend the Confederate soldiers, some of whom “fought with the specific belief that they were following in the footsteps of our Founding Fathers” or “were resisting an invading army.”
Nowhere does he admit that any of the soldiers in the Confederacy were fighting to preserve an institution of slavery.
Clodfelter goes on to describe the destruction that southerners endured while ignoring the 3.9 million persons of African descent who were freed as a result of the war.
Clodfelter says that after the Civil War, “a new meaning for the Confederate flag was born.” This new meaning was of southern pride and resilience of the Americans who rebuilt their homes and livelihoods.
He fails to mention that the Ku Klux Klan, a terrorist organization formed after the Civil War to intimidate and murder African Americans, and other white supremacists widely adopted the Confederate flag in the 1950s and 1960s in response to the growing civil rights movement.
Clodfelter does admit that some use the flag as a symbol of bigotry and hatred, but he also sees it as integral to American history.
“Flying this flag as a symbol of white supremacy is despicable, and any use of it for that purpose should end, immediately,” he writes. ” Flying it over memorials to Confederate war dead is simply history, and should never be erased.”
His issue with historical erasure is ironic given that Clodfelter’s article reads partially as an attempt to erase African Americans from the history. The Confederate flag was flown over the battlefield by men fighting to maintain slavery. It was flown a century later to intimidate African Americans who were fighting for their rights as US citizens.
Today the Confederate flag is flown alongside the flag of Nazi Germany by white nationalists who seek a return to legal racial segregation and white supremacy.
While I do not doubt that Representative Clodfelter does not harbor any overtly racists beliefs, his decision to defend and display the Confederate flag places him in the company of the vilest members of our society.