Outside the Arundel Center, the headquarters of Anne Arundel County government in Annapolis, a POW-MIA flag proudly flies. If the county adopts Bill 74-22, it will have to be taken down. The flag honoring those still missing and unaccounted for from the Vietnam War would also be banned from any other county-owned flagpole, nor could it be displayed inside or outside any county building. Under the ordinance filed by County Councilman Nathan Volke, only the national flag of the United States, the state flag of Maryland and the official flag of Anne Arundel County could be displayed anywhere on county property. So farewell, POW-MIA flag, not to mention the flag of Annapolis which includes a tribute to namesake Queen Anne and the Latin phrase, “vixi liber et moriar” or “I have lived free and will die so.”
Of course, that’s not the intent of the ordinance. This is an election year. Councilman Volke is clearly trying to score some conservative points by appearing to “protect” his constituents from the possibility that somebody somewhere will display a Black Lives Matter or LGBTQ+ Pride flag on his or her (or their) desk.
Anne Arundel residents can probably take heart from the fact that the measure has little chance of passage. Even if amended to allow the POW-MIA flag — or any other banner judged sufficiently noble and patriotic to Mr. Volke’s standards — the majority Democratic Anne Arundel County Council is likely to reject it after a scheduled hearing set for Sept. 6. Mr. Volke, a Republican who represents Pasadena, knows this.
So does County Executive Steuart Pittman, who comes from a background of horse farming, so he understands a thing or two about manure when he sees it being slung. The Democrat generously describes the legislation as a product of the “silly season” right before elections, when there is, as the Bard might observe, much sound and fury signifying nothing. But Mr. Pittman also rightly worries that his county has become an incubator for this kind of extremism within Maryland.
Consider, for example, an earlier effort to ban county tax dollars from being spent on equity, inclusion and diversity that failed on a party-line vote. Was there suddenly a fear of costly disability ramps? No, radicals on the council just wanted to generate their share of “critical race theory” hysteria or perhaps it was “replacement theory” hysteria. Sometimes, it’s hard to sort through all the various strains of white nationalism.
Nor should one forget that Michael Anthony Peroutka, the Republican nominee to be Maryland attorney general, is a former Anne Arundel County Council member himself. He’s expressed some pro-secessionist views in the past and was a member of the League of the South. He’s also promoted 9/11 conspiracy theories or what his fellow Republican, Gov. Larry Hogan, has described as “disgusting lies.” The governor’s distaste for Mr. Peroutka and GOP gubernatorial nominee Dan Cox have been noted at length. It would be nice if other sensible Republicans took a moment to denounce their extremism and foolish flag regulations, too. First in line ought to be County Councilmember Jessica Haire who is now running against Mr. Pittman to be county executive.
Flags appear to be a trigger word for the far-right these days, but the suppression effort is no laughing matter. The Carroll County Board of Education earlier this year voted 4-to-1 to ban various non-U.S. non-Maryland state flags including LGBTQ+ Pride flags from schools. The damage done to gay teens struggling for acceptance could prove substantial. The harm done to the general public from this mindless kind of dog whistling is bad enough. Soon, it will be up to voters to express their disapproval. One can only hope they do so bigly.
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