My first reaction to what happened to a hapless Louisiana State grad student by the name of Benjamin Haas was that someone who was dumb -- or naive -- enough to do what he did, where he did it, pretty much asked for whatever he got.
Which, in Haas' case, was plenty.
What Haas did was threaten to burn an American flag on the LSU parade ground in protest of the treatment of another student -- one arrested and charged with pulling down the Stars and Stripes from a war-memorial flagpole and then burning it. Haas wanted to stand up for "freedom of speech."
That's fine and good, but the problem here wasn't any usurpation of the First Amendment -- the LSU flag burner wasn't arrested for that. The charges involved destruction of public property, arson and theft.
Holier-than-thou "progressive" do-gooders bug me. (And don't get me started on angry, right-wing cranks.) In this case, my annoyance blinded me.
WHEN The Daily Reveille's story on the protest finally went online today, along with an accompanying video, it became pretty clear that the "hippie" was the least of the problems on the Baton Rouge campus this day. The real problem was a "patriotic" mob purporting to stand up for God, country and "freedom" by doing what mobs do.
Think Little Rock Central High School, 1957.
A jeering crowd swarmed after communication studies graduate student Benjamin Haas on the Parade Ground this afternoon after he outraged many students and community members with an announcement that he planned to burn an American flag.IT TAKES ONE to know one. You know?
Though Haas didn't burn the flag as he originally announced yesterday on Facebook, the mob of people tore after Haas until he slipped into a police car and was escorted off campus by police.
Haas did not have the needed permit to burn a flag, which is why an actual flag burning did not take place, according to LSU Media Relations.
After chasing Haas off campus, the group of more than 1,000 straddled Highland Road, shouting a back-and-forth banter of "GO AMERICA" and "GO TIGERS."
"I initially began this flag burning protest to define due process for students and suspected terrorists alike, to call on LSU and universities across the country to defend basic human rights and avoid putting students into the criminal justice system when it can be taken care of internally," the pre-written text of Haas's speech read. "In the name of peace, there will be no flag burning today. This country and the flag that flies over it stands for freedom, democracy, love, peace and the ability to question our government."
Haas attempted to recite his speech a few times, but the crowd cut him off, chanting "U-S-A" as horse-mounted police worked their way through the maze of people, pushing them back and eventually escorting Haas off campus in a police cruiser.
Rebecca Favre Lipe, vice president of the Baton Rouge Tea Party, said she was "amazed" at the demonstration of patriotism from attendees.
"We have First Amendment rights, but there's also respect," Lipe said.
People began to gather in Free Speech Plaza around 11 a.m., where Sarah Kirksey and Hunter Hall, communications studies seniors, distributed 134 American flags they bought. As an incensed crowd snaked through Free Speech Plaza, a line of on-lookers watched from the terrace of the Union.
Two women who asked to remain unnamed brought signs reading "Benjamin Haas is a terrorist" and "You hate my flag but love my freedom."
One of the women said she labeled Haas as a terrorist because "anybody that hates America is a terrorist."
I still think defending the original flag burner's "free speech" is a poor hill to die upon, but what we saw at LSU today was a shameful, redneck mob more about getting "the hippies" than any genuine display of patriotism.
There were "terrorist" wannabes afoot, but Benjamin Haas, as it turns out, wasn't one of them. Menacing Mobs for Freedom is a circle that cannot be squared.
I may not know much, but I know intimidating unpopular minorities through angry displays and the implicit threat of violence not only isn't "freedom" but actually is the antithesis of it.
If this is how Louisiana's "best and brightest" behave, God help those they will someday lead.