The burning of a combined Confederate-Nazi flag in Leesburg Tuesday went off as planned, but not without its share of protesters.
Activist Gene Stilp, who organized the event, talked over protesters and some supporters Tuesday on the grounds of the Loudoun County Courthouse before lighting fire to the joint flag, which he makes himself and features a Nazi flag on one side and the Confederate flag on the other.
“This is a free country,” said Stilp. “People can say what they want just so long as there’s no violence, and the idea here is to make a strong statement about what we feel the Confederate flag stands for and what the Nazi flag stands for by joining them together we’ve done that in burning it—a very strong symbolic statement about these horrible symbols.”
Stilp sought permission to hold the event in May with the intention of educating the public on “misguided value systems” that “stand for racism, hatred, bigotry, white supremacy, racial intimidation, slavery and death.”
In April, an arrest in Leesburg of a self-described white nationalist who was connected to the Charlottesville riots prompted the activist to organize the demonstration. This is one of several events Stilp has held in the face of controversy.
Stilp on a couple occasions competed with protesters shouting as he read off his statements.
“Get that flag off the ground,” one shouted.
“I’ll give you $400 bucks if you light yourself on fire,” said another.
Several protesters that stayed after the event concluded would not comment after the demonstration. One hung a Confederate flag on the fence near the burning.
“To be in the midst, to see his boldness and courageousness in burning the flag and all the heckling behind him, I think it invoked something in me,” said local attorney Marcia Wright, agreeing with Stilp's event. “It’s interesting how people want the courtesy of free speech when it doesn’t apply to something that isn’t offensive to them.”
Stilp, who spoke for about 15 minutes, added, “We’re trying to make people think. There are people on the whole scheme of the bell curve that will never change, other people who don’t fly such flags, and people in the middle who don’t think about what they are flying. By doing this it may help them think more about what they are flying. It’s not just a symbol of rebels and things like that, it has a symbol of hate behind it.”
The Loudoun NAACP and Loudoun Freedom Center are holding a unity rally in Leesburg tonight as a response to Stilp's demonstration. Stilp said he plans to attend.