Home / Spring 2015 / 2015-04-16 / Veteran detained after trying to stop campus protesters from walking on American flag
(Photo Credit: Stella Henderson/ THE SPECTATOR) An American flag lies on the ground after being walked on in a protest that took place on campus April 17. Veteran Michelle Manhart was detained by VSU police after she tried to take the flag from protesters.

Veteran detained after trying to stop campus protesters from walking on American flag

Written by: Zenobia Harris, Staff Writer

Tensions are running high in the midst of a rapidly expanding controversy involving a veteran’s attempt to take an American flag from a group of people walking on it as part of a protest on Valdosta State University’s campus.

On Friday afternoon, a group of African-American students set up a protest in front of Odum Library on the Pedestrian Mall, and while the purpose of the protest is not clear, demonstrators placed an American flag on the ground and walked over it.

According to an article published by the Valdosta Daily Times, Michelle Manhart, a 38-year-old Air Force veteran and former Playboy model, said a student notified her of the protest, so she went to campus to retrieve the flag from the ground and dispose of it properly.

In a video posted on Manhart’s Facebook page Friday that has already garnered 3.9 million views and counting, Manhart is seen holding the flag while arguing with a demonstrator who is trying to take back the flag.

“That’s not yours,” the unidentified demonstrator said.

“Actually it is,” Manhart said. “Anytime the flag has been torn or ripped, it needs to be properly disposed of, so we’re going to take care of that. The flag belongs to the entire country.”

After heated conversation, the demonstrator and Manhart proceeded to struggle back and forth with the flag while surrounded by VSU police, bystanders and other demonstrators.

VSU police officers attempted to subdue the situation and asked Manhart to hand the flag over to them. Manhart refused, resisting police while grasping the flag.

After a short scuffle, police placed Manhart in handcuffs and gave the flag back to the protesters. The protest continued for a while after the altercation until students and demonstrators were asked to disperse.

While it is not known whether all the demonstrators were VSU students, the group was still allowed to protest on campus as long as normal university operations were not affected.

Neither the police nor the protesters pressed charges against Manhart, but police did issue her a criminal trespass warning, effectively banning her from VSU, according to the VDT.

Response to the incident has been swift and impassioned, with some calling Manhart a hero while others are supporting the protesters’ right to free speech.

Many are adamantly opposed to the protesters’ use of the American flag, calling it unpatriotic and disrespectful, and several campus demonstrations have already been planned for the coming weeks to show support for the American flag.

VSU senior Mia Rawls said that while she may not support the original protesters’ agenda, she can sympathize with their cause to an extent.

“They are stepping on the flag because they feel betrayed by America,” Rawls said. “That’s the psychology and symbolism behind it. Although I do not agree, I understand. I would never attack them for that, because that’s how they feel and it’s never going to change. Period. Not that you have to leave it alone, but you accept their opinion.”

Maggie McGlamry, senior mass media major, pointed out the legality of the protesters’ actions.

“I think (walking on the flag) is very disrespectful, and I understand why so many people are offended by it, but it isn’t illegal and there isn’t anything the school can do about it as long as they obey the law,” McGlamry said.

McGlamry is right; while the official U.S. Flag Code strictly prohibits walking on the American flag, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that these laws can’t be enforced because doing so would be a violation of First Amendment free speech.

VSU President William McKinney issued a statement on the protest Saturday night.

“The American flag represents everything that is best about our country,” Dr. McKinney said. “As the Supreme Court has held, one of those things is the right to free speech, which includes the right to disrespect even the symbol of our country. While I firmly disagree with the actions of the protesters, I understand their right to protest.”

The protest along with Manhart’s actions has sparked heated debate on YouTube, social media and news sites, where students, alumni, and the general public has expressed both disdain and support of the protest and Manhart’s intervention.

Below is video of Manhart attempting to take the flag from protesters:

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12 comments

  1. Shame on you VSU! Where I do agree students have the right to protest stepping on, walking on or stomping on the American flag is over the top and should never be tolerated. I’m just wondering where you set the boundaries for groups that want to protest, is it destruction of property, is it disrespecting VSU property or maybe sacrificing a virgin, at what point will you take a stand and say too much? I can only assume by allowing the students to protest on campus grounds that you support their actions. Since VSU is supported by tax payers dollars I think this is inappropriate. I also think that those of us offended by your actions should be empowered to cut off some of your funding. I’ll bet if that were to happened you would change your tune very quickly. As I said before shame on you VSU!

  2. I applaud this article for articulating the truth of the matter. No matter what your feelings in regards to either side of the protest, these individuals have the freedom to do as they please in regards to treatment of the flag. I find it mildly hilarious and slightly disturbing at the same time that so many are jumping beyond condemnation of their actions. Disagree with them, fine. Doesn’t change the reality that one of the great things about this country is whether you agree or disagree with someone’s right to freedom of expression, you can’t legally do anything about it. Michelle Manhart was completely in the wrong and committed an illegal act which actually was the only violation of freedom in this case. I applaud Zenobia Harris for writing this balanced article and EJ Sheppard for not allowing mass hysteria to sway him from standing up for what he believes in. Keep it up!

  3. This, “race” thing has gotten way out of control, and bordering on ignorant! Just as the “poster” above said, if they don’t like the U.S., then get out and go to some country in the mideast and try what they did in this instance! Tromp on the isis flag, etc.! They are nothing but whiners and they disgrace their ancestors, and present day, hard working Black people! They yell “white privilege yet, they have so many great role models that are Congress men and women, CEOs, business owners, judges, etc. yet, they claim they are “downtrodden”! Bull!
    They are just too lazy to work for what they want; they want it given to them for what happened to their ancestors! They are just Trash! And, the “n” word, in the dictionary is defined as Trash! Guess that’s why they call each other the “N” word, because they know what they are!

  4. student_spectator

    If the ‘flag steppers’ feel so strongly about this, maybe they should turn down financial assistance and scholarships offered them by the taxpayers and donors, including alumni. The most UNRACIST way be equal is for everyone to pay their own fair share and not get special privileges afforded them through the admittance of inequality. Are you equals or not? If so, act like an equal. Step up and behave like you’ve belong in society. Otherwise, quit nursing off the public’s tit.

  5. Capt. Henry R. Parker, USA Ret.

    Today black children/adults are being kidnapped, tortured, raped and killed. This is worthy of protest. Not doing so leads me to believe that these particular students and their faculty advisors are ignorant. Black lives do matter and these students and faculty obviously don’t care and just want to hate bait.
    I am a veteran and I do believe in free speech but defacing my flag is an action that is despicable and if the University sanctioned these students then shame on the University.
    When I went to Armstrong in Savannah, protests had to sanctioned and we students were required to have valid school identification.

  6. Irrelevant of the disrespect shown by this African American group, the question here is:
    1. Where they on Campus grounds?
    2. Where they students?
    3. And, if so, are all groups allowed to protest on Campus Grounds.

    The Law:
    Friday, September 13, 2002
    Although the U.S. Supreme Court has twice invalidated state flag laws, 47 states still have on the books laws, many modeled after the Uniform Flag Law of 1917, that prohibit the desecration of the flag or its use for advertising and publicity purposes.
    Georgia
    The State of Georgia prohibits anyone from mutilating, defacing, defiling, or abusing contemptuously the U.S. flag, the Florida state flag or the flag of the Confederate States of America. The law also forbids the use of such flags for advertising or publicity purposes. [Ga. Code Ann. Sec. 50-3-8 and 50-3-9]
    Sec. 50-3-9. Abuse of federal, state, or Confederate flag unlawful.

    It shall be unlawful for any person, firm, or corporation to mutilate, deface, defile, or abuse contemptuously the flag of the United States, the flag, coat of arms, or emblem of the State of Georgia, or the flag or emblem of the Confederate States of America by any act whatever.

  7. Aren’t there rules regarding planned protests on the VCU campus? Don’t organizations have to file some kind of letter of intention with the student government before acting in this fashion?

    An unknown groups protesting with unknown and ill-defined intentions does not a protest make. Plus these “students” refused to provide ID when requested by the police?

    Ms. Manhart’s counter-protest was neither as illegal or obstructive as some people (particularly the administration) would like to make out.

  8. What is the point of a protest (especially one that is so intentionally provocative) if they won’t “make clear” who they are and what they are protesting?

  9. Looks like there may be a state law in play here which protects the US flag and even the Confederate flag.

    .http://law.justia.com/codes/georgia/2010/title-50/chapter-3/article-1/50-3-9/

    At any rate, the action of the students was despicable and deserves condemnation. The action of the campus cops was also poor and shows a lack of training in being unable to properly defuse this situation. I hope this lady sues VSU.

  10. As an Alumni of VSU, the father of two children that attended VSU, the husband of a VSU Alumni, and a veteran I am ashamed that the college administration is banning Ms Michelle Manhart ( a veteran who stood up and defended our flag from disrespectful persons) from any school activity including graduation. That is not the right decision by the administrators. This is the wimpiest, most Politically Correct PC statement I have ever read. Shame on VSU administrators You have tarnished the image of VSU in the eyes of all patriots and the nation.

    In response to VSU’s pathetic PC statement “Our primary concern is the safety of our students………. on campus.” I say I am glad that my children no longer attend VSU. I would fear for their safety not because Ms Manhart stood up for our flag, but because of groups like the protesters that advocate the ruin of our nation. Did anyone ever check the IDs of the protesters to see if they were even students of VSU? Speaking of rights, several years ago (please correct me if I am wrong) but didn’t VSU punish a student who drew a cartoon objecting the building of a parking complex and increasing student activity fees by making him withdraw from school. What happened to his rights of free speech?

  11. Sure they have a right to protest but i would not say walking over the flag is completely protected by the first amendment. People need to familiarize themselves with SCOTUS ruling in Virginia v Black as it could easily be used as precedent for something of this situation.

    • Virginia v. Black ruled that Virginia’s statue against cross burning was unconstitutional so that may not be the best evidence in support of your argument.
      But we really don’t need to use an unrelated case to reference any way. The Texas v. Jonson case directly ruled that it is unconstitutional to prohibit desecration of the flag.

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