The United States has seen lots of robust political protest in recent days, spanning social media and the Women's March, but burning the American flag is still seen by many as a symbolic gesture that goes too far.
So when a group of particularly inflamed protestors in Portland, Oregon referred to America as "an empire of blood" with an "angry orange emperor," and decided to signal their displeasure with the newly sworn-in President Trump by burning the American flag, it didn't sit well with Marine veteran Eric Post,Task and Purpose reports,
"The former combat engineer, who served in the mid-1990s at Camp Lejeune and is now co-owner of a real estate company, arrived home late Friday afternoon on the day of the inauguration to find a few images of burning flags a friend had texted him. He immediately decided to go down to the protest site at Pioneer Courthouse Square and confront the demonstrators."
His wife of 21 years thought this might not be the best approach. “On my drive, she used a pretty powerful weapon against me,” he told Task & Purpose. It was a text from his daughter: “I love you daddy.”
Post immediately headed to the nearby Willamette National Cemetery to think things over for a minute. Stepping out of the car to collect his thoughts, he found himself near the area of the cemetery dedicated to the memory of local Medal of Honor recipients, and he started reading the plaques describing their acts of bravery. “I found myself overcome with emotion that there were thousands buried there that did not have the ability to tell their stories and speak up the way I can,” he remembered.
Post then pulled out his phone and recorded a heartfelt message aimed squarely at the flag-burning protesters.
“Hey protesters…” he began, alone on a quiet hill, his eyes wet with tears. “You want to burn the flag, it’s your right. I get that.” He didn’t insult anyone. He made no threats. He skipped the kind of language that a Marine might employ under the circumstances. He just tried to explain why the agitators’ decision to exercise their First Amendment rights in this particular manner was so hurtful to so many people. Then he suggested they “meet me up here sometime, and we can take a tour, and you can learn a little bit about sacrifice and pride and honor.”
The video concludes, “Your day will come. Maybe you’ll get wise one day and realize that the symbol of the flag isn’t what you’re protesting. That’s what gives you the ability to protest. You should cherish that, not burn it.”
In the four days since it was posted, the emotional video has been viewed more than 2 million times. And just two days after posting the video to Facebook, he was back at the cemetery addressing a crowd of over 100 people who'd decided to take Post up on his offer.
“If you’re just simply trying to piss people off, you’re doing a pretty good job of it,” he said. “Please have your grievances with the new elected president. That’s okay. But please don’t disrespect you and me in the process.”
He then made a radical suggestion. At a time when Americans are so bitterly divided, what if the flag itself became one area of common ground? What if we looked at it as a symbol of our freedom to voice our opinions? “Wouldn’t that be cool?” he asked. “Wouldn’t it be cool if the immigrant that came here and was able to start a business and escape the prosecution of where they’re at — that’s what the flag means to him. Why would that protester burn it for that person?”
While the protesters that inspired Post to record his video were no where to be found, his message still proved to be far-reaching.
"The crowd was made up of people who’d simply been moved by Post’s heartfelt message. One woman, he recalled, had driven for four hours to attend. She told him she was from Palau, the South Pacific island that had fallen to the Japanese during World War I, liberated by American forces in World War II and later granted sovereignty. Holding his hands in hers, she told him that his original Facebook video had found its way to the island, and that her countrymen had asked her to come deliver their thanks in person."
Of course, President Trump had his own response to the flag-burning incident.
Post told Task and Purpose that he was made aware of Trump's tweet through a friend, and as you might expect, he's responded once again with clear-headed poise.
“'Last night, a buddy sent me a screenshot of Trump’s tweet and said, ‘Look what you did!’” Post told us. “He was kidding. But it would be very easy for me to rally behind that. That would be the easy route. But I’m not sure, because I think there’s a better way. In general, if you try and force people to feel a certain way you’re going to be met with heavy resistance. They’ll galvanize against you.'”
With a cool temperament and rational approach to addressing radical people, Post sounds like the kind of vet who might even run for office some day. Task and Purpose asked him about that, too:
"He’s not ruling it out, although like any smart entrepreneur in a politically divided region, he’s not quite ready to say which party he’d represent. “I’m financially conservative and more in the middle on social issues,” he said. 'It’s hard to 100 percent apply a label, but more on conservative side, I’d say.'"
Judging from the response to his video, sounds like Post might have a fighting chance.