Veteran and former Playboy model scuffles with cops during flag protest
(NY Daily News) VALDOSTA, Ga. – Don’t tread on this flag.
That’s the message Air Force veteran and former Playboy model Michelle Manhart says she was trying to convey by picking up a damaged flag that protesters had been stomping on in a demonstration at Valdosta State University in southern Georgia on Friday.
But before she could spirit the flag away, police officers intervened to return the Old Glory to the protesters who were trampling it and escort Manhart off the premises, according to a video of the incident Manhart has posted to Facebook.
The video shows her walking away with the flag briefly as police converge. Manhart, who is white, and the protesters, all of whom are African-American, jaw at one another in the taped incident.
“You enslaved our people,” one of the demonstrators says. “You put us in this white supremacist place. And you’re stealing our flag now.”
A protester also grabs on to the flag’s pole in an attempt to claim it back, but the demonstrators eventually give way as three cops wrestle Manhart to the ground in the footage.
“We gave you a lawful command to let go of this flag, m’am,” one police officer tells Manhart. “This flag does not belong to you.”
The officers handcuffed her and gave the flag back to the applauding demonstrators. But Manhart calls one of the cops a “spiny piece of s—” before being led away to a police cruiser in the video.
Neither the demonstrators nor the police decided to press charges against Manhart, but she did receive a campus trespass warning that bars her from campus activities, university spokesman Andy Clark told The Valdosta Daily Times.
A defiant Manhart told the local newspaper that she’s planning her own event to show support for the military and the Stars and Stripes on Wednesday. She said she doesn’t approve of Supreme Court rulings that protect flag trampling and flag burning as free speech under the First Amendment, according to the Daily Times.
“The bald eagle is a symbol of our country, and back in the 80s it was put on the endangered species list,” Manhart said.
“You can’t touch that bird. It’s illegal. If we can do that with a bird, why can’t we place that same value on the flag?”
University officials, on the other hand, affirmed the protesters’ right to stomp on the flag but made it clear that they too disapproved of desecrating it.
“The American flag represents everything that is best about our country,” Dr. William J. McKinney, president of Valdosta State, said in a statement posted on the university’s Facebook page. “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.”
Valdosta State University
College & University
Statement in response to the campus protests and the American flag from President William J. McKinney:
“Dear VSU students, faculty, and staff,
The American flag represents everything that is best about our country. 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.”
We respect the rights of people to peacefully assemble and voice their opinions. Our primary concern is the safety of our students, faculty and staff and our ability to carry out our responsibilities to all our students on campus.
For further questions or information, please contact the VSU Office of Communications at 229-333-2163.
Manhart, a one-time military instructor in the Air Force, resigned from the service in 2008 after receiving a reprimand and a demotion for her naked pictures in Playboy magazine the year before, the Daily Times reported.