An annual tribute to the 2,977 lives lost on Sept. 11 ended prematurely after five students from Middlebury College ripped American flags from the ground in protest, stuffing them into black trash bags before a fellow student stopped them.
The students — four females and one male — were caught tearing the more than 2,000 American flags placed near the campus chapel from the ground and stuffing them into black trash bags. Set up as a bipartisan tribute to the victims of 9/11 by the Vermont school’s College Republicans and Democrats, the protesters claimed the flags were placed on top of a “sacred Abenaki burial site,” the school’s newspaper, The Middlebury Campus, reported.
“Today, while walking up the hill to Mead Chapel, I witnessed five individuals ripping the flags out of the ground and un-ceremonially throwing them into black garbage bags,” College Republican President Ben Kinney wrote on the group’s Facebook page. “I immediately confronted them and asked them what they were doing, and they angrily replied that Middlebury College sits on Abenaki burial ground and that it is ‘extremely offensive to stick anything in the ground, especially American flags, which are symbolic of their death and oppression.'”
Kinney, who set the flags up himself Tuesday night, continued, writing the students told him both the College Republicans and Democrats were “commemorating the wrong deaths,” and justified their protest, calling it a “protest against American imperialism.”
The young President took one of the bags from the protesters before the group ran from the site. Kinney has since filed a police report.
According to the Middlebury Campus, the two student groups have been placing American flags in the grass between Mead Chapel and the Davis Family Library for approximately 10 years. Campuses nationwide take part in similar tributes as part of the Young America’s Foundation’s 9/11: Never Forget Project.
“Since 2003, Young America’s Foundation has worked with students from across the country to ensure that the 2,977 victims who were murdered in the 9/11 terror attacks be remembered by participating in the 9/11: Never Forget Project,” Hillary Cherry, YAF’s program officer for public relations, told Red Alert Politics in an email. “By ripping the American flags from the ground the five protestors not only disrespected their fellow students who worked hard setting up the display, but they also took away the chance for other students to remember the victims of the horrific attacks.
“Twelve years ago 2,977 people were murdered simply because they were Americans. Each of the protestors should apologize for dismantling a beautiful display honoring American heroes and interfering with their fellow students’ freedom of speech.”
Two of the protesters — Anna Shireman-Grabowski and Amanda Lickers — issued statements via the website Climate Connections, which calls the protest an “act of solidarity.”
“My heart swelled and I knew in my core that thousands of American flags should not penetrate the earth where my abenaki brothers and sisters sleep,” Lickers wrote. “We have all survived so much – and as a visitor on their territories I took action to respect them and began pulling up all of the flags. … Yesterday I said no to settler occupation. I took those flags. It is a small reclamation and modest act of resistance.”
Shireman-Grabowski, a student at Middlebury, echoed her sentiments.
“While the American flags on the Middlebury hillside symbolize to some the loss of innocent lives in New York, to others they represent centuries of bloody conquest and mass murder,” she wrote. “As a settler on stolen land, I do not have the luxury of grieving without an eye to power. Three thousand flags is a lot, but the campus is not big enough to hold a marker for every life sacrificed in the history of American conquest and colonialism.”
Despite the protest, the College Republicans will not be deterred, as Kinney wrote yesterday.
“I just wanted to let you guys know that I fully intend to carry on this tradition, and believe it to be extremely vital in making sure that this day is remembered among younger college students who may have been too young to watch that day’s events on television back in 2001,” he wrote.
This piece has been updated to include new information.