Rebel flags fly in the face of controversy
For Skyler Gee, entering the Pioneer Days parade in Kamas last week with a float that displayed at least three confederate flags was just for show.
He was scheduled to compete in the demolition derby the next day, so he fashioned his car to resemble the one driven in the television series "The Dukes of Hazzard," replete with the confederate flags and car horn that tooted the tune "Dixie."
He understood the rebel flag is a hot-button issue across the country. He says some might associate the flags with recent events elsewhere, such as the killings at a South Carolina church, and be offended by his actions.
That wasn’t his point, he says, and he lays claim to a First Amendment right to fly any flag he chooses.
"I knew that it was a hot subject," he said a few days later, "and that was also part of the reason I put them on there because this is America, this is the land of the free, (home) of the brave, and I just figured you know it would go good with the car, it would catch a lot of attention."
Gee’s display caused little stir in Kamas, said Mayor Lew Marchant. No one complained to him, and no one objected to the float. He said he was unaware of the confederate flags until days after the parade.
"You know, people have a right to display that as far as I’m concerned," the mayor said. "I’m not offended by it. Most people just assume that’s kind of part of our country. I don’t take offense by it and I feel bad if people do."
Gee, who said he flies the confederate flag on his personal vehicle during the week, first had the idea a few years ago. When he decided to enter the demolition derby as part of Kamas’ Fiesta Days, he took a 1969 Riviera and was reshaping the body when it dawned on him that the car resembled the Dodge Charger named "General Lee" in the "Dukes of Hazzard" television show. A good friend had a car similar to a police cruiser. His friend entered the parade as "Roscoe," the cop car from the show. Gee entered his as "General Gee."
In the television show, the charger displays the confederate flag. Gee decided to follow suit. He says he understood the risk. In the past month, the South Carolina state legislature famously voted to remove the confederate flag from its capitol grounds following the killing of nine African-American worshipers in a church. The rebel flag historically has offended African Americans, recalling slavery, and traditionally has been a staple of white-supremacist groups.
Gee says his motives were far from the controversy.
"I know (the issue) is hot and there’s a lot of people upset about the flag. There’s a lot of people upset about everything in America right now. The way I look at it, is it is freedom of expression and I love expressing my free rights. That’s what America needs to go back to, expressing its rights," he said.
What motivates him to display the flag?
"Honestly I don’t even know. I grew up (with) a bunch of small-town guys that see things a lot different than the rest of the world. We all grew up you did what you did in this world. You don’t kill anybody, you don’t do anything bad. You just live your life.
"I just was trying to have fun, that’s all I was doing," he said.
He said he had no intent to offend anyone.
"Absolutely not. I mean if people did get offended by it, I don’t know what to tell them. It is what it is. I fly the flags on my truck. I fly an American flag and a confederate flag at the same time. It’s just a small-town fun thing. I don’t have anything to do with race or hating anybody."
Dan Limb, the parade organizer, said had he known of the confederate flag ahead of time, he would have checked with the mayor about pulling the float.
"I guess I understand how it could be offensive to people and I would never want that," Limb said. "If someone is offended by that I would not want that in the parade."
The mayor said he had no problem with the displaying the flags on the float.
"The confederate flag and all of that’s kind of part of the history of our country. If we hadn’t had this uproar in the South recently, I don’t think anybody’d thought anything about it," Marchant said, adding that some might be offended, "but I’m not.
"Like I say, I think it’s part of our history and if we can’t understand a little bit of that I think we need to take a step back and maybe look at things (and) try to get along with each other a little bit."
Gee faired poorly in the demolition derby, he said. His was the first car knocked out of his heat. But before that, he won the award for the best-looking car of the night.
Still, he says he is undaunted. He plans to enter another demolition derby in September at the Utah State Fair. Will he use the same car, and fly the rebel symbol? Absolutely, he says.
"It will be the General Gee, with the flags and all," he said.
Meredith Reed was elected to a two-year term as chair of the Summit County Democratic Party and said she sees an opportunity to ride the so-called blue wave that saw a Democratic surge nationally and within the state.