A volunteer firefighter who said he was protesting political correctness by flying a Confederate battle flag alongside the American flag during an Independence Day parade in Minnesota has been suspended, he said, after photos of the display went viral.
“I didn’t think it was going to be a big deal, but boy was I wrong,” Hartland Fire Department volunteer Brian Nielsen, 43, told the Associated Press. He told the Associated Press that he was informed of his suspension Sunday, pending an investigation by the fire department. “More than likely I’ll probably be asked to step down. I respect that and will do that if they want,” he added.
Nielsen’s protest on July 3 came days before the South Carolina state legislature was slated to debate a measure that would remove the Confederate battle flag from its post outside of the state Capitol. It’s the highest-profile instance of a larger push to eliminate many public displays of the flag in response to a brutal mass shooting that left nine people dead at an African American church in South Carolina.
Dylann Roof, the accused Charleston, S.C., gunman, had in the past posed with the flag and other Confederate symbols. “You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go,” he is said to have told his victims at the church.
For Nielsen, however, the debate over the flag isn’t about race. “I don’t see race,” he told the Associated Press. “Black and white are the same to me. My belief is that ‘politically correct’ is going too far.”
In another interview with the Albert Lea Tribune, Nielsen said that he’s not “up for the rebel or the slavery part of it,” adding: “It’s history. They’re trying to take this flag away. They’re basically trying to change the history and abolish it and get rid of it.”
Nielsen, who said he had no idea that the whole thing would get as much attention as it did, added that he is willing to publicly apologize for his decision to fly the flag at the parade to the Albert Lea Chamber of Commerce, if he’s asked to.
— Dale Moerke (@demoerke) July 4, 2015
Randy Kehr, executive director of the chamber, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that it was “unfortunate” someone decided to fly the Confederate flag at the parade. He said that the controversy was a “difficult situation” because it is “within [Nielsen’s] right” to fly the flag, which he agreed was “a part of history.”
However, Kehr said that if he knew about Nielsen’s plan before the parade was underway, he would have asked the volunteer firefighter “respectfully not to fly it.”