Two of the men, the congressman said, were wearing Donald Trump T-shirts.
Sightings of the Confederate flag, a symbol of slavery and white supremacy, had become increasingly common during the presidential campaign as the president-elect’s anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric energized white supremacist groups and members of the so-called alt-right movement.
“I’ve been doing this parade now for a dozen years. I have never seen anything like that. No one I know has ever seen anything like that,” Huffman, who was elected Tuesday to his third term representing California’s northern coast, told The Washington Post. “It’s no coincidence that this kind of thing is presenting itself after Donald Trump’s victory.”
Huffman snapped a picture as one of the men looked directly at him. “More ugliness is coming,” he wrote later when he shared the photo on Twitter. “Wonder if they know what those flags really stood for?”
In his victory speech Wednesday morning, President-elect Trump tried to strike a conciliatory tone and promised to be “president of all Americans” — a departure from his campaign’s rhetoric. He repeated the same message Saturday morning on Twitter. But evidence of division and vitriol seems to have intensified as thousands have joined a wave of anti-Trump protests across the country and reports of threats against Muslims, immigrants and other people of color have popped up in several communities.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there have been more than 200 incidents of harassment and intimidation since Trump was elected. Many were directed toward African Americans, immigrants, Muslims and the LGBT community.
The nonprofit group tallied individual incidents reported on the news and on social media, as well as those reported directly to the organization’s website. The center, however, cautioned that not all incidents involved direct references to Trump and that not every incident could be independently verified. Many of the incidents were vandalism, but others involved direct attacks.
Huffman said he was surprised to see Confederate flags in Petaluma, a Sonoma County town north of San Francisco.
“This is a community whose values are really the opposite of some of the extreme divisive values that we’ve seen in the Trump campaign,” Huffman said. “This is not the South. This is a strange place to be brandishing that message.”
Seeing them during the Veterans Day parade is also just as shocking, he said. “I think it was extremely insulting, not only to the veterans but to the entire community that came out to show their support for their country and veterans,” Huffman said. “This parade is always a very positive environment. This stood in very extreme contrast to what this parade and this community have always been about.”
Huffman said he would love to talk to the three men “to try to understand what they believe they’re saying with that symbol and to try to understand why they came to believe that way.”
“I would hope that they would reflect a little bit about the message they’re sending,” he said.