Apparently the Arizona news media have missed a major story.
It involves wandering gangs of unwashed radicals, traveling across America and burning flags all over the land. The problem is so serious the Arizona Legislature is circling the wagons to keep them out of your neighborhood.
For this, we have Sen. Jack Harper, R-Surprise, to thank. It was he who alerted the state to the threat, in these words delivered Monday at the Capitol:
“We don’t need all these losers that travel the country protesting, never taking a shower, burning the flag. . . .”
Fortunately, Harper found a ready legislative vehicle to express his alarm. It is House Bill 2694, which has been pending in the Legislature since early this year. It would outlaw the burning of crosses on public or private property “with the intent of intimidating any person or group of persons.” The offense would be a Class 1 misdemeanor, just short of felony status.
Cross-burning, as even the most casual student of history must know, is no frivolous gesture. It is virtually synonymous with terror in the night. The kind of terror inflicted on blacks by the Ku Klux Klan. The kind of terror that involves lynchings, beatings, whippings. The kind of terror that perhaps can only be understood by someone with dark skin and memories, either firsthand or passed down from family, of what those night riders have done.
Under HB2694, it will be the sense of the people of Arizona that to burn a cross to convey even the hint of that kind of threat is a crime.
Now, someone tried to reason with Harper during Monday’s deliberations that burning a flag is not quite the same thing. Yes, the flag is sacred to many. But these smelly hordes of roving flag-burners are not trying to threaten or intimidate anyone, said Sen. Bill Brotherton, R-Phoenix. They’re just trying to make a point, whatever it may be.
But Harper pressed on. Burning a flag is meant to intimidate veterans, he said. And these two-fisted war veterans, after knocking the tar out of Nazis and commies, now need legal protection from mostly unarmed, often painfully skinny incendiaries.
Harper’s amendment lost 9-15 when it came up for an unrecorded vote, when a lawmaker’s true principles are perhaps most on display. But when he demanded senators go on record, some realized the error of their ways; it passed 14-8.
One more vote in the Senate is needed for that body’s final approval, then the House must sign on, and then the governor.
Only then will Arizona be safe from this plague of burning flags. The timing could hardly be better; wildfire season is upon us again.