A group of veterans angered by an American flag bearing the image of President Barack Obama descended on the local Democratic party headquarters in central Florida and demanded it be taken down.
Obama’s face filled the blue-and-stars section of the flag, which was flying underneath the traditional American one on a flagpole at the Lake County Democratic Party headquarters.
“It’s a cult of personality to show his face, like Stalin or Mao,” John Masterjohn, a former Marine and retired schoolteacher from Leesburg, told the Orlando Sentinel. “It’s despicable. They don’t realize how sick they are.”
“When I saw the picture on the flag, I thought this is wrong,” he told the Daily Commercial. “I really hate seeing the flag not being respected, and to me this was not respectful.”
He added that the issue wasn’t about politics: “I really don’t care what party it is. If it had been a picture of Romney on the flag, I would have done the same thing.”
A small group of veterans went to the office Tuesday afternoon and demanded it be removed – or they would take it down themselves. They alleged it was in violation of the federal flag code, though altering an American flag doesn’t constitute a crime, Jim Lake, an adjunct professor at the Stetson University College of Law in Tampa, told the Sentinel.
“For good reason, these folks want to encourage respect for the flag, and while such an alteration may be considered disrespectful, the federal government doesn’t allow penalties against those who disrespect the flag,” Lake said.
The federal flag code is “just standards on how civilians might use the flag,” he said, noting that the Supreme Court has ruled that those who burn or intentionally desecrate the flag are protected by the First Amendment.
Nancy Hurlbert, chairwoman of the local Democratic party, told the group that they could not remove the flag, which was given as a gift: “We are proud of our president, we’re proud of the United States, and we felt it was time to display that.”
She eventually took it down after Don Van Beck, executive director of the Veterans Memorial and a Korean War veteran, read a portion of the federal flag code that the article “should never have placed upon it or any part of it, any marks, insignia, letters, words, figures, designs, picture or drawings of any nature.”
“If somebody had just called ahead of time, we could have avoided all of this,” Hurlbert said, according to the Daily Commercial.
Van Beck said he was “sorry it had to come to this.”
“ … You don’t desecrate the flag, especially for the veterans who fought the wars and died for it. In dictatorships, they have a picture of their dictator on some of the flags, but we haven’t arrived at having a dictator, yet.”
Conservatives took to social media to decry the flag, a reproduction of which is selling on ebay for $27.