‘This is America. Like It or Leave It’

As he began to make his way into politics, right-wing Rep. Barry Loudermilk gained attention for a jingoistic op-ed seizing on events in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks to attack “political correctness.”

Loudermilk’s column, entitled “This is America. Like It or Leave It,” ran in the Bartow Trader newspaper in Georgia in 2001, the same year he was elected leader of that county’s Republican Party. While the future lawmaker did reference actual events, the actual outcome is left out of the subsequent versions of his column that have appeared online. The op-ed begins by saying:

At a high school in Oklahoma, school officials remove “God Bless America” signs from schools in fear that someone might be offended.

This was a reference to events in the Broken Arrow school district. As KOTV-TV reported at the time:

The district released a statement saying almost immediately after the phrase God Bless America appeared. “Many phone calls were received objecting to the placement of God on those school marquees.” But parents we talked to say they want it back, and don’t know of anyone who wants “God” removed. Steve Selberg, “personally with the tragedy that’s going on I can’t understand why anybody would call in and say gee whiz you need to take that off.” Karen Woodard-Indian Springs parent, “maybe one or two people may have complained but the majority of us all feel this way. And we’re happy that it’s God Bless America.”

According to other accounts, the principal of another local school, Wolf Creek Elementary, spent $100 for a banner displaying the slogan. But the objections to these displays invoking religious imagery did not just come from “civil libertarians.”

“Any time people choose to disregard things related to prayer at a football game, in light of the United States Supreme Court ruling, there is a concern,” civil rights attorney Michael Salem told the Oklahoman newspaper in Oklahoma City, adding, “Are we just going to ignore the Supreme Court on this? I don’t think so.”

The newspaper further reported that the the Oklahoma State School Boards Association allowed displays saying “God Bless America” to stand, provided they were “part of a patriotic display.” So the controversy that Loudermilk was invoking was quickly rendered moot.

The column continues:

At a Long Island, New York television station, management orders flags removed from the newsroom, and red, white, and blue ribbons removed from the lapels of reporters. Why? Management did not want to appear biased, and felt that our nation’s flag might give the appearance that “they lean one way or another.”

This is a reference to the channel News 12, which spurred a backlash after Patrick Dolan, senior vice president of the station’s parent company, Cablevision Systems Corporation barred on-air talent from wearing lapel pins depicting the U.S. flag. As the New York Times reported at the time, the station released a statement explaining the move:

Like everyone else, we feel shock, and pain, and anger, and we want to respond. Our way of responding, as journalists, is to do what the First Amendment of the United States Constitution compels us to do. To report the facts objectively, and to give all sides of a story, without even a hint of bias. There is no ban on the American flag at News 12. You can be sure all of us at News 12 are good Americans.

But here, again, the decision was quickly reversed.

“In attempting to clarify just how the flag should be used on the air, we inadvertently touched off a painful controversy,” Dolan said. “This issue seems to have rubbed salt in the wounds of so many people who are trying their best to cope with this horrendous event. I apologize personally for any pain this may have caused anyone.”

Loudermilk also wrote:

Officials in a California city ban U.S. flags from being displayed on city fire trucks because they didn’t want to offend anyone in the community.

This is a reference to — and a mischaracterization of — the dispute in Berkeley, California between then-City Manager Weldon Rucker and then-Mayor Shirley Dean, as well as local firefighters, who bristled when Rucker ordered their department vehicles to stop bearing the flag to prevent possible vandalism at an anti-war rally on September 20 2001, nine days after the attacks against New York City and Washington D.C.

“There are lots of protesters out there right now, and the situation has the potential of getting out of hand very quickly,” a fire department spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times regarding the order. “If we went to a fire there with these big flags atop our trucks, somebody would do something–take them off and wave it or take it off and burn it. We don’t need to worry about protecting the flag, which the guys would do, if their first job is performing a rescue or fighting fires.”

While then-Fire Chief Reginald Garcia also issued the order to his department, Dean said she heard from firefighters who were upset by the decision.

“I don’t think the American flag is inciteful and neither do they,” she said at the time. “It’s certainly not a symbol of war, but of the freedoms we enjoy here. I’m proud of it.”

The following day, after the protest unfolded without any violence, Garcia rescinded the order and apologized.

This was far from the “ban” that Loudermilk described. He also wrote:

In an “act of tolerance,” the head of the public library at a Florida university ordered all “Proud to be an American” signs removed so as to not offend international students.

This is a reference to Kathy Hoeth, then-head librarian at Florida Gulf Coast University. Hoeth became the subject of news stories and another public backlash after she ordered staff to stop wearing stickers — not signs — bearing the patriotic message. As the Washington Post reported:

On one overheated day, the little-known campus counted 403 e-mails of protest from people who it suspected had probably never heard of the university before.

Here, again, the decision was reversed; Hoeth was also suspended.

“Her motivations were good, even though her decision was bad,” a university spokesperson said.

As the op-ed has spread online, different versions have named the locations Loudermilk references in it. They have also retained the remarks he made while claiming he was “not against immigration”:

First of all, it is not our responsibility to continually try not to offend you in any way. This idea of America being a multi-cultural community has served only to dilute our sovereignty and our national identity. As Americans, we have our own culture, our own society, our own language, and our own lifestyle.

We speak English, not Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, or any other language. Therefore, if you wish to become part of our society, learn our language!

As a lawmaker, Loudermilk has staked out similarly right-wing positions: he compared the December 2019 impeachment of then-President Donald Trump to the crucifixion of Jesus; he was one of 140 House Republicans who in January 2021 voted to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, which Trump lost (despite claims to the contrary).

Loudermilk was later identified as the person giving a tour of the Capitol to a group of people who took photographs and video of areas “not typically of interest to tourists, including hallways, staircases, and security checkpoints,” a day before the January 6 2021 coup attempt by Trump supporters against the U.S. government. He has since requested records from both the House committee that investigated the attack and the National Archives related to the incident.

Update 9/8/2023, 2:31 a.m.: This article has been revamped and updated. You can review the original here. — ag