Some residents in Palos Verdes Estates are up in arms over a Confederate battle flag seen flying over a homeowner's backyard.
The flag, which is a replica of the Confederate battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, bears the names of major Civil War battles including Gettysburg, Sharpsburg, Cedar Mountain and Groveton.
Its owner is Joe Ryan, 74, a Civil War buff who’s lived in the 1500 block of Via Montemar with his wife for roughly 40 years. He also has a website and Youtube channel where he shares his Civil War knowledge.
Ryan, a retired attorney, said the flag is not meant to threaten anyone or to support slavery or racism, but rather intended as an acknowledgement of history and a reminder of the racial history of the United States.
“It’s a historical reality,” Ryan said Monday. “That’s what it is… If you don’t understand history and you don’t learn from it, how are you going to deal with America today and understand how the country got to where it is?”
But the Confederate’s origins in trying preserve slavery, and its resurgence to support segregation during the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s is the biggest offense, critics say.
Neighbor Lu Ana Bercier said the Confederate flag has no place in the Palos Verdes Estates community. Bercier acknowledged, however, there may be nothing she and others can do about removing it, as the flag is on private property, and there’s no law against flying it.
“I don’t care what he says about history. He knows what he’s doing up there and he is flying a flag of hate, even if he is entitled to do it,” Bercier said.
Last year, a settlement with the California Attorney General and the Center for Individual Rights determined the government could not prohibit an individual from displaying a Confederate flag or other hate speech on private property.
The American Civil Liberties Union has recognized the rights of individuals to display symbols others might find offensive, however unsaviory.
“The Confederate flag is a racist and deeply offensive symbol. But, the courts have repeatedly held that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting speech on someone’s private property on the ground that others find the speech hurtful, racist, or profoundly offensive,” wrote ACLU of Southern California attorney Peter Eliasberg.
Ryan, who's from Missouri, said he flies the Confederate Flag that's visible from Palos Verdes Drive West about four times a year. He chose July 1 and 2 to commemorate the first days of the battle of Gettysburg. On Monday, July 2, he said he planned to fly a Union flag with 33 stars, as it appeared during the Civil War, to mark the Union’s eventual victory at Gettysburg.
In the past two years, Ryan has heard from a couple of neighbors, one of whom he said left notes in his mail box about the flag, but never confronted him personally.
A recent post on the website Nextdoor has a handful of residents split on the topic in Palos Verdes Estates, some preferring to let him fly the flag on the grounds of freedom of speech. Palos Verdes Estates City Manager Anton Dahlerbruch said the city was looking into what could be done about the flag.
“That flag is offensive and upsetting to many, many people, and doesn’t keep with the values we cherish in Palos Verdes Estates,” Dahlerbruch wrote in a statement. “Although the First Amendment protects all types of speech, we are monitoring the situation.”
The city of PVE has a relatively strict homeowners association that requires certain features on local homes such as red tile roofs and restrictions such as the height of flag poles, which Ryan's pole complies. So far, the association has not weighed in on the flag. Ryan said he doesn’t care what people think.
“I don’t really give a damn about the politics of liberal idiots who want to look at that flag and say, 'oh that’s racist,'” Ryan said. “The last person you can call a racist is me.”
The community of Palos Verdes Estates has a history of racism, something Ryan said should be recognized. Up until the 1960s, homeowners in PVE and elsewhere were prohibited from selling their homes to African Americans, something that was explicitly written into the deeds, Ryan said.
For Bercier, who understands the racial past in her community, that’s all the more reason to remove the flag.
“That flag is very controversial,” Bercier said. “It’s a flag of an oppressive time in our country that’s very horrible. Now we’re in a time when we are locking up children at the border… These little things happen and before you know it, everything is okay because nobody stood up and said anything.”
In the end, Bercier speculated there could be something positive to come out of her neighbor putting up a Confederate flag nearing Independence Day.
“Maybe it will enable us to have these conversations,” she said.