A planned American flag burning at LSU ended before it started when more than 1,000 LSU students and other protestors forced police to intervene before violence broke out.
LSU graduate student Benjamin Haas had planned to burn an American flag at noon Wednesday on the Parade Ground to promote his First Amendment rights and in support of an LSU student arrested last week for stealing and burning a flag.
Haas received a peaceful protest permit from LSU, but he had not yet received a burn permit from the parish yet, so he decided not to burn the flag, according to LSU.
Haas did have a prepared statement to read, but an angry mob mentality took over and LSU Police escorted him out in a police car for his safety before he could talk.
The “angry mob mentality” reference is obviously the author’s own opinion, and this story on a local TV news station’s site reports only that, “Several people tossed water balloons and water bottles at the man. The graduate student was then escorted away by LSU Police.” But while tossing water balloons and water bottles in order to suppress speech (or symbolic expression, whether it’s burning a flag or burning a Koran) isn’t the worst form of thuggery, it is a form of thuggery nonetheless (assuming the press accounts are correct).
Note that if there’s a content-neutral rule that requires a burn permit for open burning of things (other than very small items such as cigarettes, cake candles, and the like), that requirement might well be applicable to flag burning as well. But I’m pretty sure that the bottle-throwers weren’t trying to ensure faithful enforcement of fire codes, but were trying to use violence and the threat of more violence — possibly (depending on the facts) just petty violence, but violence nonetheless — to suppress expression they disapprove of.
I hope the thugs are prosecuted, just as I’m glad that that the earlier flag thief (a different person from Haas, who apparently didn’t steal the flag he wanted to burn) is being prosecuted. Naturally, those who were simply counterdemonstrating are expressing their own views, and have every right to do that. But the line between speaking and throwing bottles at other speakers is a pretty clear line, and it’s the line between free speech (quite possibly highly laudable free speech) and thuggery.
UPDATE: See also this LSU student newspaper article; thanks to commenter Urso for the pointer.