Old Glory in flames — it’s so surreal it seems almost impossible in conservative and patriotic Susanville.
But on Tuesday, Dec. 20 not one but two flags at the Lassen Historical Museum on Weatherlow Street were set on fire.
Jim Uptegrove, Susanville’s interim chief of police confirmed the incident. He said as city employee Dow Davis drove past the museum Tuesday morning, he noticed, “the flag was looking pretty tattered.” When Davis stopped to investigate, he discovered the flag had been burned. Davis removed the burned flag, replaced it and “ran it back up the flagpole.”
A short time later, Uptegrove said, “Someone called and said, ‘Your flag’s on fire.’ He (Dow) went back down there and someone had burned that one, too. I think it was within an hour or so. Anyway, he replaced the flag again.”
Uptegrove said the perpetrator has not been identified.
“It’s kind of crazy,” Uptegrove said. “It is unusual.”
Uptegrove suspects the same person probably burned both flags and may have even seen Dow raise the second flag. The suspect probably lit the flags on fire and then raised them up the flagpole as they burned.
While the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled burning the American flag is protected as free speech under the First Amendment, Uptegrove said that determination does not apply, and this incident is a crime.
“It’s vandalism because it’s not their flag,” Uptegrove said. “It’s somebody else’s flag. If you go down to the store and buy your own flag, I suppose you have the right to do with it as you wish. When you’re burning someone else’s flag — like the city’s flag — that’s vandalism.”
Uptegrove said the flag burner didn’t leave a note or make a statement, so his or her motivation or intention is unclear.
Uptegrove said it’s possible someone may have seen something Tuesday morning, and anyone with information about the flag burning incidents is encouraged to call the Susanville Police Department at 257-5603.