- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 25, 2015

A Georgia college cancelled classes Friday in anticipation of a rally for a military veteran who was arrested for taking an American flag from student protestors.

Valdosta State University became a hotbed of controversy last week when Air Force veteran Michelle Manhart took an American flag away from a group of students trampling it during a protest against racism. A video of the encounter quickly went viral online.

The southern Georgia university sided with the students, saying they had a constitutional right to trample the flag. Ms. Manhart was issued a criminal trespass warning and banned from the campus and all student activities, including graduation and football games. She is not a student.

Fox News reported Friday that the university opted to give students and staff the day off ahead of a massive, 90-minute afternoon rally on the outskirts of campus. Organizers told Fox on Friday that they expected as many as 4,000 people to attend the “Flags Over Valdosta” event.

“That level of traffic and that many people will disrupt a lot of things in the city,” university spokesman Andy Clark said, Fox reported. “We’re, from an overall safety perspective, looking to close the campus down today so they can have a peaceful rally.”

Ms. Manhart, who was relieved of duty after posing nude for Playboy in February 2007, told Fox that she hopes the school will lift the ban and let her back on campus.

“I hope they lift the ban because I do support the college,” she said. “I always have and I will continue to support the college. And I hope that once things calm down maybe they’ll reconsider and lift that ban off of me.” Ms. Manhart owns a tanning salon in Valdosta.

She said that the students who trampled the flag were wrong and showed a total lack of respect for their country.

“To me it’s just a complete disrespect, to not only the men and women that are out there fighting for it but their freedom as a whole,” she said, Fox reported. “In my opinion they don’t have any respect for what they’ve been given and I just don’t think that’s right.”

This week campus police found a backpack containing a handgun and traced it to one of the flag-walking protestors, Eric Sheppard.

Police issued a warrant for Mr. Sheppard’s arrest on charges of bringing a firearm onto a college campus. Mr. Sheppard fled and has not been found by authorities, according to Fox.

• Kellan Howell can be reached at khowell@washingtontimes.com.

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