In a show of protest against President Donald Trump, a Democratic selectwoman on the local governing board of Haddam, Connecticut, highlighted political divisions by kneeling in council chambers during a July 16, 2018, board meeting.
Melissa Schlag was elected in 20127 as the lone Democrat on the three-person board of selectmen of Haddam, a town roughly 30 miles south of Hartford whose nearly 7,000 residents voted for Donald Trump by a narrow margin in the 2016 presidential election. She began kneeling during the Pledge of Allegiance on July 16, 2018, the day of Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland.
Art Linares is a Republican state senator in Connecticut who bested Schlag when she ran as a Green Party candidate for the state senate in 2012. He was one of the first to call on Schlag to resign after her symbolic protest.
Tim Herbst is a Republican candidate in the 2018 Connecticut gubernatorial race. Prior to that, he served as first selectman for Trumbull, CT, from 2009 to 2017. He also joined calls for Schlag’s resignation.
At the U.S.-Russia summit in Helsinki, Trump appeared to reject American intelligence community findings that Russia had interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections; the president seemed to give greater credibility to Putin’s claims that Russia had not meddled in the U.S. democratic system, according to The Washington Post.
The widespread uproar that followed the now-infamous press conference following the summit prompted Schlag to take a knee during the Pledge of Allegiance, which is recited at the beginning of every public meeting of the Haddam board of selectmen. Schlag said she was “inspired” by protests in the National Football League, where since 2016 players have knelt during the national anthem before football games, to register a symbolic protest against American racism and police brutality.
In a letter posted to her Facebook page, Schlag explained the decision as stemming from her opposition to Trump’s performance at the summit. as well as the administration’s so-called zero-tolerance policy that resulted in the separation of more than 2,000 immigrant families in the summer of 2018. “As long as Donald J. Trump is the president of the United States,” she wrote in a letter posted to Facebook, “I will kneel. I will kneel for all the people, regardless of party affiliation, and continue to fight for their rights. This is not the America I grew up in, or the country we should be, but I will work every day to get us back to that place.”
At first, CNN reported, Schlag did not receive any backlash. But at the following week’s meeting, the chamber was packed with military veterans who shouted at her as she protested. The meeting had to be moved to a different room to accommodate the large crowd, reported The Washington Times.
On July 25, in a “Fox & Friends” interview, Herbst called on Schlag to resign immediately. “One of the things the flag stands for — it stands for our freedom, it stands for our democracy. It stands for the fundamental ideal that we can have differences of opinion, but we all stand in respect of our flag because many people, including my 93-year-old grandfather who’s a veteran, fought in defense of the very liberty that the flag resembles [sic],” he said.
Linares, the Connecticut state senator whom Schlag ran against in 2012, also called for her resignation, saying that while Schlag has an individual right to protest, she should not be exercising it during meetings, because she is an elected official “who represents the community.”
Schlag ignited further criticism after a video surfaced online from the July 23 meeting, in which she can be overheard calling her own town “racist and fascist.” Schlag has since apologized for that video and said that she meant only that some in her town fit that characterization, according to The Hartford Courant. She added that she was speaking to a supportive friend at the time and was under a great deal of stress.
Herbst and Linares hold “Stand for the Flag” rally
On July 30, nearly 150 people attended a rally organized by Herbst and Linares on Higganum Green, a park in Haddam three-quarters of a mile away from the firehouse where the board was meeting at the time. According to The Middletown Press, Herbst and Linares said they held the event to support the American flag and the values it represents.
Critics create Facebook page blasting Schlag
Schlag’s critics created a Facebook page titled “Time for Haddam CT Selectman Melissa Schlag to Resign.” Despite only 65 people having “liked” and followed the page, it has become a forum for residents to air grievances about her, with some attacking Schlag as “repulsive,” a “disgrace,” and “a crud.” Others have called on her to leave the country and go live in Mexico. The page’s administrators have also said that Schlag was only elected to her position because the town’s charter prohibits one political party from monopolizing all representation on the board of selectmen, and they argued that the town should repeal that provision.
Schlag continues to protest
Schlag is still protesting the administration’s policies during the Pledge of Allegiance at board meetings, and she has said she will continue to kneel until Trump leaves office. Some Haddam residents support her, saying she is well within her rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. Her term on the board of selectmen ends in 2019.
Prepared by Jesus Rodriguez ‘19
Uploaded August 20, 2018