A student’s plans to burn an American flag on the LSU campus were cut short Wednesday when thousands of combative counter demonstrators arrived on scene, prompting police to escort the student to safety.
Crowds wearing red, white and blue and chanting “U-S-A” threw water balloons and ice at Benjamin Haas, a communication studies graduate student, while he tried to read a prepared statement in front of an estimated crowd of 1,500 to 2,500 students and community members.
Haas publicized the event on Facebook and obtained a permit for peaceful protest from the university, according to LSU Media Relations Director Ernie Ballard. But when he found out he also needed a burn permit from the city to set fire to a flag, he decided to read a statement instead – but the rival protesters still would not let up.
“The crowd was following him because he moved from one location to another, so I think the police wanted for everyone’s safety involved to escort him out of the area,” Ballard told FoxNews.com.
Horse-mounted police worked their way through the crowds until they were able to escort Haas off the premises in a police cruiser, according to LSU's student newspaper The Daily Reveille.
Haas organized the protest in response to the arrest of fellow LSU student Isaac Eslava, who was charged last week for taking the American flag at the Baton Rouge campus’ historic War Memorial and burning it hours after news of Usama bin Laden’s killing by U.S. Navy Seals.
The 10-by-15 flag burned by Eslava flew atop a 102-foot pole 24 hours a day at the campus and honors all the war dead from LSU. Police said there was about $7,530 worth of damage at the memorial and called it very "coincidental" that the event took place so soon after bin Laden's death.
“I think that (Haas') goal from this protest was to have LSU drop charges (against Eslava) and handle the matter internally,” Ballard said.
Haas said in his statement that he “initially began this flag burning protest to define due process for students and suspected terrorists alike,” The Daily Reveille reported. “Solidarity means standing with those who are treated as guilty until proven innocent, instead of the other way around.”
LSU Chancellor Michael Martin said in a university-wide press release that he was pleased Haas opted not to burn the flag.
“I’m happy that after talking to university officials and realizing how many people are against flag-burning, that he thought better of it,” he said in a statement that appeared to contradict Ballard's explanation for Haas' decision. Officials were not immediately available to explain the contradiction.
Haas' protest was followed by a separate peaceful assembly led by LSU student government president Cody Wells. In front of a crowd gathered around the campus’ flagpole, Wells read the history behind the American flag and led the audience in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and singing the national anthem.
“My main message behind all of this is that it’s time for my generation and our society to start speaking up so that the minority voice does not always seem like the loudest voice,” Wells said. “(Haas) did have the right to burn the flag, but it was not an honorable thing for him to do and our student body and fellow Louisianans made that very clear today as they rallied on campus to show support for our county.”