Confederate Flag Dude talks about his ‘tourist attraction’, presidential hopefuls and his Scientologist black friends

June 9th, 2008 by Alex Pickett in For the People, The Morning Papers, Urban Explorations

The St. Petersburg Times has an interesting profile on Tampa’s favorite (confederate) son, Marion Lambert. The South Tampa beekeeper has been a media darlin’ the last week, ever since a massive confederate flag flew on his property at the intersection of I-4 and I-75.The Times article painted the man generally as a gentle Southern enthusiast, who snookered the county officials when he applied for the proper flag permits. But when I interviewed Lambert on Friday, I saw an angry, almost bitter man.

True, Lambert is a gentleman. Before he arrived at his house from a late bee removal job, his family showed me some true Southern hospitality. Then he gave me a nice tour of his five-acre farm.”I’m a very liberal person in my heart,” he told me during our first few minutes together. “I’m a very conservative person in my brain.”

He even used to be a hippie. Well, I’ll be …

But don’t let Lambert fool you: he knows full well that this stunt is divisive, even if he doesn’t believe in the flag’s links to slavery. In one of the most unusual analogies I’ve ever heard, he compares the flag going up to “childbirth,” in that the act will cause a lot of pain and agony, but in the end a more perfect truth will be born.

Did I mention the guy is a born-again Christian?

“We found ourselves marginalized, put on the back table of the community,” he said, railing against the decision to remove the confederate flag from the county seal and other slights. “The only way we could get their attention is to slap them in the face, and slap the community in the face.”

He knows the power he has over the commissioners, especially after they practically begged him to not fly the flag at last week’s commission meeting. This is how he describes county commissioner Rose Ferlita:

“I saw Rose Ferlita look at me like a puppy instead of an angry dog.”

An edited version of the interview will hit the streets and Web site on Wednesday, but for now, here’s the full version (after the jump):

Creative Loafing: Give me the God’s honest truth of what will be served by flying this huge Confederate flag?
Marion Lambert: By flying this flag, we’re approaching the closed mind and the open mind — whatever mind drives down that interstate. … Is he or she going to drive in and check it out and determine what this is? Well, if he or she does, they’ll get the picture on the ground, which is the important picture. If they don’t, if they just drive on by, it’s a lost cause. If the closed mind stays closed, then they lose and we lose, because our object, our goal, our aim has gone amiss. We haven’t gained anything. …

The rationale here is simply this flag has to be determined by the politicos, the chambers of commerce, the economic development committees, all of these people that have an interest in the economic growth and development and the profit of this community. They have to determine if this is a hate symbol or a heritage symbol. Now that’s the question we have been unable, for the last 20 years, to bring to the forefront of the public debate.

Do you honestly think they will embrace it?
Here are their options. When I was down before the county commission the other day, I alluded to their options. Their dissonance they have to deal with. They can either accept

[the flag] as a hate-filled symbol or a heritage symbol. It’s a tough option. I told them, “You’ve got to either stand real tall, do your history, study what this is all about and come to some different conclusions, or you’re going to go the same way you have gone and you’re stuck with this dilemma.”

When I go before the county commission again, I’m going to present them their options, but I’m going to give them a caveat along with that. Giving the same dichotomy they have to choose from — left or right, hate symbol or heritage symbol. But if they say, “We gotta live with the flag, let’s embrace the heritage symbol,” we will work with them. We will work with them every way, shape and form. I will work with them to develop sensitivity training, diversity training, about the flag and what it truly represents.

This can be — if they want to be — a tourist attraction for Hillsborough County and being part of Dixie. I don’t care if everybody here is from New Jersey, from Pennsylvania, from places north. They write things like, well, I’ve been living here for 25 years, like a blog comment I read the other day, I’ve been living here for 25 years, the lady said, and I always thought the South started at the Georgia line. Well, low and behold, guess what, we’re here. The indigenous southern people are here and have not been recognized for 20 years and now we’re dab-burn gonna be recognized and we’re going to be embraced or there’s gonna be the dickens to pay for it.

Aren’t you basically blackmailing the people who don’t want the flag here into accepting this as a symbol of heritage?
Yeah. Yeah. We’ve been ostracized, marginalized, put off the table for so long. Is it blackmail? I wouldn’t use the word “blackmail.” You can use the word if you want to, but I would use the word “bargaining chip.” We’ve never bargained with [the county commissioners] before. We never had anything they wanted. But hear me clearly on this: The flag is not coming down either way. Either they accept the flag one way or accept the flag another way. The flag is going up.

History lesson aside, in the present day, the Confederate flag is used by hate groups. That’s a fact.
Let me ask you this — what flag is used more than the Confederate Flag? The United States Flag. More United States flags were flown by Klu Kluxers, by Neo-Nazis and carried by them all the time. But that symbol hasn’t been given to them, whereas society has given this symbol to those groups, even though there is a preponderance of people who say it’s not that. …

I’ll tell you the truth: I’ve never seen one KKK-er in my life. Ever. I’ve never seen one neo-Nazi demonstrate in anything we’ve done in 20 years. I don’t know where they are. What is this — a phantom? I mean, I know they exist. I know they’re out there somewhere. But it’s not a major problem for us at all. I don’t care what the Southern Poverty Law Center says.

There is this perception that the confederate flag is a symbol of hate. Why let that “misrepresentation” overshadow your message?
Because we have no message if we don’t have [the flag]. We didn’t create the symbol in this negative light. It was given to us. They gave us the ultimate weapon. And the ultimate weapon is that flag. And that flag, used properly, does two things: One, it gives us something to be very proud of. Watching it wave and watching it be and exist and flow in the air. And the other thing it does is it causes great agony and great controversy, which hopefully will give birth to new life.

Why use the battle flag versus another confederate flag?
Because it’s the most recognizable confederate symbol there is.

Do you have any African-American friends?
One’s going to be one on the Kathy Fountain show with me. I had one call me on the way in, Donald Hallback, and he said, “Any way I can help you let me know.” He just showed up to the county commission meeting. …

Sons of Confederate Veterans set up three years in Juneteenth in South St. Petersburg. Was it covered in the press? No. Doesn’t that sound significant to you? Confederate flags, confederate uniforms, everything, South St. Petersburg, right in the middle of Juneteenth? … We have tried community outreach. We were involved with Information Dealers, a black, inner-city computer effort. We’ve been outreaching in the black community for years. In the living history [programs] that we do, we do about 4 or 5 living histories to school children public and private. My specialty that I talk about is a couple things: the causes of the war, the ethnic background of the people involved in the war and the diversity of that effort.

Are you worried that some of the people that are supporting this action don’t have the best motives at heart?
Even Barack, what’s his name, Obama, you know, he’s concerned about support coming in. And politicians are concerned about support coming in from groups outside the mainstream. And they deny it and send the money back and all that. I haven’t seen that support. I truly haven’t. The only support I’ve seen are true southern heritage supporters. People that are just enamored with the flag. We embrace black folks all the time. Let me tell you this: the debate between us and them is probably talked about as well as giving the example of [community activist] Michelle Williams at the county commission. It was passionate. We’re passionate. But there’s a difference. Our passion and her passion are two different things. Her passion is emotional passion and not based on intellect and not based on discernment. Our’s is based on a clear view of history and a discerning view of history.

Do you have a favorite presidential candidate?
Yeah, Ron Paul. Most definite. In fact, I gave him money.

Is there anything the County Commission or the residents of Tampa can do to convince you not to fly the flag?
No! The flag is going to be flown. As long as I have breath in my body and am able to function and articulate. And even if I’m gone, it doesn’t make a difference, the flag is going up. The Southern community is just enamored with this project.

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