Karen Cooper Speaks Out
by Brooks D. Simpson
People who have followed the saga of the Virginia Flaggers movement have noted that among their activists is Karen Cooper. She’s often present at various Flagging activities in Virginia. Recently Cooper was interviewed about why she’s interested in Flagging and in southern heritage.
I found what Cooper had to say to be very interesting and revealing. For example, when she declares that if she was a southerner in 1860, she would have supported secession, I wondered what sort of southerner she would have imagined herself to be in that year. She explicitly links her interest in a state rights interpretation of the coming of the Civil War with her interest in the Tea Party, suggesting that her interest in the past was shaped by present concerns. Of course, secessionists saw state rights as a means to an end, but on that issue Cooper’s silent. She’s also silent on evidence that white southerners were not always so interested in state rights when it came to protecting their own interests, especially slavery. Nor does she allude to the mixed record of the Confederacy when it came to state rights. Finally, she doesn’t seem to understand that “the South” did not speak with one voice … far from it. But she’s not alone in those beliefs.
Cooper also shares her understanding of what the Founders believed: “If I don’t like what is happening in my state, I must work to change it, or I vote with my feet by moving. This is what our Founders wanted us to do to keep our State Sovereignty.” This displays a curious understanding of the Founders. I know of no Founder who said that the way to defend state sovereignty was by moving out of state. Nor do I know which Founders she references. Surely Washington, Hamilton, Madison, and Adams would not have embraced her explanation, and both Washington and Madison were Virginians. Nor does this explanation address the issue of secession. Oddly enough, I do know of an American who said that if white southerners did not like to stay in the United States, they could secede by moving elsewhere. That man was William T. Sherman.
In short, Cooper’s grasp of history is unsure and incomplete. She’s rather selective in her understanding of the past, picking (and warping) only that which supports her political philosophy.
Cooper is a proud southerner. “What I love about the Southern way of living is that we don’t care what you do up North, but you will not change how we do things down here. Things like God, family, our Statehood and capitalism.” I’m unaware of any efforts by northerners to change God or family in the South; if anything, while issues of family and religious values sometimes divide Americans, they do not do so along a neat North/South axis (I have no idea where the transMississippi West, Alaska, and Hawaii fit in this scheme). The term “statehood” remains undefined; “capitalism” is one of those words often invoked and rarely understood, and for years there was a vigorous debate over whether the Old South was capitalist, with that icon of southern heritage defenders, Eugene Genovese, arguing against that notion. Perhaps Cooper needs to take this up with Genovese. She clearly disagrees. “I don’t have much hope for the American people today – and that includes Southerner’s because of how reconstructed they have become,” she says (is that an attack on Rainbow Confederates?). “In order for Southerner’s to live peacefully together, they must understand the principles that the South fought for. Things like States Rights, Capitalism, Christianity and simply the Southern way of living.”