Southern MN fire department takes a stand for the Confederacy

(Photo: Lulu Walker)

The man who drove a fire truck festooned with the Confederate flag at a parade in Albert Lea has defended his display in a common manner.

“It’s not that I’m up for the rebel or the slavery part of it, “ Brian Nielsen tells the Albert Lea Tribune. “It’s history. They’re trying to take this flag away. They’re basically trying to change the history and abolish it and get rid of it.”

Speaking of history, the signers of the Declaration of Independence were not breaking away from the Confederacy.

Unspoken in all of this chatter, though, is this: How does it wipe away history? Fifty-thousand people lost their lives in the Vietnam War, but you don’t need a South Vietnamese flag at a Fourth of July parade to know that.

Logically speaking, how can you wipe away history?

According to the newspaper…

Nielsen said he wasn’t looking to get a lot of attention from his decision to fly the flag, and he didn’t think it would spur as much discussion as it has. He, himself, has a family member who is black, he said.

If you didn’t think displaying the Confederate flag would generate a lot of attention — if you’re “not up for the slavery or rebel part of it” — are you really the defender of history you think you are?

Or are you just trolling the streets of Albert Lea in a fire truck?

By the way, the display of the Confederate flag is a sign of disrespect to the American flag, and violates the U.S. Flag Code.

No other flag or pennant should be placed above or, if on the same level, to the right of the flag of the United States of America, except during church services conducted by naval chaplains at sea, when the church pennant may be flown above the flag during church services for the personnel of the Navy. No person shall display the flag of the United Nations or any other national or international flag equal, above, or in a position of superior prominence or honor to, or in place of, the flag of the United States at any place within the United States or any Territory or possession thereof: Provided, That nothing in this section shall make unlawful the continuance of the practice heretofore followed of displaying the flag of the United Nations in a position of superior prominence or honor, and other national flags in positions of equal prominence or honor, with that of the flag of the United States at the headquarters of the United Nations.

The Confederacy is not equal to the United States.

History tells us that.

(h/t: Jim Camery)

  • jon

    By not displaying the bones of australopithecus on the back of that truck he is white washing history!

    We don’t need to celebrate history to acknowledge it, given our history we really shouldn’t celebrate a fair amount of it…

    Though at the same time it took 50 years to acknowledge that the British broke enigma, or that women flew plans during WWII… history has been whitewashed more than once, but removing the flag of a military long since defeated from the country that is both the site of their defeat and the victor not really the same.

  • Anna

    All of us here in the U.S. need to remember that we started as a nation of immigrants. Our forefathers fled the religious and political persecution in the “Old World” to start a better life in the “New World.”

    The only people who are native to the United States are the tribes of the Native Americans or American Indians (They were called “Indians” because Columbus thought he had landed near India. It was not a term of disrespect).

    Whatever gains were made by people of color in the Civil Rights era has been negated by all the hate speech spewing from Facebook, Twitter, etc. While these “instant” communication programs were thought to be a great improvement, they have proved to be anything but.

    Terrorist recruitment, white supremacy, and a host of other cultist ideas have gained traction and legitimacy thanks to instant communication because there is no way to stop their proliferation.

    The Internet is the Pandora’s Box of the 21st century. No one has any privacy anymore. We just let it all “hang out” literally and figuratively.

    Brian Nielsen wanted his 15 minutes of fame and he got it. He knew EXACTLY what kind of reaction he was going to get when he decided to display that flag.

    In my opinion, he is a hypocrite of the worst kind. He says one thing but his display of the Confederate flag sends an entirely different message.

  • Nathan Hunstad

    But for the rebellion over slavery part, the Confederate flag would never have existed. That’s its raison d’être, no matter what people may think it means now.

  • Pam Thorsen

    They do not fly a flag with swastikas in Germany.

    • CommonSense033

      Interesting comparison, since the National Socialist (NAZI) party also burned history books at the rise of their reich.

      • Nathan Hunstad

        Nobody is talking about “erasing” history. We need to remember what has happened in the past. All people are saying is maybe there’s a better symbol of Southern pride than the one from the treasonous part of our history, a symbol which has also been co-opted by a number of hate groups.

      • DarNamell

        The Civil War is still taught in schools. Our children learn that treason is frowned upon and so is striving to own people as property. Pity you have a problem with those concepts. The problem may be you.

        Oh, never mind, I have seen the other comments by you. You think this was all about “state’s rights” and nothing else. And completely ignore the co-opting of these symbols by Klukkers and the like. Enjoy your “Lost Cause” fantasy. The rest of us know differently.

  • Joe

    What I find really interesting in this story is the man who hung the Confederate Flag on a government property fire truck defended his actions by saying “It’s history” and yet stunningly he does not know the person the City of Albert Lea was named after was an officer in the Confederate States Army or his story, which is rather tragic. While he was in the Confederate Army, his son was in the Union Army. During the Battle of Galveston, Lea boarded a captured Union Ship only to find his mortally wounded son and watched him die. This tells me flying the Confederate flag isn’t really about history for him.

    • Kakuchka33

      To be fair (& this might be the only time I support this guy) he did discuss the Albert Lea confederate soldier issue on Facebook posts yestersay. He still should not have done what he did. And it seems to me that he has no idea what the war was fought for and what that flag represents to so many people.

  • sam (#NotMyPrez)

    He needs some history lessons and he needs to be fired.

    • CommonSense033

      You need some history lessons. From real history books, not the revisionist twaddle in public schools.

      • sam (#NotMyPrez)

        Revisionist twaddle? Wow. Google is your friend.

        The designer of the confederate flag, William T. Thompson, wrote:

        “As a people we are fighting to maintain the heavenly-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause. Such a flag would be a suitable emblem of our young confederacy, and sustained by the brave hearts and strong arms of the south, it would soon take rank among the proudest ensigns of the nations, and be hailed by the civilized world as THE WHITE MAN’S FLAG.”

        How are his own racist words ‘revisionist’?

        • CommonSense033

          Oregon’s constitution called for denial of citizenship to black people.

          Shall we ban and boycott Oregon? Let’s do that next! Everyone stampede that way! Mooo! Outrage! Don’t think, just outrage!

          • sam (#NotMyPrez)

            You can’t respond so you make a false equivalency and a very ignorant comment.

            You have yourself a lovely day.

          • Khatti

            I can do you one better. Most of the Scandinavians we are descended from arrived in America post-Civil War. The earliest any of my people showed up here was 1899. Any claim to my collective guilt in the original sin of slavery is, at best, rhetorical (proofread Khatti, proofread).

            On the other hand, there are people out there who are descended from those who suffered–and suffered badly–at the hands of my ancestors. I think it would only be fair and just if the State of Minnesota contacted the British Embassy and inform them that we have set aside a day for the Irish, Scottish, and English to march in the streets of St Paul protesting the inhuman treatment of their ancestors by our ancestors!

          • >> I think it would only be fair and just if the State of Minnesota contacted the British Embassy and inform them that we have set aside a day for the Irish, Scottish, and English to march in the streets of St Paul protesting the inhuman treatment of their ancestors by our ancestors!<<

            It's called "St. Patrick's Day."


          • Khatti

            Yeah, protests always go better with green beer.

          • “Green”…that’s a horrible thing to do to beer…

          • Khatti

            See…you do have a sense of decorum! How far are we sitting from the teacher? She can’t hear us giggling back here can she? Are the other students staring at her earnestly?

      • Funny how people criticize the teachings in ‘schools’ as false, but these same people expect us to believe them – a stranger with an opinion and an agenda with no teaching credentials. Oh yea I understand you very well Mr. +CommonSense033 – You like to piss over peoples heads, and tell them that its raining. Gotcah – SMH

  • Veronica G.Ochoa

    “I have a black family member.” is just like saying “I like hip-hop and have black friends at work.” It’s Albert Lea…look at their history most recently with clashes with New Americans. #OnlyInMN #MNNotNice

  • Joe

    BTW: they didn’t name the city of Albert Lea after him because he was a Confederate soldier. They named it after Albert Lea because he was the surveyor of the town. Albert never lived in the city

  • CommonSense033

    Those who think the Civil War was “about slavery” are victims of the failed public schools.

    There were MANY issues, economic issues, abuse of states by overreaching federal government (just like today!), decades of resentment that led to the Civil War that had nothing to do with slavery. Nothing.

    Hundreds of thousands of people fought under a battle flag for their homes, their families, their freedom. They did not own slaves. People did not march into battle to die by the tens of thousands in clouds of smoke and lakes of blood so they “could own slaves”. Does anyone seriously believe that? SERIOUSLY?!

    And then, near the end of the war, Sherman committed acts of terrorism such as burning the city of Atlanta and salting the fields. Union troops pillaged, raped and burned with tacit approval from Washington. Who has ever answered for that?

    This mass deletion, the stupid, mooing herd stampeding this way and that, is just horrifying. What next? The American flag itself?

    • Jerry

      Now THAT is some revisionist history

    • What was the Confederate flag representing in this picture from the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, more than 100 years after nullification?

      • Brian

        To me, THIS is why it is inappropriate to fly the “confederate flag”. Its association with the civil war is secondary.

        If it was only a historical flag then maybe it could be displayed as a symbol of heritage (like flying a Norwegian or Mexican flag would be). There would still be its association with slavery, but (as with the American flag) these associations could be secondary. But this flag has been used as a symbol of hate and oppression throughout much of its history (along with, I’m sure, people genuinely concerned with heritage and people fighting for their homes). Therefore, its association with hate and oppression are at the forefront.

        • As an aside, this is why historians don’t typically write history the day after it happens.

          • jon

            I just want you to know I love that you wrote the article above the day after it happened, in combination with this comment.

            History is the news with the benefit of hindsight.

          • I can assure you that I (with a history minor, by the way) am under no pretense that I’m writing history.

  • FarmGirlWithPitchfork

    I disagree about the flag protocol.

    I think it was violated, but because the flags were flown from the rear of a vehicle in a parade.

    And the occasion for flying a Confederate flag?

    Is the anniversary of the Civil War Battle of Gettysburg an appropriate time to display a Confederate flag in Minnesota?

    Given that hundreds of Minnesotans died and were wounded in July 1863 while wearing the uniform of the Union Army, it seems nearly akin to driving in your WWII veteran grandfather’s funeral procession with a Nazi flag on your vehicle.

    Exercising your “freedom of expression” while driving a vehicle that represents a community in the parade of yet another community taints them with the stars and bars of your poor judgement.

  • KTN

    How is it that the losing side in a war gets to continue to fly their flag. I doubt there is another example anywhere in the world where this is so, and yet, the racists continue to fly that hateful flag with pride and glee.
    I especially like this clown’s excuse of knowing a single black person so that then means he is most definitely not a racist – that’s rich.

    • X.A. Smith

      Agreed. Unless he chose that black person to be in his family, i.e. married or adopted them, it means less than zero.

  • SkcusDahij

    It’s not even the Confederate flag, it’s a battle flag.

    • Paul

      Details, details. It’s not like this is a news site.

      Just get on the bandwagon.

      (For MPR’s reference, the *very* hard to find link may be helpful in the future,

      “The man who drove a fire truck festooned with the Confederate flag at a parade in Albert Lea has defended his display in a common manner.” If it was “a Confederate flag” you’d have been more accurate.

  • Jim G

    Minnesota fought for the Union. Just in case this undereducated volunteer fireman never heard about the exploits of the First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment mustered for a three-year term (1861-1864) in the Union Army.

    “At a pivotal moment and position during the 1863 conflict at Gettysburg, Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, Commander of the II Corps, ordered the First Minnesota to charge into a situation where it would be outmanned by odds of at least 5:1. The General’s purpose was to buy minutes of delay with human lives, and one survivor spoke afterward that he expected the advance to result in “death or wounds to [every single one of the attackers].”[2] The Regiment fully and instantly executed the order, received at least 82% casualties among those making the attack, and contributed significantly to the preservation of a key Union defensive position on the heights of Cemetery Ridge… The unit’s flag fell five times and rose again each time… The unit’s flag is now in the Minnesota Capitol’s rotunda.”

    • Jim G

      The past is always present.

      • FarmGirlWithPitchfork

        “Forward at a double-quick; fix bayonets.” — Colonel Colville

  • Lakeview

    Wonder if Mr. Nielsen understands what Independence Day is celebrating? It has nothing to do with history of the civil war. HInt: it is about the Revolutionary War, War of Independence from England…
    And this guy is protecting your houses in Harland!

  • Doris Pierce

    People seem to forget that slavery was a side issue of the Civil War. The main reason for the Civil War was there were States that wanted the right to secede from the Union if they did not agree with government on how things should be done. How many people out there know that the three colors (red, white, blue) mean the same thing on the Confederate Flag as they do the American Flag? Well, it does. How many of you honestly, in your heart of hearts, think this Flag stands for hatred and slavery? Did you know it was blacks that were selling blacks into slavery? Did you know that the first slave owner in America was a black man? How many of you know that Northerners also owned slaves? So, if flags are gonna stand for hatred, racism and slavery then we need to also do away with the American Flag since Northerners also had slaves. How many have you forgotten that there were hundreds of blacks that served in the Civil War…UNDER the Confederate Flag? So, if blacks served under the Confederate Flag then how is that hatred and slavery? I mean, they did serve under the flag WILLINGLY…on top of serving in the military WILLINGLY. So, get your heads out of the sand and learn this countrys history and what the symbols (flags, etc.).

  • ROP 10K

    Albert Lea is the HQ for the MN Nationalist Socialist (Nazi) Party so I am sure this guy felt right at home flying that flag.

  • tboom

    Wow. Reading this comments section this Independence Day weekend almost sickens me. I say almost because this country has elected an African-American President … twice, that must mean the majority of this country is made up of warm-hearted, caring, good people. Somebody tell me I’m right, tell me the bigots are just a loud shameless minority.

  • Khatti

    Look the guy is probably going to lose his job over this one. Unless you really would like him to get jail time, or possibly be institutionalized and cured to your taste, let it go.

    • It’s a volunteer fire department. It’s not his job.

      • Khatti

        I stand corrected.

  • Troy Ziesmer

    IT IS THE flag of the Army of Tennessee

    • Leigh Williams

      No. It’s the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. From its inception,it was conceived as the symbol of white supremacy. Its designer, William Thompson, declared, “As a national emblem, it is significant of our higher cause, the cause of a superior race, and a higher civilization contending against ignorance, infidelity, and barbarism.” The editor of the Savannah, Georgia Morning News was pleased with the new design, noting, “As a people, we are fighting to maintain the heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored races.”

      It didn’t get less racist over time. It was the official flag of the Confederate veterans, and through that organization it made its way into the hearts of the KKK, where it continued to symbolize white supremacy.

      So this flag was ready to hand when white Southerners wished to signal their opposition to integration and the civil rights movement. In 1956, it was added to Mississippi’s state flag. In 1962, South Carolina hoisted it over their statehouse. And of course innumerable white people plaster it on their pickups and fly it over their homes.

      It is universally called the Confederate flag, and it remains the symbol of white supremacy and racial animus.

      • Paul

        The battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia is square, the battle flag of the Army of Tennessee is rectangular.

        “Accordingly, at the end of 1861 the Army of Northern Virginia adopted a (square) battle flag based on a design that had initially been rejected for the First Confederate flag and was distinct from that of the United States flag: a red field with a white-bordered dark blue saltire, the latter again bearing white stars equal in number to the number of states in the Confederacy. This banner (which became known as the “Southern Cross”) was also later used in its more familiar rectangular form as the battle flag of the Army of Tennessee, and (with a lighter blue saltire) as the Second Confederate Navy Jack from 1863 onwards:

  • tompoe

    At some point, even the most “uneducated” volunteer fireman must surely have understood he was using a public vehicle to make a personal statement. For that reason alone, his participation on the Hartland fire department must be terminated, immediately. Hopefullly, the entire fire department will find it reasonable to bring in someone to remind everyone volunteering for the Hartland fire department about the outrageous conduct of Nielsen, and emphasize that public vehicles are not the personal property of individuals.

  • I’ve deleted messages with insults to other commenters as is standard practice. Also a reminder: Use your REAL name. Carry on.

    • sam (#NotMyPrez)

      If you want people to use their real names, then you need to make this site a place where only confirmed Facebook accounts are able to comment. There are plenty of them around.

      But if you read the news, you know that Facebook is being targeted for their policy of only allowing real names, as many people aren’t known by their real names and it also puts people in a vulnerable position. Eventually Facebook is going to have to back down, as it’s a bad policy.

      • First names are fine. Some people use the “names” field to add one more insulting comment. That doesn’t fly with me. (No pun intended).

    • Khatti

      I’m afraid that the only people in my life you don’t call me Khatti are my mom and sisters.

  • Bill Conley

    So could he not find a Nazi flag to complete his little history lesson for us?

    • Paul

      That flag isn’t the social justice target du jour.

      • Justice. Interesting word choice.

        • Paul

          Especially when applied to social justice warriors.

          • Jerry

            How does that even work as insult? If someone told me I was a Social Justice Warrior, I’d be like “damn straight!”

          • Paul

            You might want to look that term up first.

            Sure, it sounds like a compliment, but in reality it’s the term that’s applied to the half-rabid (and almost an insult to rabies at that) frothing mad (as long as they don’t have to put down their phones and starbucks) crowd that only protests the cause du jour without knowing why they are other than that it’s all the rage on tumblr.

            9 dead in Charleston? RAGE!

            9 dead in Chicago, including a seven year old? Huh? I never heard about that but that’s not important, we’ve got an inanimate object to blame!

            Or for a more local version the shooting in Peavey Park. There wasn’t a white person doing the killing so there’s no social outrage there so no one would be impressed with your cultural sensitivity if you bothered to protest it.

          • But inanimate objects have power. A burning cross, the 10 commandments, etc.

            And nobody is saying the Confederate flag walked into a church and shot 9 people.

            It seems to me, however, the debate breaks down along two lines.

            1) The flag represents a history of southern rights and support for John C. Calhoun’s nullification policy (at least in the case of South Carolina).

            2) The flag represents the white suppression of civil rights for blacks, especially its display during the civil rights marches and desegregation efforts of the early to mid 1960s.

            The question is whether anyone in group #1 can understand why group #2 feels the way it does AND — just as important — whether anyone in group #2 can understand why group #1 feels the way it does.

          • Paul

            Symbols only have the power they are given.

            Right now these protests about the battle flag are giving it more power than it has had in a long time and taking time away from any useful conservation.

            Not only does it still appeal to those it did before but it now also appeals to those who don’t like the PC police and kneejerk feel good actions for the sake of looking like you’re doing something.

            Take the Dukes of Hazzard being pulled from TV Land. That show lampooned southern life. It did not promote slavery or racism.

            Bubba Watson is painting over the battle flag on his hero car (used in non-stunt/close up shots) General Lee.

            Banning bowl cuts would have been a better move.

          • The Dukes of Hazard thing and the Apple banning a Civil War themed game were ridiculously stupid and irrelevant moves.

            South Carolina voting to remove the flag as a state symbol? Maybe not so much.

            But I guess what I’m trying to do is to get away from everyone just hurling invectives at each other. That’s why I’ve asked two questions — the one in the original post and the one in the above comment.

            A third question is where does history stop? The gentleman displaying the flag was worried that history was being changed. But that’s the thing with history; it changes. In this case the flag can be both a floor wax AND a dessert topping.

            But let’s assume the debate over the flag is distracting from other discussions about race in America. What discussion would we have?

          • Paul

            Would we have or should we have?

            As for your question, I’m not a southerner and I didn’t suppress civil rights for blacks nor was suppressed while marching for civil rights, so I can’t answer it.

          • Khatti

            As far as I can tell the answer is no–and that’s what’s worrisome. the inability to understand–not approve of but understand–your fellow citizens mindset is not conducive to running the country. We are in a situation where both sides demand absolute agreement. If anything the Left is more prone to this than the Right. Being unable to manage the country is the best-case scenario under those circumstances. We’ve had one civil war, we can always have another–no matter what Congress says.

          • Jerry

            I know what it means. And I know it is solely used as an insult by those who feel they are being oppressed by those who wish to make the world a better place.

          • Paul

            Shine on you crazy diamond, just stay out of the social justice workers’ way.

    • He didn’t get to the Keller Bar at The Gasthof in NE Minneapolis…

  • John Blais
  • Scairp

    He was suspended saying he expects to be asked to resign. And while it’s good he won’t have access to fire trucks for his wretched confederate rag anymore, it was a volunteer position, so what tangible effect it will have on him aside from an assault on his pride is unknown. I would hope he and others defending him have learned a valuable lesson from this act of incredible stupidity.

  • Jonathan Stensland