Police arrested a man after he burned an American flag outside a Walmart in Yorktown, Virginia, on Thursday, July 4, according to the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office.
Video posted on Facebook shows a man pouring gasoline on a flag in a parking lot before setting it alight. He then got into his car and drove away as the flag smoldered.
The sheriff’s office said they had not arrested the man for burning the flag – an act protected by the First Amendment – but rather charged him with “burning an object in a public place with the intent to intimidate”, citing Virginia code §18.2-423.01. The cited statute falls under a Virginia law against burning crosses, which was passed to combat racist Ku Klux Klan displays. The charge is a felony punishable by one to five years in jail or a $2,500 fine.
In Texas v. Johnson and in US v. Eichman, the US Supreme Court held that the First Amendment prohibits Congress or states from passing laws criminalizing flag desecration.
The York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office identified the suspect in the video as Mitchell Lee Stauffer. Credit: Jay Weirich via Storyful