BBQ, Wal-Mart, and the Flag

As long as I don’t write about the government, religion, politics, and other institutions, I am free to print anything.

~ Beaumarchais (1732-1799)

In response to my recent column for this site, "Barbeque and the Battle Flag", I received a great deal of email. Much of it was positive in its support for Maurice Bessinger and his struggle with Wal-Mart over the chain's decision to discontinue selling his barbeque sauce. Some of the responses were, not surprisingly, rather negative.

One of the more interesting negative responses came from an individual who wrote under the ironic nom de plume "The American." The message is interesting, not in its tone or hostility, but rather in the author's underlying supposition that, since Mr. Bessinger's opinions are not politically correct, he should expect no right to free speech in America today. Of interest as well was his obvious glee in the fragmentation of conservative voices in our country caused, in part, by the demonizing of the Confederate battle flag.

In its unedited form, "The American" wrote:

You could at least speak the truth. Mr. Bessinger does have material that could be called “racist” at his stores. He even went as to say so recently in a story in “The State” newspaper. I know you folks want to better your side at all cost, but this is rather lackluster. BUT I like it. It has done my side the greatest service. You have now split your base, the members of the VFW here in SC (South Carolina) that did support you now have turned away. Why, cause as far as they can see Mr. Piggie beat down their flag. I love it, smooth move, my man.

Apart from "Mr. American's" presumption that I have a "side" that I want to better at all cost, I was taken by his obvious excitement that members of the VFW and other conservative Southerners would now be at odds because of Mr. Bessinger's decision to remove the American flag, and replace it with the state flag of South Carolina and the Confederate battle flag.

In my view, Mr. Bessinger's act was a form of pure political expression. He was expressing his displeasure with the government. I was under the impression that freedom of speech, especially political speech, was at least part of what these veterans fought for.

Tell me, am I mistaken?

Do you go to war for a flag, or that for which it supposedly stands? I say "supposedly," not to be flip, but because it would appear that the Stars and Stripes no longer flies over a government that respects the rights of individuals, especially the right to hold unpopular opinions and express them in a nonviolent manner. Today, you either get on the same page in the hymnal with the left's anointed special interest groups, or you had better just shut the hell up.

At what point does "hate crime" become "the crime of hate"? When will it no longer be the act of violating another's rights, but the mere possession of an idea that defines a criminal act, and who makes these decisions?

To go a step further, what portion of the Bill of Rights is not currently under assault? One's right to freedom of speech? Perhaps one's right to keep and bear arms? One's right to be secure in your person and property from unwarranted search and seizure? Tell that to the folks at the airport, or the cop who circles your car at a random roadblock with a drug sniffing dog. What about the 10th Amendment, perhaps the most disparaged of all?

Would, or perhaps more correctly, should people still be willing to fight and die for the piece of cloth called the Stars and Stripes, if, bit by bit, what that cloth is supposed to represent is corroded to the point it no longer resembles the values and principles that they hold dear?

Ultimately, it would be my hope that if the members of the VFW fought to defend the unalienable rights, delineated in our founding documents, we as Americans possess, most will come to see Maurice Bessinger's act not as a sign of disrespect for their sacrifice, but as an exercise of the freedoms they fought to preserve.

My response to "The American", which incorporates a portion of my communication with Wal-Mart Stores on this issue, was delivered as follows. A portion of my letter was edited to eliminate redundancy:

Thanks for writing.

I don’t dispute that Mr. Bessinger has controversial views on race, however I believe you missed my point entirely.

I think Wal-Mart is guilty of inequitably applied speech and conduct codes. They are punishing Mr. Bessinger because they do not, ostensibly, support his political position, a position that was known, or should have been, to Wal-Mart when they originally engaged in business with Mr. Bessinger.

Mr. Bessinger has not been secretive or clandestine in regard to his social or political views. Wal-Mart denies that the removal of his products was a result of his decision to remove the American flag and fly the state and Confederate battle colors, but the evidence would suggest otherwise.

You might find the text of Wal-Mart’s response to my direct letter, and my response back, better outlines my position.

Wal-Mart’s reply to my original complaint letter:

The decision to discontinue Maurice’s barbeque sauce never had to do with the Confederate Flag. The decision was initially based on the fact that the supplier is the center of a controversy and we didn’t want that to get in the way of our ability to care for our members. After an evaluation of this supplier we decided that we do not want to continue doing business with them. We are in the process of removing the product from both Sams and Wal-Mart

Ashley, Customer Relations

My response to Wal-Mart:

Thank you for your reply. Your response raises additional questions:

Rapper Eminem is at the center of a controversy based on freedom of speech issues as well. His songs contain lyrics that many find offensive, especially gays and women. Click on the following link to review for yourself:

Have you chosen to remove his CDs from all of your store shelves? Do you refuse to do business with Interscope Records because of the controversial position taken by their artists?

Is it Wal-Mart policy to remove the products of any corporation whose officers or key officials take unpopular political positions? If so, does this apply to foreign suppliers as well as domestic? Have you investigated the political positions, or organizational affiliations of any officers of any other vendors that you represent? Please feel free to limit your search to processed food manufacturers only, if this helps.

Who within Wal-Mart makes the determination as to which supplier speech is acceptable, and which is not? Is this policy published for your vendors to review prior to engaging in business with Wal-Mart? Is your “approved speech” criteria part of your mutual business contract, or do you just make up your mind on the fly?

I would appreciate a reply. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Jef Allen

I also find Wal-Mart rather hypocritical in their position on Mr. Bessinger, since they are currently the beneficiaries of what is virtually a slave labor force. Please review the following link: 

Wal-Mart would appear to have a very flexible set of principles.

Obviously, it takes a lot to offend the sensibilities of Wal-Mart management – unpopular political speech, for example.

Thanks again for writing. I appreciate your input.

As of this writing, I have not heard back from Wal-Mart Stores.

September 23, 2000

Jef Allen is a technology professional in Georgia. As a reformed Yankee, who has lived in the South for roughly twenty years, he has very little tolerance for Northern sanctimony, or the erosion of individual liberty.