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Veteran banned from Georgia campus after taking flag from protesters

VALDOSTA, Ga. – An Air Force veteran and former Playboy model was banned from Valdosta State University Friday after taking an American flag from a group of demonstrators who were walking on it, and now a protest is being organized in support of her actions.

Michelle Manhart was detained but not arrested by VSU police after she took the flag from the unidentified group of protesters. She said she was not planning to take the flag from the group, but she had heard about the group’s recent campus demonstrations and wanted to take action. 

“I did not want anything like this, but I got a call from a student who told me that the flag was on the ground, and they were walking on it,” said Manhart. “I was just going over there to pick up the flag off the ground. I don’t know what their cause is, but I went to pick it up because it doesn’t deserve to be on the ground.”

The group reportedly elected not to press charges against Manhart, and campus police issued her a criminal trespass warning, effectively banning her from the school. She told The Valdosta Daily Times that she resisted arrest after seeing the flag being returned to the group. Andy Clark, vice president for enrollment, marketing and communications at VSU said the warning will also ban her from university activities, including graduation and football games.

Manhart, a former United States Air Force Military instructor, is no stranger to controversy. She was placed under investigation in 2007 after posing nude in Playboy magazine. 

She was reprimanded and demoted as a result of the investigation and resigned from the service in 2008.

She later posed nude with the American flag in a series of videos and photographs for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

In an interview with The Valdosta Daily Times, she said she feels there is a big difference between her photo shoot with the flag and demonstrators walking on it.

“When we originally did that shoot, we did it for a specific cause,” said Manhart. “We wanted to portray what we have as Americans when we get rid of all our material things. We wanted to strip the human of all material items and stand behind the flag because if we don’t have anything, we still have this. We still have our freedom.”

Manhart said she knew the flag would touch the ground during her photo shoot and took preliminary measures to ensure that it was disposed of properly.

While the demonstrators declined to identify their group to the The Valdosta Daily Times or speak with a reporter about their cause, protestors did engage with VSU students about using the flag as “a symbol of our protest. When a slave understands his situation and understands he doesn’t want to be in slavery, he does not respect or revere anything his slavemaster has put in front of him.”

Manhart said she hoped to ask for a letter of apology from the group and to take possession of the flag so she could dispose of it properly.

Her actions have gained widespread attention since Friday afternoon, and a Facebook group has organized a protest in support. The organizers are asking people to fly the American flag at the school to show support.

Manhart said she is aware of the event, but she is not involved. She is working to organize a separate event sometime next week.

Floyd writes for the Valdosta Daily Times. 

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