Link to original article: www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/2017/04/29/he-had-confederate-flag-they-called-cops/307780001/
Coverage by The Des Moines Register, Des Moines, Iowa, April 29, 2017
All Darrin Ehret knew was that a group of environmentalists planned to march through Deep River Township and camp overnight in Silverman Park, directly behind his property.
“We just didn’t know who they were,” he said. “It could have been anybody.”
Word about the march was spreading around town. But details were scarce. And some feared the Saturday evening event would recruit radicals into town who planned to burn American flags in protest. Ehret wasn’t going to allow that.
“I was going to go up there and take it from them,” he said. “They weren’t going to burn flags in our park.”
Knowing the group was headed his way, he strapped a Confederate flag to his restored 1959 Jeep Willy. Ehret says the move wasn’t meant to make a racial statement, but a political one about freedom and states’ rights. But he acknowledges that he displayed it and several American flags especially for the environmental protest.
“Yeah, absolutely,” he said.
Members of the environmental group, marching across the state as part of an eight-day Climate Justice Unity March, were offended by the Dixie flag. A documentary crew following the march came up to Ehret’s house and told him as much. And after hearing what some feared were gun shots, the police were called to Ehret’s home.
The police found no crime in the flag, Ehret said. While tensions were high, by the next morning, things had calmed. He drove his golf cart down to the campers’ tent to smooth things over.
“I said, ‘If the Confederate flag offended you, I apologize for that,'” Ehret told the Register. “It wasn’t a race issue; it was a freedom issue. We are not racists. We are God-fearing, God-loving people.”
And he explained that the loud booms they heard the night before were not from guns, but from nearby kids shooting off M-80 firecrackers. Quickly, his perceptions about the group began to fade.
“You couldn’t ask for a more peaceful, pleasant bunch up there,” he said. “They never gave anybody any problems at all.”
On Sunday evening, he and his wife even met up with the marchers at their next stop at Diamond Lake Park in Montezuma. He had fry bread, and she had vegetable soup — both prepared by the campers.
With Ed Fallon, the director of Bold Iowa who led the march, he talked about climate change and the environment. Ehret, a supporter of President Donald Trump, doesn’t believe that climate change is caused by human activity. Fallon, a former Democratic legislator, most definitely does and advocates for an urgent transition to renewable energy source like solar and wind.
Yet, the two found common ground. Ehret said he’s behind wind and solar generation. And they agreed that water quality is a huge issue facing all of Iowa. By the end of the conversation, both had come around. Ehret even continued the discussion with locals later in the week. They, too, weren’t fans of the march at first. But they agreed that the water quality crisis is worsening and that something has to change.
“It’s interesting how quick attitudes change,” he texted Fallon.”… I just wanted you to know that your march is bringing awareness.”
And that sort of moment was exactly what Fallon had in mind when he organized the event. He says he wants to start conversations that go beyond finger-pointing.
“We had a great conversation,” Fallon said. “It’s funny when you start talking to people, how you find common ground.”
Though he has a clear, progressive agenda, Fallon said people need to find away to breach the divide between rural and urban dwellers and the partisan chasm between Republicans and Democrats.
“We’ve got to get beyond that,” Fallon said. “There’s a bunch of things we’ll never agree on, but what can we find that’s of common interest? We need to stop preaching to the choir.”
For his part, Ehret said he walked away with a little life lesson — “not to jump to conclusions before you’ve had the opportunity to really meet somebody.” To be clear, many issues — like abortion rights and the perceived performance of the current president — still divide the two men. But Ehret said he’s on board with the environmental message of the 25 or so marchers.
He said he might even join the group as the walk culminates at the Iowa Capitol grounds on Saturday afternoon — one of many demonstrations organized by the People’s Climate Movement.
“Maybe the country isn’t as divided as people like to think,” Ehret said. “I said, ‘Heck, on your way back, camp in my backyard. We’ll have a big old party.'”