Omaha World-Herald
Omaha, Nebraska
Published Tuesday, May 4, 2004

Anti-war display kept up despite vandalism


LINCOLN - A Rosalie, Neb., couple suspect that the vandalism of an anti-war display featuring an upside-down American flag was a hate crime inspired by politics or their support of tribal causes.

"This is not free speech," said Margery Coffey, an artist who lives at the storefront residence with Richard Chilton. "If we had a front yard, I wonder if they would have burned a cross."

Coffey and Chilton were awakened just before dawn April 21 by the sound of breaking glass at their home, a converted business in Rosalie, a village of about 200 about 70 miles north of Omaha.

Chilton, who wasn't wearing his glasses, saw two white youths drive away in a black Chevy.

In the storefront window, the couple had erected an anti-war display that included an American flag displayed upside down, a recognized symbol of distress.

Chilton, a writer, said there is nothing that prohibits such a display of the flag.

Jim Pape, a member of the Rosalie Village Board who erected a rightside-up flag in a counter protest, said he can understand why someone would break windows at such a display.

"If I've heard one person say it, I've heard 50 people say it: Someone ought to throw a brick through their window," Pape said. "Their list of suspects is the other 200 people in town."

Coffey, a Quaker, said reaction to the anti-war display has been mixed. While two veterans have supported it, others asked that it be removed.

She said the requests were "politely declined. And we will continue to display the flag until the end of this illegal war for oil and profits."

Last summer, someone walked into the couple's studio and cut down the flag. The couple began locking their front door after that.

In winter, instead of covering the window with clear plastic, the couple fashioned an upside-down flag out of plastic, including anti-war articles in the display.

Pape, whose auto body and sign shop is nearby, said he doesn't object to someone expressing anti-war views, but the American flag should be "kept out of it."

With the permission of other Village Board members, Pape erected his own flag, rightside up, on a utility pole outside the Coffey-Chilton residence last year.

He said he wanted people to know that others in Rosalie don't share the anti-war views.

Thurston County Sheriff Chuck Obermeyer said his office is investigating the incident, but chances of an arrest are slim because no one got a good description of the vandals.

Coffey said the vandalism caused an estimated $2,500 in damage.

While she believes it was a backlash to the anti-war display, it could also have been prompted by the couple's support of the Omaha Tribe. Rosalie is located on the Omaha Indian Reservation.

Coffey, a 62-year-old native of Alma, is no stranger to controversy.

Her paintings have been removed from the College of St. Mary in Omaha and Alma in recent years after officials said they were inappropriate. She has protested what she labeled "censorship."

The couple said they hope that publicity might prompt the vandals to come forward and pay for the damage, or spark a discussion of such conduct.

"A handful of rocks won't scare us away," Coffey said.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

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