Greensboro, N.C. — Derek Dunham protested at a Donald Trump rally in Greensboro on Friday, holding an American flag upside down near the front of the stage where he was speaking, and was assaulted by a gay Trump supporter who took offense.
The man has been identified as David Smith, whom a local gay and HIV activist Tony Booe reports worked the “Gays for Trump” booth at NC Pride this year, grabbed Dunham, got him in a headlock and began pushing him down the aisle.
You can watch video of that attack below. Warning, graphic content follows.
Trump can be heard admonishing Dunham for showing what he feels is disrespect for the flag.
“It’s really total disrespect for the American flag,” Trump said. “Folks, that’s what’s happening to our country. That’s what’s happening. That is total disrespect for our flag. That’s what’s happening to our country. We’re gonna turn it around, folks, we’re gonna turn it around.”
Violence has been a problem at Trump rallies, both against protesters and against Trump supporters. He has encouraged violence at his campaign events in the past, including saying he would pay the legal fees of supporters who go after protesters.
Dunham explained to qnotes that he was not holding the flag upside down as a sign of disrespect, but rather as a sign that the country is in a state of distress.
“I attended the Trump rally knowing I did not support him. I vocally interjected a few times (only the first of these was acknowledged) and eventually chose to actually disrupt. I did so by waking down the aisle and when I got about 15 feet from Trump, I looked him in the eye and unfurled an American flag upside down,” Dunham said in a Facebook message.
“This is NOT a disrespectful statement. It is NOT an anti-American statement,” he added. “Section A (literally the first part) of the US flag code states:
“‘The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.'”
After feeling he had made his point, he began to leave when he felt himself being grabbed from behind, which he said he thought was security at first.
“You can see in the video when I realize it isn’t because I twist out of his grip, hands raised in submission. He then lunges at me again before being pushed away by an officer.”
Dunham also explains this motivation behind holding the flag upside down in an open letter to Smith, which he posted to Facebook, where he also informs Smith that he won’t be pressing charges, adding, “even though I think we both know I have a pretty solid case.”
“I understand your anger. I do worry it is misguided, and I suspect you had no idea that the way I was holding the flag was not in fact a sign of disrespect. It is a common misunderstanding that an inverted flag is an inherently anti-American symbol,” he writes.
“I ask for you to consider opening your mind, and understanding the importance of accountability,” the letter continues. “If I were to hold you criminally accountable, the assault and battery charge would likely affect every interaction with law enforcement you have for the rest of your life. It would be even more difficult to find work, and your anger would likely become deeper. I hope this message of compassion does more to set you on a path where you may have made a different choice faced with a similar situation.
“Even if you disagree with a protester’s message, or the way a protester is sending it, assault is not an appropriate response. You did not simply ‘lead me out’ as your very vocal husband claims.”
He explains that he does not wish to press charges, even though many have suggested he should, because he forgives Smith and, “because I believe the power to change this world lies in the connections between individuals, not their reliance on a system that seeks to disenfranchise them.”
He states that he doesn’t believe Smith should be punished for the rest of his life for “an emotional decision in a tense situation.”
“We may not see eye to eye, but we cannot work together with hate between us,” he concludes.
Read the full letter below.