Police in Blacksburg, Va., are investigating after a pride flag that flew on the outer walls of a religious center at Virginia Tech was torn down and replaced with Confederate flags.
Members of Wesley, a United Methodist ministry that caters to students at Virginia Tech, discovered Saturday morning that the rainbow flag on the front of its red-brown brick building was missing, according to Bret Gresham, a minister at Wesley.
Instead, members found a Confederate flag near the spot that the pride flag once was. An additional Confederate flag was also found at the building, Gresham said. “We were upset, angry, and … concerned for our students,” Gresham wrote in an email.
It was the third time in two weeks that a pride flag that Wesley had placed went missing, Gresham said. But the latest episode represented an escalation because of the presence of the Confederate flags. Wesley notified police soon after. Blacksburg police did not reply to a request for comment, though Gresham said they were “doing a great job.”
Gresham had tweeted that he and his colleagues had reported the incident as a hate crime on Saturday. But he wrote on Wednesday that Wesley didn’t necessarily see this as a hate crime. “We are just saying we denounce all forms of hate and intimidation.” Police told Wesley members that authorities were looking at the incident as a larceny case, Gresham said.
Virginia Tech issued a statement Wednesday condemning the unknown perpetrators. “Incidents like this remind us that the journey to equity and social justice — whether in our community or others across the country — will be long and hard-fought.”
A spokesman for the school said that Virginia Tech police would support Blacksburg police if called upon. The university is offering counseling assistance to anyone affected, the spokesman said.
Virginia Tech urged anyone with information to contact law enforcement. Gresham told The Post he and his colleagues “do not have any idea” who the perpetrators are.
Wesley advocates inclusiveness, regardless of sexual orientation or race, according to its website. In front of its building, it has a bench painted in the rainbow colors of a pride flag. An adjacent bench — just under where the pride flag hung — depicts the fist symbol of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Blacksburg, home to about 45,000 people, has not reported an official hate crime since 2017, according to FBI data. That year the town experienced one incident involving about a hundred leaflets with hand-drawn swastika signs scattered on the grounds of a Jewish community center.
The incident in Blacksburg comes as the United States is going through a racial reckoning and a broader national conversation about hate. Communities in the South, in particular, have wrestled with symbols of the Confederacy, including statues, monuments and Confederate-named schools, highways and bridges.
Last year, Mississippi became the last Southern state to remove a Confederate symbol from its state flag. Alabama and South Carolina ceased flying the flag at their state capitol grounds in 2015.