Hundreds of people gathered in Haddam on Friday night to show support for the American flag and to show their displeasure with town selectman Melissa Schlag, who chose to kneel during the Pledge of Allegiance at a town meeting earlier this month.
They placed 1,000 flags on the Higganum Green, many of which previously graced the grave sites of local veterans, according to the event organizer Ron Annino, a Navy veteran.
Schlag spoke exclusively to NBC Connecticut’s on Friday and insisted her decision to take a knee at a Board of Selectmen meeting last week was not disrespectful to veterans. She said generations of her family, including her father, served in the military.
“I chose to kneel not out of disrespect for the flag or our country, but out of utter respect, but also fear for what we have to lose, and all of the attacks on our democracy,” she said.
Schlag said her protest was meant to call attention to President Trump’s controversial statements following his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s in Helsinki, which took place earlier that day.
She told NBC Connecticut her patriotism is evident in her decision to serve as a public official, and she believes taking a knee in a public meeting was her way of giving a reverential nod to the hard-won right to free speech.
“If we are not allowed to exercise our freedom of expression and of peaceful protest then they fought for nothing at all,” she said.
The video of her kneeling for the Pledge of Allegiance has been seen all over the country, and she has received numerous messages of support and heavy criticism.
Some at Friday's counter-protest disagree with Schlag's decision to kneel.
“I haven’t been ever to any protest because I don’t really feel it accomplishes much, but this particular thing because it was an official, I just don’t feel there’s a place in society for you to rebel at your town council meeting,” said Steven Pinto, an Air Force veteran who drove in from Manchester for the event.
“I’m not really sure what happened, but it’s highly disrespectful,” said Lisa Johnson, of Higganum.
Schlag said she plans to continue taking a knee in protest. She told NBC Connecticut she does not intend to run for re-election when her term as selectman ends in November of 2019. It's a decision she said she made before the controversy.