MESA – One person suggested that Mesa City Councilman Tom Rawles be taken out back and beaten. Another said someone should put a bullet in his head, and a third that he should be buried in the cement his construction company uses.
Rawles began getting the threats last month after he started refusing to recite or stand for the Pledge of Allegiance during council meetings to protest the war in Iraq. He has sat out for the pledge twice so far.
His stand has angered fellow council members and constituents alike in this conservative Phoenix suburb of about 400,000, with several people demanding the first-term councilman be thrown out of office. Police briefly provided him with protection before deciding the threats were no reason for alarm.
“You have disrespected our country and the symbol of it and the men and women who fought for it,” resident Mike Thelan told Rawles through tears at a council meeting on Monday. “You have acted like a spoiled little child that has not received what he wants from his parents.”
Rawles, a 57-year-old lawyer who long ago decided not to run for re-election when his term is up in June 2008, said he will continue his protest “until the troops come home.” He said he doesn’t mind that his stand is angering some people.
“That’s what political speech is supposed to do. It’s supposed to infuriate and irritate and challenge and make people think,” Rawles said. “They apparently would prefer me just to walk lock step and mouth ritualistic words to a mandatory ceremony, and that’s not my idea of freedom.”
In similar protests over the years, two black American sprinters at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics bowed their heads and raised their gloved fists in a black-power salute during the national anthem. In 1996, NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf refused to stand for the anthem because of what he said was the United States’ history of tyranny. And in 2004, baseball star Carlos Delgado would not come out of the dugout during “God Bless America” to protest the war in Iraq.
Fellow Councilman Kyle Jones said it is not Rawles’ opinion about the war that offends him – it is the refusal to stand during the pledge.
“The privilege of reciting the pledge is just that, it’s a privilege,” Jones said. “I’m very grateful for that privilege, and so for somebody who historically has promoted patriotism so much, I was just taken back by that action.”
Resident Gary Darst said Rawles is “nuts.”
“He’s got a right not to believe in the war,” he said. “It’s just not standing up and not saluting the flag – that’s ridiculous.”
But Mesa resident Joann Stewart said she is not offended by Rawles’ protest.
“I personally would never have picked that way to protest because that’s the flag of the United States of America, and I honor that,” she said. “But the main concern is what’s going on with the war.”