Activists destroyed a 9/11 memorial at Middlebury College in Vermont on Wednesday, they said, to protest "American conquest and colonialism."
The memorial, a joint effort of the Middlebury College Republicans and College Democrats, consisted of 2,977 flags representing each life lost in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Ben Kinney, president of the Middlebury College Republicans, said he caught the five vandals, four women and a man, in the act of uprooting the flags and throwing them in trash bags.
“I got there just as they were taking the very last of them out of the ground and putting them in piles,” Kinney in a statement to The Middlebury Campus. “At first, I thought the group was comprised of College Democrats helping put the flags away before the rain rolled in, but then I realized what they were doing.”
At least one of the protesters was a student.
The activists also claimed the memorial was disrespectfully erected over an Indian burial ground.
But Kinney said the student groups had permission to use the site for the memorial. The Middlebury College Republicans and College Democrats have been honoring the victims of September 11 for nearly a decade.
Two of the five activists have taken responsibility for the vandalism.
Protester Amanda Lickers, a Native American, complained the memorial was erected atop tribal land.
“Yesterday I said no to settler occupation,” she said in a statement. “I took those flags. It is a small reclamation and modest act of resistance.”
The other activist who came forward is Anna Shireman-Grabowski, a Middlebury student.
“My intention was not to cause pain but to visibilize the necessity of honoring all human life and to help a friend heal from the violence of genocide that she carries with her on a daily basis as an indigenous person,” she wrote in a statement. “While the American flags on the Middlebury hillside symbolize to some the loss of innocent lives in New York, to others they represent centuries of bloody conquest and mass murder. As a settler on stolen land, I do not have the luxury of grieving without an eye to power. Three thousand flags is a lot, but the campus is not big enough to hold a marker for every life sacrificed in the history of American conquest and colonialism.”
Middlebury President Ron Liebowitz later condemned the activists' actions.
"Like many of you, I was deeply disturbed by the insensitivity of this act. Destruction of property and interfering with the rights of others to express themselves violates the standards of our community," he said in a statement. "There is always something to learn from differences of opinion. In this case, the disrespectful methods of the protesters overshadowed anything that might have been learned from the convictions they claimed to promote. We will not tolerate this kind of behavior."
Liebowitz said the school has begun a disciplinary investigation of this vandalism.
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Featured image Rachel Kogan.