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Sometimes, a flag is just a flag

Did Washington Democrats fly "a Communist China flag" alongside Old Glory? Well, it's a funny story that caused a major stir in conservative media.
Early daffodils bloom as two Washington State Patrol troopers walk toward the U.S. Capitol, Feb. 17, 2015, in Olympia, Washington. (Photo by Ted S. Warren/AP)
Early daffodils bloom as two Washington State Patrol troopers walk toward the U.S. Capitol, Feb. 17, 2015, in Olympia, Washington.
If you have a wacky uncle who consumes conservative media all day, it's a safe bet you'll receive an email about this story, if you haven't already.

The Washington state capitol put up the Chinese flag last week in honor of Gov. Jay Inslee's (D) trade meeting with Cui Tiankai, China's ambassador to the United States. But on Saturday morning, a small group of tea party activists went and protested the flag, outraged that it was flying alongside the U.S. and state flags.

As manufactured outrages go, this one is more ridiculous than most.
A Chinese ambassador went to Olympia last week, so officials at the state capital did what they always do when a foreign dignitary visits: they raised the visitor's flag alongside the U.S. and Washington flags as a goodwill gesture.
A right-wing activist on Facebook complained, and that apparently reached Alex Jones. From there it went to fringe blogs, then WorldNetDaily, and then Fox News, which told its audience that "local patriots" were "not pleased" that a Democratic governor "decided to fly a Communist China flag ... right between Old Glory and the state flag."
Fox's report added that the "local patriots ... said that flying the flag of Communist China at the same height as the stars and stripes was disrespectful."
So, how should you respond to your angry uncle's all-caps email? With the truth -- which happens to be far more amusing than the far-right's effort to create a scandal where none exists.
The truth is, temporarily flying a foreign visitor's flag during his or her diplomatic visit is pretty routine stuff. When Chinese President Hu Jintao visited with then-President George W. Bush in April 2006, the Republican White House flew "a Communist China flag" at "the same height" as "Old Glory," too. It wasn't a big deal. The republic remains intact.
But if there's no controversy, why did officials in Washington take down the Chinese flag after conservative media raised a fuss? That's actually the funniest part.
There's a YouTube video -- nearing 100,000 views -- of the flag being lowered, which far-right activists pointed to as a "victory" for their cause. Wonkette spoiled their fun:

We suppose it might be rude of us to point this out, but didja notice [in the YouTube video] that not a single one of the "patriot activists" does any actual hauling down of the commie flag? The guy taking down the flag is a state employee, what with the hardhat and the tools to open up the flagpole and crank down the flag. And the poor state trooper who is now going to get called a member of a quasi-paramilitary group is just the poor schlub who drew the honor of guarding the maintenance guy, not an anti-government activist who's joining the "patriots" in defiance of Communist Gov. Jay Inslee. [...] Again, as we confirmed with a call to Jaime Smith, Director of Media Relations for Gov. Inslee, the Chinese flag had been flying to honor the ambassador's visit. She noted that it's common protocol for national flags of visiting diplomatic and trade delegations to fly at the Capitol during official visits, as a routine show of goodwill. When the visit is over, the flag comes down. Totally normal, and the "patriots" had nothing to do with it.

Apparently, a Scottish diplomat arrived in Olympia yesterday for a round of meetings, which means Scotland's flag is now also waving in front of the Washington capitol building.
Whether conservative media outlets freak out about this, too, remains to be seen.