Byron Thomas was just another anonymous Senate intern until his co-workers started making fun of his earnest plea that they all show the American flag more respect and recite the Pledge of Allegiance every day. "Now I've only been here for 8 days but I can tell that something is wrong, (in my opinion)," Thomas, an intern for Sen. Tim Scott, wrote in an email to colleagues. "We have American flags in front of every room, but I’ve never seen anyone take the time to proudly say the Pledge of Allegiance." The email got forwarded around. Someone sent it to the Huffington Post. Gawker found his Facebook and Twitter accounts, plus an old interview in which he expresses his love of the Confederate flag. Now, Thomas is famous.
Now, I would love to say the pledge with the different offices before 9am (because that’s when I start work). All I want is for our generation to show that we’re united and that we’re going to stand together. We’ll always be One Nation, Under God. I hope you’ll see my words as kind and respectful because I’m truly not attacking anybody. I just truly care about this country and I want to work with everybody. Overwhelm People with Kindness and May God Bless the United States of America.
We can see where Thomas went astray. His email is the product of many conflicting pressures put on ambitious interns. How do you prove that you're a go-getter and love serving your country when you also have no power at all? Like, you might not yet be trusted to get the senator's coffee?
It is hard to be an intern. You are thrown into an office full of older people completely blind, with no intel on the office politics. Your youth is a threatening reminder to your full-time colleagues that they are getting older. Your inexperience means you say things that are really easy to make fun of. And, if you're the kind of earnest kid who spends his summer interning at the Capitol, instead of on a beach somewhere, you probably haven't padded your social media presence with enough irony to insulate you from ruthless mockery.
Thomas had few options to show he was a good intern, and he opted for a longtime hobby: flags. His Internet presence suggests he's really into flags—national flags, state flags, controversial flags. In December 2011, he told CNN he was proud to fly the Confederate flag in his dorm room at the University of South—Beaufort, because it represents pride in South Carolina, not racism. "I know it's kinda weird because I'm black," Thomas said. (It's worth noting that Thomas sought out the news coverage by submitting an "iReport" to CNN.) "When I look at this flag, I just don't see racism. I see pride, respect. Southern pride, that's what I see… Ignorance gave that flag a bad name, ignorant people like the KKK."
That Thomas is black and really into symbols of the Confederacy is impossible to ignore. And lots of people are talking about it. On his Facebook page on Tuesday, Thomas said: "You know.... a lot of people still hold a grudge over slavery in America. Everyone knows slavery is wrong and was wrong. But where would I be if slavery didn't happen in this country that I love so much." He noted, "Just think..... we would have never heard the dream, from Dr. Luther King Jr."
On Sunday, he said, "Don't mess with Texas??? Well how about don't mess with South Carolina!!! We're the true Rebel State!!!" He listed many facts about his state. Indeed, Thomas's love of his state goes way beyond Civil War history. (He and Stephen Colbert would have a lot to talk about.) A recent Facebook post: "Omg!!! People on twitter talking about Vick going to jail for dog fighting. So angry people on twitter, haha. I'm just reading and laugh folks because at the end of the day, I'm a South Carolinian!!!"
It's not really fair that this kid, who graduated from high school in 2011, is getting a lot of attention he did not ask for just because he wanted some friends to recite the Pledge of Allegiance with. But the things he has to say are really interesting, even if his public persona isn't filtered very carefully. There aren't very many black Republicans. (Thomas told CNN his parents argued with him over the rebel flag.) And the nearly-unanimous Washington consensus is that if the Republican Party wants to appeal to black and Latino voters, it needs to get as far away from these symbols as possible, not embrace them as Thomas has.
The full pledge email:
My name is Byron Thomas and I'm from the extremely beautiful state of South Carolina. I intern for Republican Senator Tim Scott. I've had the pleasure of coming into different offices to meet the staff and interns from different states. Yes, we are all different and are working on different agendas but at the end of the day, we're all citizens of the greatest country on earth, known as the United States of America. Now I've only been here for 8 days but I can tell that something is wrong, (in my opinion). We have American flags in front of every room, but I’ve never seen anyone take the time to proudly say the Pledge of Allegiance. Truly ask yourself, when was the last time you put your hand on your heart and said the Pledge of Allegiance. Now, I’m not attacking anybody because it’s your freedom and right to not say it but I’m assuming everyone that’s working up here loves this awesome country. Are we that busy that we can’t take a minute to show some pride and respect for our country? I say it every morning before I walk in because America’s always on my mind. I truly care about this country and I refuse to let this country fall. I know saying the pledge isn’t going to straighten out this economy we are in, but I believe it’s the little things that will take us far in life. We’re living in a truly blessed country and our generation has a great opportunity to be the greatest generation this country has ever had. I have a ton of faith in our generation because we will get America back on track! We all have to work together, so we can keep that American Dream alive for future generations. Now, I would love to say the pledge with the different offices before 9am (because that’s when I start work). All I want is for our generation to show that we’re united and that we’re going to stand together. We’ll always be One Nation, Under God. I hope you’ll see my words as kind and respectful because I’m truly not attacking anybody. I just truly care about this country and I want to work with everybody. Overwhelm People with Kindness and May God Bless the United States of America
P.S. Please share my message to your staff and interns or other offices that I didn’t reach, if you would like. Also if any events are happening, please let me know I would love to come.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.