Flag-desecration rally called off after soldier's Internet rumors prove false

Planned protest sparked interest nationwide, but ‘trying to undo the story now that it is all over the Internet is like dumping a pillow-full of feathers off a mountain’

Staff writer

What might have been a major rally protesting recent flag desecration at a cemetery near Peabody was canceled Thursday after the National Guard sergeant who had started an e-mail campaign for the event learned he had been misinformed. Concern also had been raised that the protest might get out of hand.

Sgt. Kevin Linscheid of Peabody, a trucker who has served in the Balkans and Iraq, heard about desecration of flags the weekend after Memorial Day.

He bought a copy of the Peabody Gazette-Bulletin to read about the vandalism and subsequent investigation and obtained additional information from “some people — I don’t remember now who they were,” he said.

The stories left him furious. He was particularly concerned with a rumor, which has turned out to be false, that police would not charge those involved even though they knew who they were.

“I was so angry,” he said. “I really wasn’t clear-headed. I love the flag and my country and I was furious that something like this would take place here at a time to honor soldiers. I probably should have done more checking, but I was in a state of outrage.”

Linscheid, who is in his mid- to late 40s and has lived in Peabody for several years, decided to encourage people to come to Peabody for a protest to show the community and local youngsters how people from all over and from all walks of life felt about vandalizing the American flag.

He created an e-mail June 7 to rouse the patriotic ire of the nation and spread the word about the rally.

Soon, people from all over the country were familiar with the flag desecration in Peabody, which also was mentioned in inflamed messages on numerous websites, including a Hutchinson News Facebook page.

The Gazette-Bulletin received numerous e-mails seeking confirmation of this story — from people in Georgia, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Iowa, as well as many Kansas communities.

Linscheid had heard, and reported in his e-mails, that the vandals had destroyed “nine to 20 flags.”

The actual number of flags involved was nine. Three of them were shredded. The rest were merely torn down.

Linscheid also was told, and reported, that the vandals had not just torn the flags but also had urinated on them.

This was completely false, Sheriff Rob Craft said Thursday.

Linscheid also had heard and reported that the perpetrators were teenagers, about 12 of them, all from “prominent families,” and that “the next day they ran all around town and bragged about what they had done.”

Much of this proved to be false, too. Sheriff’s deputies have been attempting to identify the vandals since the incident. Craft said Thursday that he expected to make his report to the county attorney next week.

Linscheid’s e-mails targeted Peabody officials for inaction on the matter, but the cemetery is located outside the city limits, so Marion County Sheriff’s Department has been handling the investigation.

Linscheid said Thursday that by June 13, some “inconsistencies” had been pointed out to him. He e-mailed his contacts with retractions, asking them pass them along as they had the original e-mail. However, his second e-mail has been slow to circulate.

Linscheid was at home in Peabody working Thursday on yet another letter of explanation.

He said he no longer was interested in speaking to the Peabody mayor and judge and did not condone any violence.

He said he had spoken to Craft and was assured the case “was being fully investigated.” The sheriff promised he would not let it die.

“I don’t want the kids to go to jail,” Linscheid said. “That doesn’t solve anything. I just want them to know how strongly so many people feel about the flag and the sacrifice made by our soldiers to keep it flying and keep all of us free.

“The kids need to respect it and the people represented by the Avenue of Flags. I want them to see that everyone, not just Peabody, is appalled by their behavior.”

One of the original e-mails was sent to Rick Regan of KZSN (102.1 FM) in Wichita. Regan read the letter on air Monday and posted it on his website. He encouraged listeners to respond. As of Thursday night, the notice was still on the website and no retraction was posted. Letters from Linscheid and Craft were added Friday morning, but Regan criticized Craft for suggesting that “the continued perpetuation of this misinformation in the name of 'open discussion’ serves no purpose other than personal enjoyment at the expense of a community.”

Kansas American Legion Riders issued a statement to chapters across the state that “investigation … has revealed that this gathering is not in the best interest of the American Legion and/or the ALR. It has been recommended that the ALR not attend any such gathering in Peabody.”

Craft and Linscheid met Thursday at Santa Fe Park in Peabody for an interview with a Wichita television reporter, which ran as the lead story on the station's 10 p.m. newscast Thursday but neglected to mention that facts had been misreported. A Wichita newspaper also covered the developments in the lead story of it Friday editions; it did report the inconsistencies in the original e-mails.

“Kevin and I talked at length Wednesday,” Craft said. “Of course, I couldn’t reveal any information about the investigation, but I did assure him that we are not about to give up on it. The Marion County Sheriff’s Department has a commitment to the investigation.

“I told him I was unhappy about the flags, too. I’m a vet, and I hate to see things like that happen to the flag of our country.

“I also went over the untrue parts of his accusations and tried to explain how that gave Peabody and Marion County a black eye. Trying to undo the story now that it is all over the Internet is like dumping a pillow-full of feathers off a mountain. No matter how long or hard you try, you will never get them all back.”

Craft said that the two parted on good terms and that Linscheid was glad to know the pursuit of the vandals would continue.

Linscheid contacted Craft again Thursday morning and said he was considering calling off the rally. He said he became wary of some of the Internet comments from people who were planning to attend. He told Craft he didn’t want any violence but wasn’t sure it could be contained.

“We had a mutual understanding about the rally,” Craft said. “We talked a bit and then he let me know he’d made the decision to rescind the whole thing.”

Craft said that Linschied called later to say that he had contacted two other Wichita television stations and they would be coming to Peabody to interview him. It's unclear whether they did. Linschied asked Craft to appear with him in the interviews as a show of solidarity and Craft agreed.

“Hopefully, word will get out that it has been called off,” Craft said. “I hope people understand why and don’t think it’s because of pressure from ‘prominent people’ or anything like that.

“This is a perfect example of why it is best to get the facts before you post anything on the Internet or respond to posts that someone else has made,” he said. “People need to do a little research. Technology has changed the world, but people need to be cautious about how they use it.”

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