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Flag Flap Cause of Frustration

By Joline Gutierrez Krueger
Journal Staff Writer
      This is Peter Lynch, his e-mail begins. The guy who tore down the Mexican flag.
    That is his identity now, still, more than a year since he tore down — and tearing up — both the fabric of another country and the fabric of his life.
    It is not the identity he wanted. He never imagined himself the poster boy of both patriotic zeal and xenophobic bile, never imagined his single act would crystallize in him both what he loves about his country and what he hates.
    You remember this guy. On Sept. 17, 2007, Lynch was fresh from eight years of military service and a student at the University of New Mexico when he took matters and the Mexican flag into his own hands after seeing it flying on campus unaccompanied by the U.S. flag — a clear violation of flag protocol and an especially egregious affront on Constitution Day, an obscure holiday but one on which flying the flag is most obligatory.
    Lynch says he made efforts to peaceably rectify the matter, contacting the Army ROTC, the Dean of Students Office and the Veterans Office.
    The flag came down four hours later, but in shreds.
    Lynch was eventually charged with misdemeanor criminal damage to property, but even before then he was cast across the talk show airwaves and national news as both patriot and bigot, his act a hate crime or a heroic deed.
    UNM officials, who had caused the flag gaffe in the first place, were quick to condemn Lynch, calling his act despicable and deplorable, implying it was rooted in racism and apologizing to anyone with even the loosest ties to Mexico. No one apologized to U.S. citizens for the breach of flag etiquette.
    This April, a Metro Court jury took a half-hour to find Lynch guilty, apparently believing that whatever the motivation may have been it was still vandalism. He was sentenced to six months of supervised probation, 48 hours of community service, anger management counseling and restitution in the form of a new flag (with no mention that Lynch's earlier replacement offer had already been rejected by angry flag owner El Centro de la Raza).
    That's all out of the way, but Lynch is back briefly in the media glare he tried and failed to avoid to let us know that this whole thing still sticks in his craw like bad masa. It has not been worth it.
    In the months since the flag flap, Lynch says he has received thousands of death threats and several rounds of beer. He has been beaten up in jail, dropped out of UNM, didn't see the donations made to his cause and remains continuously, furiously frustrated that no one has considered what his real political positions are.
    He is angry, disillusioned, disappointed and sure that were he to have the chance to do it all over again he wouldn't.
    "Not only no, but hell no," says Lynch, whose bitterness injects his conversation with an urgent rush. "I swore an oath in the military that I would protect the colors of this country, and I'm no longer under oath. I'll still die for my country. In a heartbeat, I'd still die for my country. But what this whole thing has shown me is that my country doesn't care about me, and the people don't care about this country."
    Not that he regrets his decision on the flag, much:
    "It was a violation, and I was offended, and it needed to be done. I just wish it would have been somebody else."
    One of Lynch's staunchest supporters in the beginning had been Paul Caputo, a Marine veteran and retired Rio Rancho police officer who organized a motorcycle rally that raised more than $900 for Lynch's defense fund.
    But Lynch says his relationship with Caputo went sour when he asked for some of the money to pay for about $580 in court fees and fines — his attorney, John D'Amato, had represented him for $1 — and was told the money was gone.
    "I didn't see a dime out of it," Lynch says.
    Caputo says the money was used the way it was intended.
    "It's real simple," he says. "The funds that were raised were to pay an attorney, not to pay his fines. If he was convicted, his fines were up to him."
    All but the $1 paid to D'Amato was given to charity, although Caputo says he has no proof of that other than his integrity.
    Caputo now views Lynch as a money-grubber and a skinhead, but backs away on explaining his flip-flop.
    "I really don't want to be involved with him any longer, and you can quote me on that," he says.
    That's nuts, Lynch says.
    "Yes, I have friends in the National Socialist Society, but, heck, I have friends who are in Centro de la Raza," he says. "I don't discriminate against people because of their political beliefs. I voted for Obama. To call me a skinhead is so absolutely ridiculous."
    And, he says, so typical of the misunderstandings he has had to deal with since flag day.
    Lynch says he is pro-amnesty and anti-border fence. He believes in a country that embraces all people, in an American culture that pulls together under the same flag.
    After his trial in April, Lynch vowed to move away, saying he no longer felt welcomed.
    Yet here he is. After he ties up a few family matters and legal loose ends, though, Lynch says, he is bound for Florida. He is done trying to explain himself now, done with New Mexico.
    "The whole point of this, the whole thing is, I took a flag down and I'm glad I did, but I made a mistake," he says. "I did not want to make a big media statement. I was offended. And now I am just offended by the way this whole thing has worked out."
    You can reach Joline at 823-3603 or jkrueger@abqjournal.com.

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