For a lot of people, FedEx driver Matt Uhrin may just be America’s hero of the day.
When a group of anti-American protesters picked the sidewalk in front of the downtown Iowa City, Iowa, branch of Bank of America to burn several U.S. flags Thursday, they couldn’t have known Uhrin would be making a delivery at the same time.
According to protester Jordan Adams, of Iowa City, the group picked the Wells Fargo location at Ped Mall because of the bank’s support for the Dakota Access Pipeline. Donald Trump’s election and racial, ethnic and gender inequality were also on the protest agenda.
“I’m here because of my belief that everything that Trump is doing is horrible,” Adams told Little Village Magazine. “It’s threatening to black people, Hispanic, LGBTQ, women and to the protesters of the Dakota Access Pipeline.”
A similar protest at Ped Mall on Inauguration Day also included a flag burning that was interrupted when a bystander unsuccessfully tussled with the protester in an attempt to rescue the Stars & Stripes.
Thursday’s rescue was far more successful.
Video on Little Village Magazine’s Facebook site shows one member of the group attempting to light the flags held by four others. About 75 feet in the background, FedEx driver Uhrin can be seen reaching into his truck parked at the curb to retrieve a fire extinguisher. In a matter of seconds an obviously angry Uhrin can be seen – and heard – descending on the protesters, his fire extinguisher fully engaged.
“What do you think you’re doing? [Unintelligible] Get out of here! Get the f*** out of here!”
A second video, via YouTube, shows Uhrin leaving with the rescued flags only to return 30 seconds later, flags and fire extinguisher still in hand, to take the one flag still in the protesters’ possession. The altercation nearly comes to blows, with Uhrin outnumbered, and ends with “Back off! You don’t like it, get the f*** out!”
Warning: Vulgar language:
Uhrin refused to comment on the incident to local media except to say his actions had nothing to do with his employer.
Commenters on social media overwhelmingly expressed support for Uhrin, saying FedEx should give him a raise and promising to switch their deliveries to UPS or the U.S. Postal Service if he was disciplined or fired
An online “Save the FedEx Driver” petition exceeded its goal of 10,000 signatures
“Let’s make sure Matt Uhrin keeps his job at FedEx,” the petition read. “He was standing up for our American flag and should be commended, not punished!”
Early Saturday, FedEx tweeted that it had reviewed the incident and had no plans to terminate Uhrin.
“We have reviewed the matter in Iowa City involving driver Matt Uhrin. He remains a FedEx employee & we have no plans to change his status.”
FedEx’s decision to stand behind Uhrin earned it a big thank you from conservative columnist Ann Coulter, who promised the company all her delivery business.
Two of the protesters, Kelli Ebensberger and Paul Osgerby, were cited for not having a permit for an open burn. City code requires anyone doing an open burn to obtain a permit from the fire marshal. The citation is a simple misdemeanor that carries a fine of $65 to $625 and up to 30 days in jail.
“It’s not for the content of what they were burning but rather for violating the city ordinance of open burning,” Sgt. Scott Gaarde told the Iowa City Press-Citizen.
An Iowa law making it illegal to defile, cast contempt upon, satirize or deride a flag was declared unconstitutional by a federal judge in December 2014 and state prosecutors have been told not to enforce it.
In November, candidate Donald Trump created controversy when he tweeted that flag-burning should be illegal: “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”
Adams was critical of both the charges filed against the protesters and the Fed Ex driver’s actions to prevent the flag burning, especially his use of the fire extinguisher.
“We’re here to change the minds of people who disagree with us, but there is no space for that when we are being attacked,” Adams said.
Osgerby, who was cited, defended the protest, saying, “You can’t look at a flag one-dimensionally. This isn’t us badmouthing veterans or service people. Atrocities have been committed in the name of that flag. You can’t just take one view of the flag as a symbol of freedom when it has been used and continues to be used as a means of oppression.”
The charges against Osgerby and Ebensberger are the only two charges police expect to file in relation to the incident, reported the Press-Citizen.