Update: Due to heightened tensions around campus for a rally, university officials canceled classes on Friday April 24.
An Air Force veteran with a controversial past is banned from Valdosta State University after taking an American flag from demonstrators walking on it in protest.
The veteran, Michelle Manhart, was detained — but not arrested — following the Friday incident in front of a library at the south Georgia college. She told the Valdosta Daily Times that she was upset not with the group’s protest, but with the way they were protesting.
“I did not want anything like this, but I got a call from a student who told me that the flag was on the ground, and they were walking on it,” Manhart, also a former Playboy model, told the paper. “I was just going over there to pick up the flag off the ground. I don’t know what their cause is, but I went to pick it up because it doesn’t deserve to be on the ground.”
The newspaper said the protesters involved in the original demonstration declined to identify their organization.
In a video from the incident, Manhart can be seen arguing with protesters while holding the flag in question.
“This belongs actually to the entire United States,” she says.
Manhart can also be seen struggling with Valdosta State University Police before being detained. She was ultimately given a criminal trespass warning, the Daily Times reported, which effectively bans her from any university activity.
In a statement posted on the college’s website, Valdosta State University President William J. McKinney said the American flag “represents everything that is best about our country” but said the demonstrators had a right to do so.
“As the Supreme Court has held, one of those things is the right to free speech, which includes the right to disrespect even the symbol of our country,” McKinney’s statement said. “While I firmly disagree with the actions of the protesters, I understand their right to protest.”
Manhart, a sergeant in the Air Force at the time, appeared in Playboy in 2007, posing in uniform, out of uniform and while draped with the American flag. She was reprimanded and demoted and quit the military the next year.