Mark Karol-Chik lives in the small town of St. Helens, Oregon, about thirty miles north of Portland.
The day after Kerry lost the election to Bush, Mark decided to fly his flag upside down as a sign that our democracy is in distress.
“Our country is going down, and going down fast,” he recalls thinking. “Our democracy is being stolen left and right by people who have no idea what democracy stands for.”
It didn’t take long for things to turn ugly.
“A couple of days later, someone came up onto my porch in the middle of the night and cut up a portion of the flag,” he says. “Not long after that, someone came and stole the whole flag altogether.”
So he got a new one and flew it higher from a planter box in a windowsill upstairs.
Unable to reach the flag, vandals started to egg Mark’s truck and his wife’s van, which have political signs on them, including a “Bush/Orwell 1984” sticker. This went on for months and months, he says. “People would leave nasty notes on our windshields, like, ‘If you don’t love your country, leave it.’ ”
Mark’s teenage son got threats at high school.
“One of the larger hicks in town confronted him and said, ‘Hey, I don’t like your flag. That’s pretty fucked up.’ And a group quickly surrounded him, but fortunately a teacher broke it up, Mark says. A while later, when his son was walking down the sidewalk, another student pulled his truck onto the sidewalk and, according to Mark, said, “One of these days we’re going to burn your house down.”
On the night of May 22, 2006, they heard a crashing noise in their driveway.
“My son said, ‘Did you hear that?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, what was that?’ And my son said, ‘I don’t know, but I see three people running away.’ ”
Mark and his son went outside to look around. “It was raining very hard,” says Mark, “and I didn’t see anything, so I said, ‘Things seem fine. We’ll take a look in the morning.’ ”
When he got up the next day and went outside he discovered what had made the noise.
“Sure enough, a brick had been thrown through the back window of my truck,” he says. “Written on one side of the brick was, ‘Fix your flag.’ On the other side: ‘Love it or leave it.’ ”
He reported the incident to the police, who came out but didn’t find the culprits.
After that, there were some minor incidents, Mark says. But he also says he’s received support from a woman in the National Guard and a former Marine, both of whom came by the house to wish him well.
But last month, at 1:00 in the morning on November 10th, someone hurled a huge rock through his daughter’s upstairs bedroom window.
“We heard a large crash,” he says. “I thought a cat had knocked something over.”
He got up and checked things out.
“I noticed there was a big gaping hole in my daughter’s bedroom window,” he says. “The rock weighed about five to six pounds. My daughter hasn’t caused any kind of a squabble. She’s thirteen. Thankfully, she was sleeping downstairs at the time.”
This rattled Mark.
“I was worried about my family, and I was shaking with anger,” he says. “And the first thing I thought was, tomorrow I’m going to go take the flag down and take all the signs off my truck and the van.”
But his wife convinced him not to, he says.
“That’s what they want us to do,” she told him. “We’re fine.”
Again, they called the police out to investigate. Mark says the police officer “was beside himself that someone in this community would do something like that.”
“Our officers went out to answer his complaints and did the investigations at the scene,” says Lieutenant Terry Moss of the St. Helens Police Department. “We have not identified any suspects. We don’t know who it is that’s haranguing him. We’ve got nothing.”
Moss says that “vandalism in itself isn’t unusual, but political vandalism is very unusual.” He adds: “We don’t have anybody else in town who expresses opinions as loudly and vocally as Mark does.”
In the last month, people have thrown golf balls into Mark’s yard “with notes posted on them with duct tape,” Mark says. One of the notes said: “America rocks, bitches.” Someone even rolled a number 12 cue ball into their driveway, but the message on it had washed away in the rain, he says.
“Who are you people? If you’re going to attack me blindsided,” Mark asks, “why can’t you stand up and tell me face to face? And if that flag means so much to you, then you don’t really have a clue what this country is supposed to be about.”
Mark is a member of the Columbia County Democratic Committee. At a meeting of that committee on November 27, the group decided to rally to his family’s support and drafted a public letter.
“The violence appears to have been directed at them in an effort to silence their political dissent,” the letter states. “This attack on members of our community is unacceptable. It was an act of intimidation and a hate crime. It was an act of terrorism. It is also a sad commentary on a small number of people in our community who feel justified in lashing out physically in response to a difference of opinion.”
The committee is circulating the letter and trying to get other political and civic groups to endorse it.
“So far, community groups such as the Kiwanis and Rotary Clubs have signed on to the idea,” according to the local newspaper The Spotlight. But the chair of the local Republican Party denounced the letter as a “political stunt,” adding: “We don’t want to have anything to do with it.”
Mark and his wife will not relent. They’re still flying the flag upside down.
“I’ll eat dirt and I’ll taste blood,” he says, “but I’m not going to back down.”
PHOTO: DARRYL SWAN