BOWDOINHAM — A 13-star American flag hanging upside down from a Bowdoinham man’s porch has captured attention and prompted jeers from a few passers-by, but the owner says his protest isn’t meant to be divisive.

“Flying the flag upside down is not a symbol of disrespect. It’s not stepping on the flag, it’s not burning the flag. It’s a symbol of international distress,” said Gregg McNally. “I decided that would be a good way to illustrate my disagreement with what’s going on in this country and my grave concern.”

McNally said he flipped the flag shortly after Donald Trump took office.

The U.S. Flag Code stipulates that the flag should never be displayed upside down “except as a signal of dire distress” or when there is a threat to life or property.

McNally says he is concerned about the ongoing investigation into alleged collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia. He said he is taking a stand against those who aim to divide.

“The division in this country is being driven maybe by the Russians or other people,” he said. “But, they want to see division in this country, they don’t care if it’s Republicans or Democrats.”

Some have accused McNally of contributing to that division through flipping the flag.

He received a letter in July stating that Bowdoinham is a peaceful town, and asking McNally to “keep it that way.” The anonymous sender included a letter to the editor published in The Times Record that defended Trump, and argued that the president’s critics were the divisive ones.

McNally said he took the comment about keeping the town peaceful as a thinly veiled threat. He alerted the Sagadahoc County Sheriff ‘s Office to the letter, but nothing came of it, because the letter didn’t include any specific threats.

“I just had my granddaughter here, who is 21 months old,” said McNally. “I’m not a violent person. The thought that I’m making this community less peaceful bothers me.”

McNally hasn’t received any other notes or complaints recently. One passing motorist had some words while driving by, but he couldn’t make out what they said.

“Some will get upset about it. Probably rightfully so,” said Brunswick American Legion Post 20 Cmdr. David Watson. “But something we have stood for is people have the right to express their opinion.”

Watson says that while individuals do have the right to express themselves, the use of the flag in this manner is inappropriate. Breaking flag etiquette to signal distress based on a political view was not what the signal is intended for, he argued.

“As a veteran and retired police officer, I may not agree with it,” said Watson. “But I would stand for that person’s right to do that if it’s peaceful.”

McNally said he takes pride in his family’s history of military service. Both of his grandfathers served the country, one leaving his family of four at age 35 to join the Navy during World War II. His father was a captain in the Marine Corps.

“The First Gulf War, I was in the Merchant Marine. I worked alongside U.S. Army,” said McNally. “I’m familiar with what it means to fly that flag. I’m familiar with what it means to people around the world. It means a lot to me.

“I think about my 21-month-old granddaughter,” McNally added. “If I don’t say something, is she going to grow up in a fascist country? Is she going grow up in a country where you disappear if you say something?”

McNally said he’ll continue to display the flag upside down as long as the current administration is in office. He said he wants to have a conversation with the person that sent him the letter, or anyone else that may disagree with his point of view. If he believed he was disrespecting the flag, he said he would take it down.

“I think it’s important to be a person of principle,” said McNally. “I think it’s important for us to have this conversation. If I were to take the flag down, it makes me complicit.”

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