When Dean Morris received a letter in the mail this week attacking him for flying an American flag outside his house every day, he couldn't believe somebody could be so enraged by the nation's symbol.
"I take great umbrage at somebody being offended by the American flag," the San Rafael resident said. "I'm a veteran and I have a lot of friends who didn't make it back from Vietnam."
The typed letter, an apparent photo copy of an original, was hand-addressed to "resident," had no return address and was postmarked out of San Francisco.
After checking with his neighbors, Morris learned his Riviera Drive friends who also fly American flags received the same note. It included profanity, and assumed its receivers were Republicans who did not agree with the politics of what the writer described as the nation's "black president." The letter states the recipients are no more patriotic than anyone else, just "confused." It goes on to say: "Show some respect and fly your flag on important holidays instead of trying to make a moronic statement. It is not cute!"
At first Chase Pennington thought the letter in his grandmother's mailbox was a joke. But the more he thought about it, the more it bothered him.
"My first reaction was I kind of laughed because I was caught so off-guard and it was written very poorly," Pennington said. "I started sharing it with my friends, and we talked about how outrageous it was for somebody to type up the letter, get addresses and send it through the mail."
For as long as Pennington can remember, his grandmother -- who died recently -- flew a flag at the home she lived in for more than 50 years, even lamenting the fact that more of her neighbors didn't follow suit. The flag currently flying at her house was a present from Pennington on Mother's Day.
He said the flag is not a partisan symbol as the letter writer suggests. Instead, he believes that flying it honors the nation and those who fought for citizens' freedom.
"I have friends that are in the service and it's in part to honor their sacrifices and family members who have been in the service over the years -- and a sense of pride from where we're from," Pennington said.
Flag-flying neighbor Tom Williams was also disturbed by the letter's message.
"This is a little unhinged. Somebody is stewing in some unnecessary anger," Williams said, holding the letter he received.
A block away, neighbor Chris Welch was horrified to learn of the letters sent to his neighbors. While he doesn't fly a flag, he said the letter came across as threatening and made him uncomfortable.
"It's befuddling," Welch said. "Of all the things you could do to affect change, (and) that's what you choose to do?"
Many of the neighbors took to Nextdoor, a private neighborhood online social network, to talk about the letter. There they learned people flying flags in Glenwood and Loch Lomond had also received the same correspondence. They used the forum to ponder whether the culprit lives in the area, and a couple of people said they had contacted the police department to see what could be done.
San Rafael police Chief Diana Bishop said although the letter is not pleasant, it does not meet the threshold of being threatening.
"We can't control what comes to the mailbox. If it is something dangerous or the words in a letter are threatening, that's where the police get involved," Bishop said. "If someone said 'If you don't put your flag down, then I will do A, B and C,' then that would be considered threatening."
As far as Morris is concerned, he thinks the writer's assumptions are a bit comical. He said he has no plans to stop flying his flag. "I've been flying my flag for over 20 years. I've been through a lot of presidents," Morris said.
Inspired by the letter, Pennington has dotted his grandmother's hedges with small American flags typically held by revelers at parades. He hopes more people in the neighborhood will respond by hoisting the colors.
"I talked to my mom, who lives up the street, and she's trying to get a flag up," he said.
Follow Megan Hansen's blog at http://blogs.marinij.com/bureaucratsandbaking. ------ (c)2014 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.) Visit The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.) at www.marinij.com