By Jeff Victor | Laramie Boomerang | Via Wyoming News Exchange |
LARAMIE — A 2005 Dodge Ram comes roaring past, catching the attention of the pedestrians and other drivers in its vicinity. A pickup is not an unusual sight in the rural state of Wyoming, but the large American, Prisoner of War and state flags rippling proudly over the truck bed are.
Behind the wheel is Jaren Long, a Wyoming Army National Guardsman who said he wants to show his support for the military, law enforcement and first responders.
“Growing up, everything was so patriotic, you know, and I feel like we’re living in a world now where patriotism is shown to kids as a bad thing in a lot of circumstances,” he said. “And I just kind of want the community to see people still love America.”
A “flag cruise” involves driving through town with flags affixed to one’s vehicle. For some, this means 4-by-6-inch red, white and blue flags attached to a sedan. For Long and many other flag-cruisers, it means full-size flags of all varieties waving from sturdy poles mounted in the bed of a pickup.
Long said his flags show support for veterans, police, firefighters and paramedics. His group, Laramie Flag Cruises, however, would welcome cruisers with most kinds of flags, whether they fly the Gadsden flag known for its rattlesnake and ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ slogan, the rainbow gay pride flag, or a flag supporting any number of political causes.
“I want to support what I support, but I don’t want to make other people feel like what they support is wrong,” he said. “I’m sure there’s some people who do dislike it. There are some people who just dislike the American flag, which is their opinion, that’s fine.”
Long founded Laramie Flag Cruises after moving to Laramie in 2016, inspired by the Cheyenne Flag Cruises group he had previously been a part of in the state’s capitol.
Josh Thurin, one of the founders of that group, said he had always loved flying his flag, but wanted to include the community — especially in the face of a national dialogue which can be negative about the role of police in society.
“We wanted to show the community and the world that there is still some good hope,” he said.
The Cheyenne group enjoyed a reasonable amount of success, at times drawing out dozens of vehicles to make a show of support by cruising together, or to help other groups fundraise — though they did not fundraise themselves.
“I wanted to put my own twist on it because I really liked that all these people were coming together to show their support, but nothing was really happening,” Long said. “So, I wanted to start fundraising.”
Long said he hopes with increased popularity, Laramie Flag Cruises will be able to fundraise for the first responders he supports with his flags — buying body armor for law enforcement officers or equipment for firefighters, for example.
The largest outpouring of support the Cheyenne group ever received came during a cruise designed to honor five police officers shot and killed in July 2016. Roughly 100 vehicles — carrying far more people — turned out for the cruise.
In Laramie, Long established the Laramie Flag Cruises group as well as a corresponding University of Wyoming student organization. While he found a few people interested and willing to cruise, Long said Laramie residents, and especially students, were often too busy studying or working to help form a sizeable fleet of flag-waving vehicles.
“A lot of people in Laramie, it seems like, are worried to be affiliated with something so openly patriotic just because of the political tension that’s been going on. So, there’s been some people who said they want to support it, but they didn’t really want (it) to be known they’re supporting it — they didn’t really want to deal with any political backlash or anything.”
Long said he wants the Laramie group to have an inclusive environment and his group decided to disallow what is perhaps the most contentious flag from U.S. history — the Confederate battle flag.
“We decided there’s enough people who feel that it’s offensive that our organization just wouldn’t use it,” he said. “So, people within our organization, they can as long as they’re not affiliated with us, they can fly whatever they want.”
Long added he encouraged others to show their support for the causes they believe in — even if it is something he disagrees with.
“I understand people have different opinions than me and that’s their right,” Long said. “That’s one of the freedoms I fight for in the military.”
Both the Cheyenne and Laramie groups are essentially on hiatus right now, lacking any sizeable membership, but plan to start up more cruises this summer. Go to the Laramie Flag Cruises’ Facebook group page for more information.