When it comes to Illinois State Fair and Du Quoin State Fair entertainers, state Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, says he’s worried about a slippery slope toward censorship.
He concedes it was the governor’s call to cancel an appearance in Du Quoin by a band called Confederate Railroad, whose logo includes a steam engine from which wave two Confederate Navy Jacks — the flag widely recognized as a symbol of the Confederacy.
“I have no sympathy for the Confederate flag,” said Butler, whose district stretches to include Tremont and part of Pekin. “I believe it’s a symbol that promotes racism.”
But as for canceling the performance, Butler said, “Obviously it’s the governor’s call to make. I just think they should have gone around it in a different manner and maybe engaged the band in a little better discussion of what this means.”
That discussion could have included, he said, the possibility of not displaying the flag at the concert.
Butler ended up involved in the discussion because when he was in Chicago on Monday for a committee hearing, state Rep. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, asked him — as the House member representing the Illinois State Fairgrounds — to join her at a meeting she had scheduled in the governor’s office at the James R. Thompson Center.
At that meeting, Butler and Bryant met with three JB Pritzker administration officials: chief of staff Anne Caprara, Deputy Gov. Christian Mitchell and Tiffany Newbern, deputy chief of staff for legislative affairs.
Also discussed was the planned Springfield appearance, at the Illinois State Fair, by rapper Snoop Dogg.
Butler doesn’t think Snoop Dogg’s concert should be canceled — despite a picture the artist posted on Instagram with the words “Make America Crip Again” and depicting him standing over a lifeless body draped in an American flag with a toe tag reading “TRUMP.”
Variety reported in November 2017 that Snoop Dogg posted that picture, described as an album cover, on Instagram, but later deleted it. Variety also reported that Snoop Dogg’s publicist told the publication the album had already been released with a different cover — a picture of just a blue baseball cap with the “Make America Crip Again” wording.
“I think we need to be very careful when it comes to censoring First Amendment rights because you don’t agree with ... whatever they’re expressing,” Butler said. “I’ve been to concerts where I’ve heard Republicans ripped on. I’ve been to concerts where I’ve heard Democrats ripped on ... and that’s a part of being an artist.”
He said he recalled being at the Illinois State Fair several years ago when the band Lynyrd Skynyrd played there, and “they had a Confederate flag on display.”
He said there is a difference between flying such a flag on a state Capitol vs. hosting a band like Confederate Railroad, which has had the name for years. (The band has since been booked to perform a Sept. 5 show in nearby Marion by a motorcycle dealership there.)
Butler described Monday’s meeting as “a good discussion” and said the administration’s reason for canceling the Du Quoin event was “they have a policy that they don’t allow anything with the Confederate flag or Nazi swastikas to be displayed." He says he agrees with the concept, but he wondered if there is actually a written policy. He also wondered how far that policy goes when it comes to vendors at fairs — or even items sold in the gift shop at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield.
In a visit to that gift shop Tuesday, Butler said, there were items — including card games on the themes of Civil War generals and armaments — with pictures of American and Confederate flags on the packaging.
Chris Wills, spokesman for the museum, said the shop doesn’t sell items that would prominently feature the flag, like hats or T-shirts.
Ironically, Butler said, the hearing he was attending Monday in Chicago was on the issue of censorship, as questions were raised about why the Department of Corrections removed about 200 books from the Danville Correctional Center’s library. Butler said he thought it had been wrong to remove those books. They were returned to the library after that hearing.
Pritzker on Wednesday said the “Confederate flag is a symbol of not just slavery, but of treason against the United States.” In contrast, he referred to the Snoop Dogg picture referring to President Donald Trump as “political satire.”
Vibe.com in 2017 reported on Snoop Dogg’s explanation for the name that refers to the Crips street gang, including his view that “young black men in impoverished areas organized to help their communities and to take care of their own because society basically left them for dead."
“A lot of people glorify the gang banging and violence but forget that in the beginning, the Crips' main and sole purpose was to be the reflection of the Black Panthers,” he added. “They looked after kids, provided after-school activities, fed them and stepped in as role models and father figures.”
Bernard Schoenburg is a political reporter and columnist for GateHouse Media Illinois. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.