Rumor ruins job prospects for activist

Based on an unsubstantiated rumor that he burned an American flag, an Ashland community activist was rejected for a position on the Rogue Valley Workforce Development Council recently.

On Wednesday, Wes Brain, 56, flatly denied the accusation made by Jackson County Commissioner Jack Walker.

Brain, a self-described "proud patriot," said, "I never burned a United States flag, ever."

Jim Alexander, president of the Southern Oregon Central Labor Council of the AFL-CIO, told the commissioners during their regular meeting that Brain had been falsely accused of burning a flag.

Alexander stood fully behind Brain, whom he has known for 10 years.

"He is a man of integrity," said Alexander.

The union had offered Brain as a candidate when a seat opened up on the labor council board, a policy advisory group.

After the meeting, Walker said he'd heard rumors that Brain had burned the flag in February 2003 during an Ashland anti-war protest, and that rumor influenced his decision two weeks ago to vote against placing Brain on the labor council board.

Commissioners Dave Gilmour and C.W. Smith both said Wednesday that they voted against Brain because they couldn't support someone if they thought he'd burned a flag. However, after Brain's avowal that he never burned a flag, they said they would reconsider him for a seat on the labor council.

"The information we received from Jack obviously wasn't true," said Smith.

Even though flag burning is legal, Smith said that at the time he didn't think it appropriate to consider someone for the labor council who might engage in such activity.

"We want somebody stable and responsible," he said.

Brain said he disagrees with most of Walker's conservative political views, and charged that Walker was abusing his position of power by repeating a rumor that had no validity and was never substantiated.

"Jack is not telling the truth," he said. "A liar is one word for it. He has no credibility at all. The point is you cannot make up things about people."

Brain said Walker should be held accountable for his words, though he did express sympathy for Walker's health problems. Walker has Crohn's disease, an inflammatory bowel condition, and he has been hospitalized several times in recent years.

"The man is sick, and maybe he is losing his mental faculties," Brain said. "I feel sorry him."

Walker said he made his comments based on several phone calls from local residents that Brain was involved in the flag-burning incident in Ashland.

"It's based more on hearsay than on any fact," he said.

Walker said he and the other commissioners were in a hurry to vote on the matter and in retrospect, Walker said, he had high blood sugar levels at the time and required insulin, which also rushed the deliberations.

Walker said commissioners sometimes have very little information about the character of potential candidates, but in this case he thought he knew something about Brain.

"I just have my view of this guy," he said.

Walker did acknowledge that he may have overreacted in this situation.

"Maybe I did," he said.

Walker stopped short of apologizing, but said, "If he had not participated in any event like that, naturally you would apologize. I've been using the wrong information based on what I was told years ago."

Brain, who has retired from Southern Oregon University, said he was not present when the flag was burned, though he has frequently videotaped rallies and other gatherings over the years.

In September 2003, he was arrested, but charges were later dropped, during an anti-war protest in Ashland. Police charged him with two counts of disorderly conduct and one count of impeding police when he allegedly challenged a woman who was attempting to drive through a crowd in the plaza.

Brain said he was shooting footage for Rogue Valley Community Television at the time and had merely cautioned the woman to avoid hurting people as she drove through.

Brain said he has contemplated filing a lawsuit against Walker so that he could obtain a deposition that spelled out how the commissioner came up with the rumor.

"I think it is really important when somebody says something like that, they have to be held accountable for it." he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or

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