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4 charged after 2 U.S. flags burned at Occupy Charlotte site

By Steve Lyttle, McClatchy Newspapers –

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Four Charlotte-area men, at least two of whom are members of the Occupy Charlotte group, were charged early Friday after they burned two U.S. flags at the organization’s camp site.

Burning a U.S. flag is not against the law, but the four were charged with careless use of a fire, a misdemeanor.

Several people at the Occupy Charlotte site, on East Trade Street in front of the old city hall, said Friday afternoon that at least two of the men charged in the incident were members of the organization. One of those is Occupy Charlotte’s spokesman, they said.

Charged in the case were Jason Bargert, 28, of Charlotte; Michael Behrle, 23, of Matthews, N.C.; Stephen Morris, 20, of Matthews, N.C.; and Alex Tyler, 19, of Fort Mill, S.C. Bargert was identified by people at the camp site as a spokesman for the group. Two men at the site also said Tyler was part of the Charlotte organization.

There was no word as to why the men burned the flag, but in the past, Bargert and Tyler have spoken publicly against what they say is corporate greed and the government’s failure to control the power of corporate leaders.

According to a police report, officers spotted a fire being set about 12:30 a.m. on East Trade Street near the Occupy Charlotte site. That site is a few hundred feet from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police headquarters, and officers have kept a close eye on the group since it pitched tents in front of the old city hall on Sept. 17.

Police said the four men had burned two U.S. flags, and they were charged because the men did not use a fire pit.

In an October interview with The Charlotte Observer, Bargert described himself as a member of Occupy Charlotte and said the group has been unfairly described by some critics.

“They’re calling us hippies who want to smoke marijuana and beat drums,” Bargert said. “We’re not.”

He said he works two jobs, for a total of 50 hours a week, but has been unable to get health insurance and barely makes enough money to feed himself.

Tyler spoke before Charlotte City Council on Dec. 12, opposing a deal in which the city offered financial incentives to Chiquita Bananas, to lure the company’s headquarters to Charlotte from Cincinnati.

WBTV, citing reports from police, say the four men complained loudly while being arrested early Friday and called officers names.

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