Who are you going to believe in the ever-changing story about the construction crewmen in Denali National Park who were told to remove the American flag from their trucks?

Do you believe the crewman, on the ground, who said he was ordered to remove Old Glory because Denali Park Superintendent Brooke Merrell believed it did not fit with the park “experience?”

Or do you believe the National Parks Service’s original statement which vehemently denied having anything to do with the flag removal, while attempting to discredit the reporting of the Alaska Watchman?

Or do you believe the National Parks Service’s follow-up statement, in which it was forced to admit that it was, in fact, behind the flag removal, but only because an unnamed lower-level staffer stepped out of line, broke the chain of command, and told the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) project manager that the flags were problematic and needed to be taken down. This, we are now told, was done without any knowledge by Park Superintendent Brooke Merrell?

Who to believe indeed?

As of June 6, there were still no contractor flags flying down Denali Park Road. If the decision was made by mistake, and done without consent, why has it not been UN-done?

When Joseph Hazelwood ran aground on Bligh Reef in 1989 and the Exxon-Valdez Oil Spill ensued, he was sound asleep in the captain’s quarters. Was 3rd Mate Cousins, or Captain Kagan the helmsman, held accountable for the disaster, or was slumbering Captain Hazelwood brought up on charges? The comparison is only for example. No one in conflating the disaster in 1989 with this small-scale trampling of liberty … merely illustrating that blunders usually run up the chain while bluster runs down. Again … usually.

It used to be that being in a position of leadership meant taking responsibility when those in your employ made mistakes. In the case of the National Park Service, apparently an unnamed staffer was able to wield power and influence over the Federal Highway Administration to get construction workers to remove the American flag from their trucks, all without asking – or telling – Superintendent Merrell anything. We are told to believe she had no idea.

As a business owner, I’m trying to imagine my employees failing to alert me when a customer complains about something, and instead, just making politically-charged decisions that upset our vendors and contractors, while I only hear about it when it becomes a national news story. Seems, totally… plausible.

If I was a contractor working on say, a Subway Sandwich shop, and a Sandwich Artist told me that I, and my whole crew, had to remove our shiny American Flag Pins because there was a “glare complaint” from a guest who got the sun momentarily reflected in their eyes – I would struggle not to guffaw in the moment, and then ask him to repeat himself because the first time was too laughable to be heard clearly.

In the case of the Denali Park flags, one visitor supposedly had a problem, one time, for one moment, and the response was to “get rid of all the contractor flags.”  Plausible?

The boots on the ground whistleblower, however, maintains that he was originally told by the FHWA foreman that the request had come from Merrell.

But apparently, the military veteran working at the Federal Highway Administration, who was originally described by the whistleblower as visibly irritated at the request he was having to pass on, just took his marching orders and then went and relayed the complaint to the contractor – Granite Construction – and everyone just fell into line. And is STILL falling into step. As of June 6, there were still no contractor flags flying down Denali Park Road. If the decision was made by mistake, and done without consent, why has it not been UN-done?

The truth will come out in the end. Whoever the “staffer” was will be revealed, and if it is discovered that it was indeed not Superintendent Merrell, and she had no knowledge of any of this whatsoever, then the Watchman will print a clarification detailing her precise involvement in this whole affair.

The whistleblower, however, maintains that he was originally told by the FHWA foreman that the request had come from Merrell. Which makes sense given the notion that lower-level staffers telling the Federal Highway Administration how to manage their $200-million-dollar project is absurd. It is also worthy of note that in FHWA contracts, there is explicit language regarding Client Personnel, and specific names who are given the authority to direct FHWA staff. It would be a violation of contract for an FHWA employee to be told to enact policy changes based on the demands of a person with whom they do not contractually accept marching orders.

The whole ordeal reeks of circling of the wagons to protect Merrell.

There are only three possible outcomes to this story.

1. Our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests will come back with hard evidence proving that the NPS has not come clean with the public about their involvement with the flag removal.

2. The FOIA requests will prove inconclusive, and Merrell’s involvement cannot be proven, despite the fact that the whistleblower specifically identified her as the initial authority in the incident.

3. All the blame is heaped upon a lower-level staffer, and that person takes responsibility for having broken the chain of command without any communication with or to Superintendent Merrell about the incident beforehand, and claims to have used Merrell’s authority without her permission.

I have my suspicions about which it will be, but I seriously doubt anyone who has the authority to say where the buck stops will take responsibility, or issue an apology.

This is still a developing story.

The views expressed here are those of the author.

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OPINION: Who do you believe in the changing accounts of the Denali National Park flag flap?

Jake Libbey
Christian, husband, father, amateur-apologist and lover of good communication, our Publisher has invested countless hours bringing the Alaska Watchman to life. Jake is responsible for operations at the Watchman, advertising, and design of the website. In partnership with our Editor-in-Chief, the content for the articles on are a product of the passion, energy and synergy between Publisher and Editor-in-Chief.


  • Dave Peck says:

    My question is why we have not heard from Superintendent Merrell herself? We have heard from everyone else, but not her, and she is the one on scene in the park itself.

    • Frozen says:

      If Merrell was innocent, why hasn’t she issued guidance that says it was a mistake and flags are allowed? She’s guilty. And she hates our flag.

  • Duane Bannock says:

    Please be honest with your readers: After 3 weeks, outside of your unnamed “whistleblower” no shred of evidence or proof exists of this mythical “order/ban”

    • Jake Libbey says:

      No shred? What planet are you on Duane? The National Parks Service that first denied it happened, was repudiated that it did indeed happen by the Federal Highway Administration’s public statement. Now the NPS has fessed up but shifted responsibility to a low-level (likely forever to be unnamed) staffer. Except IN the FHWA contract, NPS (the client) staff are given specific persons with whom they are to deliver directives (be it orders, change-orders, finger wagging, what have you) and low-level staff do not HAVE the authority to order the FHWA to do anything. It’s super weird that you have this obsession with shooting the messenger, and cannot understand that the accused party admitting it happened, is evidence that it indeed happened. Perhaps dial back your meds.

      Or, if you are trying to debate the semantics between “Told to do something” and “Ordered to do something” the net effect of either one is the same… so the distinction is meaningless, but, some people will argue with a post.

      • Charlotte says:

        He’s just a troll working hard for the other side. Thank you, Jake, for all your hard work exposing the truth.

      • Proud Alaskan says:

        Yes Thank You Jake and Alaskawatchman.

    • Steve Peterson says:

      I respect your desire to be fair, Duane, but really consider the source DEI hire from Portland…? If it walks like a duck…

  • Arnold Seay says:

    We know the contractor was told to take the flags down. It seems a coverup is going on and since Merril is the top dog she is responsible. If it were not her she should find the person responsible and discipline that person. She needs to apologize to the contractor. Very typical of governments. Sometimes they forget who pays their wages.

  • Charlotte says:

    I wrote a comment and it disappeared, wrote a second comment-it also disappeared. I give up.

    Not referring to my response to Jake.

  • Chriso says:

    Even more disturbing to me is that witnesses then found the flagpole at the park headquarters stripped and nine of the staff couldn’t find it (so they claimed) on the Friday before Memorial Day.

  • Joseph says:

    I believe the crewman !!!!

  • Herman Nelson says:

    I believe Granite Construction more than I would a fed agency. The feds pull this crap all the time. You’ll have one leftist fed employee with just enough authority to throw something like this out. When they get major blow back over their bad decision, they go on the defensive or just hide and hope everyone forgets about it. No, they need to be fired for their bad decision.

  • Friend of Humanity says:

    I think my other comment did not make it to the board. I would believe the construction crew over a federal agency.

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