ROGUE RIVER, Ore. – A man enraged at the thought of his culture destroyed – by Black Lives Matter, Antifa, the LGBTQ+ community and others – verbally harassed a Rogue River family for having a gay pride flag.
On May 17, at around 4:18 p.m., Charles Messimer was so enraged by a rainbow gay pride flag displayed at a house that he stopped his car, got out and walked into the driveway of Jessica VanDerslice’s home, one she shares with their partner, David Angel Zavala, and their children. The brief exchange between VanDerslice and Messimer was caught on a Ring camera.
“Can I help you?”
On the recording, Messimer cleared his throat and asked, rather gruffly, “What makes you guys think it's right to fly that flag in a conservative town?”
VanDerslice responded that it was her right, adding that if Messimer – someone they had never met before – didn’t leave, the police would be called.
“Call them all you want,” he said calmly. “It’s not acceptable anymore.”
As Messimer left, VanDerslice used her mobile phone to video him as he said the flag represented a “disgusting agenda.”
VanDerslice posted the videos and some pictures of Messimer on their Facebook, their friends soon sharing it as well; one of those friends sent the links to me. I posted the videos as well and, thanks to our mutual friend, had an email exchange with VanDerslice.
VanDerslice and their family lost their Phoenix home during the 2020 Almeda Fire. They said the family lived in hotels for about a month after the fire.
“We found this house and fell in love with the beautiful, quiet community,” VanDerslice told me. “It felt like a place we could heal from losing everything, a place to rest for us and our traumatized children.”
The incident with Messimer reminded them of problems that still exist here in the Rogue Valley area.
“I have faced bigotry before, having slurs yelled at me,” VanDerslice said. “Being an out pansexual openly dating women in the Midwest drew some ire – but I’ve never experienced something like this. As a mixed-race family, we have also dealt with some bigotry there and David has certainly gotten the brunt of that as a Mexican man living in this valley.”
Frustrated, VanDerslice posted to a Rogue River Facebook group.
To VanDerslice and Zavala’s dismay, some people defended Messimer’s actions.
Some of the comments included:
Move back to California if you're feelings get hurt that much from someone engaging in conversation.
yeah on her property asking questions, very calmly I might add, don't know about all you Californians but going to someone's door to talk out disagreements is how it works in that small town. The guy was very respectful and frankly had every right to ask questions as he is a contributing member of the community as well. It's hilarious to me that y'all can harass, name call, and play the blame game with conservatives in the community but the moment we question your actions, you all of a sudden feel "intimidated". GROW UP. If you are gonna fly controversial flags in a small community be be ready to take the heat just like us conservatives do. That's all.
Looks like in your gf video, she approached him through the door, if she was scared or felt threatened wouldn't she have not came outside to greet him? He wasn't yelling at all that I heard, and he didn't even park in your driveway. To me he was calm about the situation he was expressing his thoughts about your flag just as you express your thoughts by flying it.
“It was a lot, just dealing with the emotional fallout of course and watching other members of our community standing behind this man made it feel even worse,” VanDerslice says. “Some people dismiss the experience and called flying the pride flag ‘controversial’ which I don’t even understand. It’s upsetting to find that this new community we’ve been building for ourselves post-fire is so full of hate towards us.
“It (made) me feel like I’m just being soft or sensitive when I literally had to deal with hate speech in front of my children on my own property. It’s unfortunate how normalized bigotry is here. My partner is Mexican and I’m sure that doesn’t help either. A mixed-race queer family in their white nationalist conservative community? Shocking!”
However, a number of Rogue River residents leapt to the family’s defense and denounced the blatant display of bigotry. Some offered to show up – armed – if there was more trouble.
“Just call me,” one person commented. “We have enough firepower to occupy Monaco. We’ll be there in a few minutes.”
Others offered to buy more pride flags and signs for the family’s home. Others were working to identify Messimer – whose identity was still unknown at the time.
VanDerslice found solace in those comments and offers.
“I’m so appreciative of the love and support of the part of the community that doesn’t hate us – and don’t want us gone. We’ve posted some signs and will display more flags. We refuse to be run out of town or silenced – and if our flags help a single person not feel alone, it’s worth it.”
VanDerslice said their family “is quiet and tend to keep to themselves.”
“We have yet to meet any of our neighbors. I had a heart attack at the beginning of last year,” they said. “A community member, Ken Hart, reached out and brought us a care package, easy to prepare food and a blood pressure cuff I needed. We were immensely grateful to have someone in the community reaching out to us.”
They contacted the Rogue River Police Dept. and an officer took a report, as well as copies of the videos and photos. VanDerslice was told night patrols would be increased in the neighborhood.
“I absolutely believe that this was a hate crime, one with great potential for escalation,” VanDerslice said. “Between entering my property armed, yelling at me to ‘get out of Rogue River’ and then the threats over the phone, I think it’s clear this is a hate crime. The police say he didn’t do anything wrong in the original incident but that I could have him trespassed if I could identify him. I am still working with them in the hopes that they will help protect us.
“The first officer I spoke with did sympathize with me and apologized for the community, but also said there wasn’t much he could do – which was frustrating.”
On Friday morning, I received a few anonymous leads regarding VanDerslice’s harasser. Following up on them, I found a business listing under the name of Charles J. Messimer. There was a phone number . . . so, I dialed it up.
“This is Charles.”
Now, I’d listened to the videos several times and I recognized the voice. Still unsure, I told him who I was and asked what he’d be doing that Wednesday afternoon. Instantly, he asked why I had an Antifa symbol on my profile. I guess he found an old profile picture. As I tried to ask a question, he talked over me, saying:
“I want you guys to know. You will not make it out of this. You will not bring your toxicity into our community. I will make sure you guys do not thrive here.”
Messimer was the man who harassed VanDerslice and their family.
It didn’t take long for Messimer’s identity to go viral. A Google page for his business got hit with negative reviews – some calling out his bullying behavior. Which led to another phone call from him. It was similar to the earlier conversation but Messimer went into more detail about how he believed his culture was under assault from Black Lives Matter and Antifa, who were godless Marxists and socialists. The LGBTQ+ community were a threat to children and have “a disgusting agenda,” as he said to VanDerslice.
Messimer’s words, as he soon found out, would haunt him.
His Google-hosted business page was hit with negative reviews – some of them calling out his actions and behavior towards VanDerslice and their family. In at least one social media comment, someone stated that they had work done by Messimer; however, due to what had happened, cancelled future work orders with him.
By sometime Saturday, Messimer’s page was shut down.
“It’s a relief to know who this bigot is, especially as it meant I was able to have him officially trespassed from my property,” VanDerslice said. “I don’t believe it will stop him from escalating, especially after his threats to us and statements that we ‘would not make it out of this’. I fear for my family, I fear for my children. I fear retaliation not just from him but from other members of the community who continue to support him, people who call a flag dedicated to love a ‘controversial symbol.’”
VanDerslice and their family have no plans on leaving Rogue River.
“We’re members of this community whether they want us here or not,” they said. “David was actually recognized at city hall while paying a bill and was handed an application for city council. We’ve always been activists for queer and trans rights and BLM, but this definitely pushes us to be even louder. I want bigots to know they are the ones not welcome here, and more importantly, I want all our LGBTQ+ citizens to feel safer and have more community.
“We will not back down. We're installing new cameras; we placed a no trespassing sign and we plan on many more rainbows to come.”