The Occidental College Republican Club said it had planted 2,997 tiny flags -- one for each of the victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks -- on the quad of the Los Angeles liberal arts college of 2,100 students.
"Vandals crushed, snapped and threw in the garbage every single flag," the college GOP club said on Facebook
. "Not one was left in the ground."
The temporary display consisted of a sign saying, "9/11 Never Forget Project," along with an "R.I.P." message to those killed in the attack. Small US flags also lined the sidewalk.
"This is beyond politics, this is about those lives that were so tragically taken," the college's Republican club posted.
"Of course, we put them back in the ground," the club said of the flags. "If you try to destroy it, we will rebuild it."
Campus police are investigating and expect to report any student suspects to the disciplinary committee. The college is handling the vandalism as an internal matter.
"The right and freedom to debate complex, contentious issues and disagree with each other is fundamental to what we do at Oxy," said Erica O'Neal Howard, acting dean of students, in a statement. "At the same time, we may not express ourselves in ways that prevent others from engaging in protected speech."
Statement follows outrage
News of the incident spread nationally and prompted outrage over what many viewed as disrespect to the 9/11 victims.
By Monday, the students who were supposedly behind the incident, said that their original intent had been lost by the media and the Occidental College Republican Club's narratives.
"We acknowledge the pain and outrage felt by many members within and outside of the Occidental College community and hope to create spaces in which the voices of all students can be uplifted in situations that involve such painful tragedy for more than a singular nation or group of people."
The individuals, who remained anonymous, said they removed all the flags because they wanted to "demonstrate a more holistic approach" to also include the victims of the US War on Terror.
"The critique voiced was that the flags represented an exclusionary, nationalistic narrative," they wrote.
The students left fliers on the quad that read: "R.I.P. the 2,996 Americans who died in 9/11. R.I.P. the 1,455,590 innocent Iraqis who died during the U.S. invasion for something they didn't do."
They also said they were "unclear" that each flag represented a life of one of the victims.
"Again, the removal of the flags was not intended to dismiss those who passed away that day, but to broaden the scope of whose narrative gets to be told in relationship to tragedy."
'The American flag is particularly triggering'
On Sunday, a post had appeared on the Facebook page of a student group called Coalition Oxy for Diversity and Equity (CODE), "regarding the distress many students experienced when walking through the quad" where the US flags were present.
"On a campus that proclaims itself time and again to be diverse, equitable and safe for all of its students, the display of American flags covering the entire Academic Quad disproved that proclamation."
"As students of color, this symbol of the American flag is particularly triggering for many different reasons. For us, this flag is a symbol of institutionalized violence (genocide, rape, slavery, colonialism, etc.) against people of color, domestically as well as globally."
They also said that the American flag failed to reflect the diversity of the victims affected.
CODE, while supporting the actions of the students, stated that it was not behind the incident over the weekend.