The Krewe of Freret has banned a guest rider from future parades after an investigation found she tossed yellow penalty flags that said New Orleans was “robbed” of Confederate monuments in the parade Saturday (Feb. 23). The rider, Mimi Owens, said in an interview that she also threw “Forever Lee Circle" beads with an image of Robert E. Lee on the pendant, an item she created and sold last year.
Owens said she was notified of a “lifetime ban” from the Legion of Mars, a group that rides with Freret and is part of the Cincinnatus Club, an organization that honors veterans. Owens was a guest of a Legion of Mars krewe member, she said.
Freret captain Bobby Hjortsberg said the krewe conducted an investigation after hearing reports of Confederate monument-themed throws. The penalty flags, which Owens said she made herself, contain an image of the Robert E. Lee statue being removed with a crane, with block-letter text that reads: “Saints fans think they were robbed!!!”
Owens “will no longer ride with us or ever ride with Legion of Mars again,” Hjortsberg said. “This was an individual who decided to use our Mardi Gras parade to exercise her own political agenda, and that won’t be tolerated, especially when that agenda is not in line with the inclusive nature that our organization embodies.”
The Legion of Mars did not respond to a message sent through its website.
Hjortsberg said that the Krewe of Freret considers itself “probably the most gender and racially diverse” group that parades in New Orleans. Its members know politically charged throws are banned and are “highly discouraged for any parade," he said.
Owens posted a message Monday on Facebook that she said came from the Legion of Mars. In it, the group says it "does NOT exist to promote any political views, particularly views that are offensive to any of the public and to its own diverse membership.”
The Legion of Mars also demanded Owens apologize to Freret, the public and members of Mars “for the offensive actions that occurred,” according to the message Owens posted. The krewe went on to say it would take “every measure available to expel all members” and issue lifetime bans to guest riders “to ensure this action does not occur again.”
Forever Lee Circle beads came to prominence during Mardi Gras last year, the first since former Mayor Mitch Landrieu orchestrated the removal of four Confederate monuments in spring 2017. The statue of Robert E. Lee was removed from Lee Circle in May of that year.
Owens has been active in various circles opposed to the removal of New Orleans’ three Confederate monuments’ removal including a committee that urged Mayor LaToya Cantrell to return them to locations of prominence.
In a now-deleted post, Owens refused to apologize and used the same hashtag she has used throughout the Carnival season on the Forever Lee Circle Facebook page: #ThrowWhatchaWanna, a takeoff on the Rebirth Brass Band song “Do Whatcha Wanna.”
Owens also said in the post her “throws were approved by the member rider I was a guest of and many riders threw the (Forever Lee Circle) bead on Saturday.”
Hjortsberg said that only Owens has been accused of throwing Confederate monument-themed throws, but the Krewe of Freret is continuing to investigate the matter by examining photos and video from the parade.
Owens said she disagrees with Hjortsberg’s contention that her Mardi Gras throws have a political bent, saying they are no different those created to honor Hubig’s Pies or other monuments in the city, such as Andrew Jackson’s equestrian statue.
“I’m not racist, I’m not a white supremacist and my bead is not racist,” Owens said. “When they throw me out, they make it political. It’s just a silent protest."
Owens, who said she grew up in New Orleans but now lives in the “greater New Orleans area,” said that she made the penalty flags on her own and never sold them. She ordered more Forever Lee Circle throws for this year and said she sold them to people whom she assumes will throw them during parades over the next week. The beads have sold out for the second year, Owens said.
In addition to the Forever Lee Circle beads, Owens has written a children’s book about 10 monuments still standing in New Orleans titled “Who’s That, Daddy?”
Owens said she created the throws “to get attention that there are people that are not happy about them removing these monuments,” Owens said. “No one will give us a chance to speak. I’m not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings."
In addition to krewe bans on politically charged parade throws, the city bans them as well. The municipal code holds that krewes may not throw anything that “displays, conveys or communicates any commercial, political or religious message.”