Rebel Alliance co-founder speaks out on ‘Rebel’ name controversy

Editor’s note: This is part of our Vermont Voices Series.

In February, the South Burlington School Board retired their “Rebels” team name due to assertions by some that the name is racist and linked to the Confederacy.

Community and student outrage at the move spurred the creation of the 2,200 strong Rebel Alliance Facebook group, and members have gathered signatures and submitted petitions calling for the Rebel name debate to be put to a public vote. So far the school board has refused to even take up the petition.

Now the group’s co-founder and 1986 South Burlington alumnus Kiya Batmanglidj is speaking out. Batmanglidj spoke with True North to explain the group’s effort to fight race-baiting politics that use racist insinuations to smear whole communities.

True North Reports: Can you explain how the Rebel name for South Burlington High School came to be associated with the Civil War?

Batmanglidj: Essentially, South Burlington basically broke away from the town school system, and they became the Rebels. From what I’ve read, the (Burlington Free Press) actually coined the term and then people liked it and it stuck.

Then what happened was some kids started using Confederate imagery with the name, but it was never officially sanctioned by the school. In the early ’60s there were some kids that ran around with Confederate flags or played Dixie at the football games, but it was never sanctioned by the school.

I think it was by the mid-’80s or early ’90s (that) the school had completely phased out any imagery that was in any way related to the Confederacy.

TNR: Could banning the use of the Rebel name be precedent-setting for other restrictions on language?

Batmanglidj: Not just other words but other symbols. When they say that something makes some students feel uncomfortable or could be associated with something bad, so think about this: think about the American Flag, right?

The American flag flew over the massacres of many Native Americans. You can look up when the U.S. calvaries did these things, so a Native American student might think, “Well the American flag is offensive because it represents oppression and genocide.” Does that then mean because that small group of people feels offended that we should then not fly the American flag at the school?

TNR: History has countless rebellions throughout. Is there a way to embrace the Rebel name without pinning it to the Confederacy?

Batmanglidj: They don’t care. The people who push this are obviously a very vocal, ideological minority that just simply didn’t want to hear anything else and just wanted to change the name. As soon as they saw something that they thought was a racial component, they stuck to it.

The same argument was made by many people on our side that the Revolutionary War was the result of a rebellion and rebel was not a racist term. And the other thing, too, is a lot of people were willing to say, “Hey look, rebrand the rebels. If you don’t like it, make it the Green Mountain Rebels or the Rebel Cats with a mascot — you can do that.”

TNR: Four members of the Alliance are suing the school board. Can you update us on the latest?

Batmanglidj: What’s happened is they’ve filed suit — they’ve filed a motion to put a stay on any actions that the school board might take to change the name pending the outcome of the suit. And the school board has just recently issued a motion to have the case dismissed, and the lawyer for the Alliance members is going to submit a motion objecting to the motion to dismiss.

TNR: What do the students think of all this?

Batmanglidj: The school administration did its own internal survey, which we got a copy of leaked to us. In that survey, 92 percent of the students either had no issue or supported the Rebel name. So, only 8 percent of the students felt uncomfortable with the Rebel name. And yet, the whole reasoning behind the name change was supposed to be that it’s divisive and the students are feeling uncomfortable.

Here’s the catch: they refused to release the survey to the public, and luckily we had somebody leak it to us. But these are the kinds of actions that reflect on how the board and administration approach it in a very underhanded manner.

TNR: Since the board wouldn’t have to follow a non-binding vote, what would it accomplish?

Batmanglidj: You don’t want to follow my vote, you don’t want to take action based on how we voted? OK that’s fine. But at least we told you how we feel. But they refuse to do that — it’s so anti-democratic. And I think that’s going to be brought out if the lawsuit can proceed.

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North Reports. Send him news tips at and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorth82X.

16 thoughts on “Rebel Alliance co-founder speaks out on ‘Rebel’ name controversy

  1. Ironic that this outside agitator who founded the RA doesn’t live in SB, has no kids in the SB school system, does not pay taxes in SB, yet feels compelled to live out his alt-right dreams by leading a band of bored, glory days graduates to obsessive lengths to fight a silly mascot change. The people voted, they have spoken, but RA refuse to accept the legitimacy of the vote. RA’s claim of supporting SB students is a false narrative – they bash teachers, bash the reputation of SBHS, bash the quality of life in SB, and bash anyone else who disagrees with their small-town, provincial mindset. The school doesn’t exist so Kiya & Co can relive their glory days. The school exists to serve our children. The mascot is changing, not the educational mission of the school. The RA would do itself a favor by spending more time supporting our children & city and less time appearing in court.

  2. Willie the Shake must have had the Rebels in mind when he wrote ” Much Ado About Nothing.”

  3. Kiya’s history is wrong. The name choice was a choice and a side chosen at that time, no question. The choice made was sealed at the first football game when, as the hand washing principal explained, a student ran through the halls w/ a confederate flag; the primary symbol of Segregationists from the mid 50s to the late 60s. Other high schools also chose the same team name w/ the same flag in that year but at those schools the adults stepped in and said Nope, in this climate that is a political choice, choose another name. Except in South Burlington where the local population was seething from a decade of outside pressure to change racism here….housing and business discrimination based on race, ending UVM’s minstrel show Kakewalk-the biggest annual event held here…..outsiders had been agitating here for a decade to end Kakewalk, students protested along w/ the Civil Rights Movement in the south. Locals hated the social disruptions of the outside world arriving here, locals hated outsiders telling them what to do. This was SO much the climate in 1961 that the BFP ran an editorial about it, telling locals to not shut out the outside world entirely as it would create stagnation in VT culture. So, SB kids chose the anti-change tendency of Vermonters and Race was inextricably tied into their choice because it was an on going discussion here at the time, Civil Rights was social change and it was not wanted here. Locals hated outsiders telling them to change. The kids made their choice, the adults agreed and thought it was fine and then denied any association to it when people began to question. No Kiya, the BFP did not create the term. The BFP reported on the choice made by the students. Most of the RA are the kids of,(not Kiya ironically) the offspring of, …and the students of the 80s or 90s or now have been clueless about the local sentiment behind the name in 1961. Their parents and their grandparents had the same axe to grind w/ being told to change. Why are there so many Vermonters showing any nostalgia for the confederate south? You are Yankees. There were many rebels the kids of SB could have chosen…Green Mtn Boys being the most obvious, yet they chose the losers of US history to identify with…because it was 1961.

  4. This entire situation has made me so angry! I find it ridiculous and a waste of everyone’s time. I attended SBHS and am a 1978 Rebel graduate. I will always be one and am proud of it! The decision should have been the students, not the board members. They aren’t the ones playing the sports and representing the school.
    Shame on them for trying to keep the survey a secret from the public!!!

  5. I was amazed that the tender snowflakes were willing to go along with the name “wolves” with all of the negative connotations of leering hulks drooling at every “fox” that walks by giving hem the proverbial “wolf whistle” – they might wish to return to the less offensive “Rebel” moniker or go for the name they really want the “Burlington Buttercups !”

  6. OK, if REBELS is out, how about CONFORMISTS? Or maybe LAMBS if that’s too long (sheeple?).
    Political correctness is fascism, with a nice candy coating to fool the pc idiots!
    Erase history, pretend we live in Disneyland, what could go wrong?
    What a bunch of dull-witted dipsticks. Deplorable.

  7. I certainly have never thought of Vermont as being anything but “damn Yankees”. Let the school use the name Rebels. James Dean and many others were rebels.

  8. South Burlington caved in by the whim of a few snowflakes students and there liberal
    minded parents ( so sensitive ) . You can change the name but those of us will always
    call them the rebels !!

    Rebels, nothing to do with the Confederacy , just a bunch of young rebels playing sports

    Wolves (a predatory canine mammal) … shameful.

    • The mascot was once Captain Rebel, who would take the field at games to the tune of Dixie, while waving a Confederate flag. Umm…….. Nothing to do with the Confederacy….?

  9. In truth, many in the Confederacy weren’t fighting for slavery at all. Most Southerners didn’t own slaves. They were fighting to preserve their families and their possessions first and foremost. Like today, it was the Confederate hierarchy that backed the ideology and started the Civil War, largely for economic reasons. However, it was left to the average persons to fight and get killed the next 4 years, not those who spouted the ideology and secession..

    • Truth is, not a single Republican was a slave owner.

      Check out Dinesh D’Sousa — web search. He has produced an excellent film about the subject which I believe was screened in Buttercupville within the last six or seven months.

      Also, the great state of Vermont was essentially founded by “rebels” such as Ethan Allen.

  10. This is the process today to silence free speech and destroy history, especially any history that liberals and progressives dislike. Probably there is not much either in America or the world or even spoken by liberals and progressives that someone can’t connect to something bad in the past. It reminds me of the Nazi book burnings that became popular after Hitler gained power, and we all know where that led – millions of deaths in WWII and the Holocaust and in Stalin’s Russia.

      • And even in the much touted Digger, where posts bearing embarrassing information disappear with zero explanation.

    • Equating Nazi Germany’s Holocaust with a high school mascot change? The ignorance is strong here …

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