• Rachel Bernstein

Flags at Capital Hill

On January 6th, 2021, all eyes were on the Capitol Hill insurrection. Amongst this mob of people was a sea of flags that varied in color, size, shape, and meaning. A surprising number of flags from other countries- France, Latvia, Albania, Canada, Australia, Israel, India, Poland, Palau, Taiwan, South Vietnam, Venezuela, Tibet, and the Republic of Georgia - were all represented. Some more baffling flags included a Pahlavi Dynasty of Iran flag (overthrown in 1979) and an American flag but with a red corner with stars from the Chinese flag, which is said to represent the Communist Party. However, most prominent were American flags and various "Don't Tread on Me" and Trump flags.

However, most prominent were American flags and various "Don't Tread on Me" and Trump flags.

Here are a few flags seen at the Capitol along with their meanings:


The Confederate Flag:

In 1861 eleven states seceded from the United States, after Abraham Lincoln of the explicitly antislavery Republican Party, won the 1860 presidential election. The confederate states used many flags, such as the Stars and Bars flag. But during battles, these flags looked so similar to the Union’s flag, it caused troops to fire at their own soldiers during the Battle of First Manassas in 1861.


This provoked William Porcher Miles, a confederate congressman, to redesign it to include the St. Andrews Cross, the two X-shaped stripes on the flag, and thirteen stars, representing the eleven seceding states, including Kentucky and Missouri, who never officially seceded. The X, or the saltire, represents Andrew, one of the twelve apostles of Christ, who was crucified by the Romans on a diagonal cross because he considered himself unworthy to be executed similarly to Christ. St. Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland, and the saltire is also on their flag. The saltire on the Confederate battle flag seemingly reflects the Scottish ancestry of many Southerners.


Today, the saltire is known as the southern cross. The confederacy used three national flags before it collapsed in 1865. With the flag seen so frequently at statues and memorials, it became a nostalgic symbol of pride and history to some. Meanwhile, The Citizens’ Councils and the Ku Klux Klan used the battle flag to intimidate black citizens. After the Supreme Court declared segregation unconstitutional, Georgia chose a state flag that prominently included the symbol. YouGov, a polling firm, surveyed about 35,000 U.S. adults in 2019 and found 41% of Americans think the flag symbolizes racism, while 34% think it symbolizes heritage. The Confederate flag had never been flown inside the US Capitol -- until 6 January.


Don't tread on me/Gadsden Flag:

This flag's origin is unknown but appears to begin from an illustration at the end of Ben Franklin’s essay in 1754 that portrays the American colonies as parts of a divided snake and states, “join or die”. During the war, some colonists flew flags with rattlesnakes on them, representing the distinguished American creature that is believed to strike only in self-defense. In 1775 South Carolina politician and notorious slave trader, Christopher Gadsden, expanded on this and created the yellow flag with the same phrase. In 1778, a comparable flag to became the first Navy Jack. This version resurfaced in 1976 on U.S. Navy ships to celebrate the nation’s bicentennial, and again after 9/11. Then, The Tea Party, a conservative Republican anti-tax movement, adopted it. The implication was that the U.S. government had become the oppressor threatening the rights of its citizens. The Gadsden flag has appeared at many political protests, such as those opposing restrictions on gun ownership and objections to rules meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus.


Three Percenters:

The Three Percenters is an American-Canadian right wing liberation militia group that promotes gun rights and resistance. Their flag is similar to the Betsy Ross Flag, but with a III in the corner, representing the unproven claim that “3%” of Americans fought against Great Britain. during the American Revolution


Unleash/release the Kraken

This refers to Sidney Powell, a former part of Trump's legal team. Powell claimed to, "release the Kraken," on November 26, 2020, when she filed a lawsuit against Michigan and Georgia that claims “massive electoral fraud.” The Kraken is from the movie Clash of the Titans where Zeus commands an enormous giant squid to wreck the city of Argo. On the first page describing her allegations on Georgia, Powell misspelled the word district twice as “districct” and “distrcoit.” Additionally, she misspelled her key witness’s name, William M. Briggs, twice.



Romanian revolution flag

The Romanian Revolution of 1989 is one of the many Revolutions that occurred in several countries during the late 1980s. Over 1,000 citizens died for a Romanian democracy because they wanted to break free from dictatorship. This revolution ended the 42 years of Communist rule in Romania. The Revolution flag was created by cutting the communist symbol out of the national flag. Interestingly, this flag was used by Trump supporters when Biden is neither a dictator nor a communist. Those waving this flag seem to be comparing the Romanian Revolution 1989 to the 2020 coup, a disproportionate comparison because in one case, thousands sacrificed their lives to free themselves of an oppressive government, while the other had the freedom to peacefully protest their objections to a democratic event but instead chose violence.



Thin Blue Line Flag (Blue Lives Matter Flag)

The thin blue line is representative of all law enforcement officers and the darkness represents, according to some, an homage to officers killed in a line of duty. The thin blue line has also come to symbolize the thin border, bolstered by police, between civility and chaos. The concept of a “Thin Blue Line” is based on the British battle formation, a “thin red line,” used in the Crimean War in 1854 and was adopted when the United States Army marched and stood in a thin line with blue uniforms.


An Appeal to Heaven

In 1689, John Locke, a political philosopher, published “The Second Treatise of Government,” and stated that when a person is deprived of rights and has no appeal on earth, he or she has the liberty to appeal to heaven. This encouraged the start of the Glorious Revolution. In the late 17th century, Great Britain relied on trees to build its naval fleet, but eventually depleted the timber supply. So, the British government passed a law in 1722, in New Hampshire, making it illegal to cut down certain white pines, which caused the Pine Tree Riot of 1772. The colonists needed timber for their livelihoods and ignored the law, resulting in a fine. Angered by the fine, townsmen attacked the Sheriff and beat him with tree switches (branches), cutting off his horses’ ears, manes, and tails, and driving him out of town, creating one of the first acts of forceful protest against British policies. Locke’s words inspired many patriots, and so Colonel Joseph Reed, General Washington’s secretary, designed the flag to include a pine tree.


Rambo Flag

A reincarnation of Trump as John Rambo, a Vietnam veteran, from the movie franchise starring Sylvester Stallone, with the phrase, “No Man, No Woman, No Commie Can Stop Him.”



Upside down American Flag

The US Flag Code states that this can only be used in cases of “dire distress and extreme danger to life or property.”