World

The Many Flags That Flew During the US Capitol's Storming and What They Represent

While the flags of many countries – including that of India – were observed, also visible were insignia and flags of various extremist, right-wing groups.

Concerns over white nationalism boiled over in the United States after last week’s violent insurrection at the Capitol building in Washington DC.

The protest, attended by thousands of Donald Trump supporters attempting to overturn the results of the November 2020 presidential election, temporarily disrupted a largely ceremonial part of the democratic transfer of presidential power. As images of the uprising made headlines around the world, many noticed that there were international shades of nationalism – including the tricolour – on display at the Capitol as well.

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Indian American Trump supporter Vincent Xavier (who also goes by Vinson Palathingal) was identified as part of the group which flew the Indian national flag on January 6. Despite facing backlash from prominent Indians and Twitter users alike, Xavier told NDTV that “in no way” was he “disrespecting the Indian flag” by bringing it to the rally.

“I love India. I am proud of my ancestry. I carry my Indian American ancestry. I consider this as my solemn responsibility to be a spokesperson for Indian Americans in the Republican Party…I am not regretting my decision to carry the flag.”

A screengrab from the viral video. Photo: Twitter@aletweetsnews

Apart from the tricolour, witnesses reported seeing the national flags of Israel, Vietnam, Georgia, South Korea, Canada, Australia and Iran, among others on that dark day for American democracy. But most flags that were flown at the Capitol told a different story: “America First.”

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White nationalist symbols on display at the Capitol on January 6 cemented the movement’s ideological extremism. Footage of the federal building’s front steps shows a sea of appropriated historical flags, altered stars and stripes, and conspiracy theory symbolism. Each signifies a whitewashed version of American patriotism, and adherents are easily identifiable by their respective hate symbols. Here’s what they believe – and how to recognise them.

Proud Boys

Proud Boys are a chauvinist, neo-fascist group with an all-male membership. While their followers – and even leadership – are not exclusively white, their beliefs align with white genocide theory. They were integral in the orchestration of the 2017 Unite the Right rally where Heather Heyer was killed. Their oath reads in part: “I’m a proud Western chauvinist, I refuse to apologize for creating the modern world.”

One of their members recently made headlines for going on a sexist tirade on Parler about women using the hashtag #ProudGirls, claiming the women were “ruining what we hold dear” by trying to participate in their group. The poster ended by ordering the women to instead “get pregnant” and “get the fuck back in the kitchen.”

Despite believing in strict traditional gender divisions and being homophobic, their name was inspired by a song from the Broadway production of Aladdin Proud of Your Boy, which was written by a gay Jewish man. They are known for wearing black and yellow Fred Perry-style polo shirts, but came to the Capitol sporting blaze orange armbands and hats. Their symbols include the acronym “6MWE,” which means “6 Million Wasn’t Enough,” an anti-Semitic reference to the number of Jews slaughtered during the Holocaust.

Proud Boys Chairman Enrique Tarrio addresses supporters of US President Donald Trump near the Washington Monument, US, December 11, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

Three Percenters

Three Percenters take their name from an inaccurate historical reference. They claim (incorrectly) that only 3% of colonists took up arms against the British in the Revolutionary War and won anyway. Members of this paramilitary group believe they are the next generation of those armed colonists, and that they have a duty to protect Americans against the tyranny of the existing government. Their membership is made up of fervent gun rights activists, and they are known for violent attacks, including their role in the plot to kidnap Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer. They were also spotted at the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA. On January 6, 2021, several Three Percenters took part in the breaching and ransacking of the Capitol. Their flag is a Betsy Ross-style American flag and insignia is a Roman numeral three, with or without a percent symbol.

People wear Three Percenter flags during the storming of the US Capitol building, January 6, 2021. Photo: Elvert Barnes/Wikimedia Commons CC BY SA 2.0

Confederates

Though not an organised group, self-described Confederates associate with the Confederacy, the short-lived government of the Southern states that attempted to secede from the Union during the Civil War. Though some contemporary Confederates claim that the battle was over states’ rights and individual liberties, it is well established that the Civil War was fought to protect the peculiar institution of slavery. The modern use of Confederate symbolism remains connected with white supremacy and white nationalist movements. Confederates are identifiable by a red flag with the diagonal blue cross with white stars, which is actually a battle flag and not the original flag of the Confederate government. They also often fly the Gadsden flag, a yellow background with a black snake and the words “Don’t Tread on Me.”

A Confederate flag on the grounds of the Capitol grounds in Columbia, South Carolina. Photo: Jason Eppink. CC 2.0.

Oath Keepers

Oath Keepers are a group of current and former military and law enforcement personnel. Their goal is to protect the Constitution against “all enemies foreign or domestic.” They are an armed militia and also believe in a coming civil war. They, along with the Three Percenters, are one of several “Patriot” groups that are prepared to defend against the “New World Order,” which is a theory of a centralised world government led by an authoritarian regime of elites. They are a government separatist group and align with sovereign citizen and white supremacist movements. Their leader, Stewart Rhodes, encouraged his supporters to bring violence to the Capitol on January 6. They are identifiable by the word “Oathkeeper,” often in yellow, emblazoned on patches and decals.

Members of the Oath Keepers are seen among supporters of US President Donald Trump at the US Capitol before they stormed the building. Photo: REUTERS/Jim Bourg

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QAnon

QAnon is a conspiracy theory with a wide base. It is thought that as many as half of all Trump supporters may believe in some aspect of QAnon. Adherents believe there is a cabal of Satan-worshipping, pedophilic, cannibalistic child sex-traffickers in power – politicians, celebrities, government officials, lawyers, etc. It is a blood libel conspiracy deeply rooted in anti-Semitism and white supremacy. They believe that Trump is a saviour and has been elected to unearth the secrets of the cabal and destroy it.

A sticker that references the QAnon slogan is seen on a truck that participated in a caravan convoy in Adairsville, Georgia, September 5, 2020. Photo: Reuters/Elijah Nouvelage

They are led by an anonymous, supposedly high-ranking government official known as “Q Clearance Patriot” or simply “Q.” Q offers “bread crumbs,” or hints about Trump’s plans, in online “Q drops,” and the followers (known as “bakers”) try to make sense of the cryptic clues and interpret the prophecies. One of these prophecies includes the coming of a “Storm” where the cabal will be revealed and arrested. QAnon has been steadily gaining popularity among the far-right since its establishment early in Trump’s presidential term. It is recognisable by the capital ‘Q’ on clothing and flags, and by their refrain, “Where we go one, we go all,” often stylised as “WWG1WGA.”

Emma Rose is a PhD student at New York University.