On Tuesday, November 29, Donald Trump made the following post on his Twitter account: “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag—if they do, there must be consequences—perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”
A Dangerous Assault on the Rule of Law, Constitutional Rights, Free Speech, and Dissent
This vile threat from the president-elect is part of a whole fascist assault on people’s rights and the rule of law, shredding established constitutional rights and imposing open violent repression against dissent. Burning the American flag is constitutionally protected free speech. Even the vicious and now-deceased Supreme Court “Justice” Antonin Scalia ruled with the majority in insisting that burning the flag is and must be protected speech. But Donald Trump has displayed utter contempt for traditional democratic rights, including the right to free speech and political dissent. On top of this, threatening to revoke citizenship in this way violated at least two other Supreme Court rulings.
What this threat underscores is that if Trump’s fascist regime is allowed to consolidate power, it will demolish what few rights and legal protections have been won through fierce struggle against the oppressive rule of bourgeois democracy, and there will be HELL to pay. This cannot be allowed.
Many Raise Their Voices for Free Speech and Revcoms Burn U.S. Flag Outside Trump Hotel
There were immediate outpourings of anger and dissent online. Thousands of posts went up with the tags #NotMyPresident and #FreeSpeech. Recognizing the full danger of this threat from Trump and the need to act against it “IRL” (in real life), as well as from online, representatives of the New York City Revolution Club burned the American flag in front of the Trump International Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. Three of those are part of the RNC 16, Gregory “Joey” Johnson and 15 other people facing criminal charges for having burned the American flag as an act of protest outside the Republican National Convention this past summer.
The revcoms released footage of this and issued a #FlagBurningChallenge via Sunsara Taylor’s Twitter and Facebook feeds. As they burned the flag, Taylor stated, “[This flag] is a symbol of oppression. It is a symbol of slavery and genocide. The American flag stands for plunder. It stands for death squads in Guatemala. It stands for police murder of Black and Brown people. This flag stands for genocide of Native people and the assault on Standing Rock. This flag deserves to burn.”
In an interview about this action later on Fox radio’s Alan Colmes Show, Sunsara Taylor explained that she burned the flag because it represents “a country that was founded on slavery and genocide and is a symbol of oppression.” But she also went further, explaining that Trump’s threat against flag burners is part of “shredding the Constitution,” criminalizing all dissent, and establishing “a fascist regime Donald Trump is promising.” She defended her reasons for burning the flag, but also called on everyone who refuses to accept a fascist America to stand up against this dangerous threat.
The #FlagBurningChallenge Goes Viral
Powerful images and videos of the revcoms burning the U.S. flag were quickly disseminated through channels such as Reuters, Business Insider, Fox News, and many others. Major reactionary, as well as outright fascist, websites picked this up and spread it as well, like the New York Post, Brietbart, Alex Jones’ PrisonPlanet, Daily Mail, and many, many others.
By that night, #FlagBurningChallenge was trending on Twitter in the U.S. People around the country were sending photos of burning flags, a few sent footage of themselves burning the flag, and others sent commentary (for example, asking Donald Trump why he was more upset about burning flags than burning crosses). At the University of California, Berkeley, students answered the challenge of the Bay Area Revolution Club to step up and burn the flag on the spot, recording themselves making statements as they lit flags on fire in defiance of Trump’s tweet.
Along with this positive response, Trump’s fascist trolls launched vicious online harassment and threats against people who burned flags. This included, in at least one case, publishing the person’s home address. Such harassment and threats have long been serious, but it is important to now grasp that those doing this will have a champion in the White House. Clearly, the already very high stakes concentrated in flag burning, which is supposed to be constitutionally protected free speech, have gone up and are about to go up further. How we defend our movement and each other against such attacks is an increasingly pressing question.
Trump Doubles Down on His Threat
On Thursday night, December 1, Trump doubled down on his threats. Speaking in Cincinnati, the first stop in his “Thank You Tour,” he whipped the crowd into a frenzy by asking them, “Do you agree with my stance that if people burn the American flag, there should be consequences?” The crowd went wild with cheers, then erupted into chants of “USA! USA!”
This makes all the more clear that his tweet was something he really meant and which he intends to follow through on. Further, even before he is able to act on this through the power of the state, he is consciously whipping up and unleashing a mob mentality among his base. Just like he whipped up violence at his campaign rallies by saying out loud how much he’d like to punch the protesters, or by pining for the days when protesters would be carried out in stretchers, he is very consciously whipping up a mob mentality and potentially violent acts against people who burn the flag today. This is extremely dangerous.
Poisoning the Chance of a Fair Trial for the RNC 16
Trump is also doing more than this. Ohio is where the Republican National Convention took place. It is also where Gregory “Joey” Johnson and 15 others were arrested for burning the American flag as a form of protest outside the convention last summer. These 16 people, the RNC 16, are currently facing serious charges. (See Joey Johnson, Notorious Flag Burner: Burning the Flag at the RNC Was Right and Necessary; Donald Trump’s Threats Cannot Be Allowed.” By insisting that there must be consequences, Trump is objectively weighing in very heavily and making it much less likely they will receive a fair trial. Worth noting as well: In the same set of comments where Trump again threatened flag burners, he called out protesters who criticize him but also don’t vote. Members of the RNC 16, most of them revcoms, were very boldly making clear the whole time that they were organizing to overthrow, not vote for, the system that rules over us. While Trump didn’t name them specifically, his description was strikingly specific.
Which Side Are YOU On?
At times like this, there is no neutrality. The divide in society is sharpening up everywhere. Courageous water defenders at Standing Rock face down dangerous assault and state-backed repression. Protesters against police murder and modern day lynchings are assaulted as white supremacists and Nazis are elevated to positions of power in the state. Campuses and religious communities are stepping forward to have the backs of immigrants whose lives and families are directly threatened as hate crimes and bigotry hit record levels. The right to abortion and basic respect for women are in lethal danger as Trump and Vice President-elect Pence will soon select a Supreme Court justice and have been legitimized through this election. The future of millions and millions throughout this country, and literally billions around the world, will be affected for the worse if Trump is able to consolidate his fascist program. A key part of stopping him—and resisting every crime he carries out and every new assault he and his followers unleash—is defending the right of people to stand up and protest, to speak freely what is on their minds, and to not be forced to risk physical assault, jail, denial of citizenship or death to do so.
Defend the right to burn the flag. Take up the #FlagBurningChallenge. Support the RNC 16.