By Jonathan D. Sarna, Jordan Brasher, Long T. Bui, Paul Bruski and Tom Birkett
A rally in Washington, slated for Sept. 18, 2021, is being billed as an effort to support people who face criminal charges for their involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Many of the same groups who participated in January are expected to return to the nation’s capital for this demonstration. Capitol Police are reportedly preparing for violence and erecting protective fencing around the building.
The groups involved in January’s attack on the Capitol carried a variety of political and ideological flags and signs. The Conversation asked scholars to explain what they saw – including ancient Norse images and more recent flags from U.S. history – and what those symbols mean.
Here are five articles from The Conversation’s coverage, explaining what many of the symbols mean.
1. The Confederate battle flag
Perhaps the most recognized symbol of white supremacy is the Confederate battle flag.
“Since its debut during the Civil War, the Confederate battle flag has been flown regularly by white insurrectionists and reactionaries fighting against rising tides of newly won Black political power,” writes Jordan Brasher at Columbus State University, who has studied how the Confederacy has been memorialized.
He notes that in one photo from inside the Capitol, the flag’s history came into sharp relief as the man carrying it was standing between “the portraits of two Civil War-era U.S. senators – one an ardent proponent of slavery and the other an abolitionist once beaten unconscious for his views on the Senate floor.”
2. The yellow Gadsden flag
Another flag with a racist history is the “Don’t Tread On Me” flag. A symbol warning of self-defense, it was designed by slave owner and trader Christopher Gadsden when the American Revolution began, as Iowa State University graphic design scholar Paul Bruski writes.
“Because of its creator’s history and because it is commonly flown alongside ‘Trump 2020’ flags, the Confederate battle flag and other white-supremacist flags, some may now see the Gadsden flag as a symbol of intolerance and hate – or even racism,” he explains.
It has been adopted by the tea party movement and other Republican-leaning groups, but the flag still carries the legacy, and the name, of its creator.
3. Powerful anti-Semitism
Another arm of white supremacy doesn’t target Blacks. Instead, it demonizes Jewish people. Plenty of anti-Semitic symbols were on display during the riot, as Jonathan D. Sarna explains.
Sarna is a Brandeis University scholar of American anti-Semitism and describes the ways that “[c]alls to exterminate Jews are common in far-right and white nationalist circles.” That included a gallows erected outside the Capitol, evoking a disturbing element of a 1978 novel depicting the takeover of Washington, along with mass lynchings and slaughtering of Jews.
4. Co-opted Norse mythology
Among the most striking images of the January riot were those of a man wearing a horned hat and no shirt, displaying several large tattoos. He is known as Jake Angeli, but his full name is Jacob Chansley, and he has pleaded guilty to one of six charges as part of a plea deal for his role in the riot.
Tom Birkett, a lecturer in Old English at University College Cork in Ireland, explains that many of the symbols Chansley wore are from Norse mythology. However, he explains, “These symbols have also been co-opted by a growing far-right movement.”
Birkett traces the modern use of Norse symbols back to the Nazis and points out that they are a form of code hidden in plain sight: “If certain symbols are hard for the general public to spot, they are certainly dog whistles to members of an increasingly global white supremacist movement who know exactly what they mean.”
5. An outlier, of sorts
Another flag was prominent at the Capitol riot, one that doesn’t strictly represent white supremacy: the flag of the former independent country of South Vietnam.
But Long T. Bui, a global studies scholar at the University of California, Irvine, explains that when flown by Vietnamese Americans, many of whom support Trump, the flag symbolizes militant nationalism.
“[S]ome Vietnamese Americans view their fallen homeland as an extension of the American push for freedom and democracy worldwide. I have interviewed Vietnamese American soldiers who fear American freedom is failing,” he explains.
Editor’s note: This story is a roundup of articles from The Conversation’s archives and is an update of an article previously published on Jan. 15, 2021.
Jonathan D. Sarna is University Professor and Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University. Jordan Brasher is Assistant Professor of Geography at Columbus State University. Long T. Bui is Associate Professor of Global and International Studies at the University of California, Irvine. Paul Bruski is Associate Professor of Graphic Design at Iowa State University. Tom Birkett is Lecturer in Old English at the University College Cork.
The Conversation arose out of deep-seated concerns for the fading quality of our public discourse and recognition of the vital role that academic experts could play in the public arena. Information has always been essential to democracy. It’s a societal good, like clean water. But many now find it difficult to put their trust in the media and experts who have spent years researching a topic. Instead, they listen to those who have the loudest voices. Those uninformed views are amplified by social media networks that reward those who spark outrage instead of insight or thoughtful discussion. The Conversation seeks to be part of the solution to this problem, to raise up the voices of true experts and to make their knowledge available to everyone. The Conversation publishes nightly at 9 p.m. on FlaglerLive.
insurrection 2.0 ? is milley and his communist buddies in Washington. sleepy has to go, along with all of his cabinet. they are ruining this great country.
Mike Cocchiola says
Eddie… you are the perfect example of just who this article is directed at. You have followed Trump down the rabbit hole into chaos and madness.
Mask and vax up, buttercup. You are losing.
Exactly! Still running rampant…
Bill C says
The all-powerful international cabal of satanic pedophiles are controlling Milley through Jewish laser satellites. Must be either Dr. X or Mr. Big who are behind this.
I nominate Bill for school board. His cogent analysis of the contemporary American scene must be shared with the children of Flagler County. With his addition to the current gaggle we can finally add “The Turner Diaries” as a civics text.
The sore losers will be at it again. But really they are more than just a bunch crying babies. They are unpatriotic, they are offensive, they are unAmerican, they are brainwashed by a dictator wanna be. They are domestic terrorists’.
The monster that was created by the con man donny trump, who hopefully soon will be in prison.
Let’s be clear January 6th was a demonstration of mob rule in support of their autocratic leader. It was violent and ugly and those coming to Washington as saying it was all fine, and those indicted was unjust. This is not a group of those who believe in democracy and rule of law. That is the reason for all the police precautions.
What they are doing now, using the GOP and Trump, as cover for their anti-democracy intent. Few believe Trump’s hands are clean as an instigator and the one who originally brought them to Washington on the 6th to overthrow his failed reelection to stay in power.
This is not a group to be trusted, and if they are putting the breaks on now for Saturday, others sympathetic may show up to add fireworks to their message. It all stems from Trump’s message that the election was stolen when he alone and his lackeys are saying it. Everyone else, politicians, the courts agree with the State election officials it was the best and fairest election. Trump is a menace to our democracy, his supporters are following a demagogue and autocrat and willing to cast aside the rule of law, the bedrock of our system of civility.
Dumb (Jan 6) & Dumber (Sept 18) … oh give me the days when the only flag that really mattered was the Stars and Stripes of the USA
Jane Gentile-Youd says
I was a registered Republican; I voted against Joe Biden in November 2020 and chose Trump instead. A few weeks after the scary, un-American, insane riot in D.C. I knew it was time to say Bye Bye to the Red party. This country is going mad; America is going down the tubes just as fast as global warming is swallowing the planet..
Is the Sheriff’s Department providing the same level of tactical training for the upcoming insurrection as it did prior to the January 6 events?