Protesters plan to burn flags at Trump's inauguration and right-wingers are losing it

Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

Donald Trump doesn't much care that flag burning is legal. He once advocated for people to potentially lose their citizenship for burning an American flag.

So, on Trump's Inauguration Day, activists nationwide are planning to carry on the American tradition of burning flags as a form of protest. At least 500 people have RSVP'd to a flag-burning protest in Portland, Oregon, advertised on Facebook with some, well, inflammatory language.

"Let's cleanse with flame this red, white and blue symbol of empire, genocide and white supremacy, right as orange Mussolini is being sworn into his office as top terrorist of the world," the page says.

Reactionaries claiming to be "America-loving patriots" are furious. Some are already planning a counter-protest to extinguish burning flags, claiming that flag burning causes too much pollution and "hurts the city's tourism."

Every few years, the man whose Supreme Court case enshrined flag burning as a right shows up at a national political convention to burn more flags.
Source: 
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

"We will be down there with fire extinguishers and water guns, extinguishing any open flames we come across as concerned citizens of our state," the invite to the counter-protest says. 

But flag burning is, of course, protected by the First Amendment. That was decided in a Supreme Court case called Texas v. Johnson, in which communist revolutionary activist Gregory Lee Johnson was arrested for flag burning and appealed his conviction for "desecration of a venerated object."

"First Amendment protections for speech that many people find offensive and unpatriotic tends to be the kind of rule that's frequently forgotten by law enforcement," Lee Rowland, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in an interview. "But forcing patriotism isn't only unconstitutional, it's deeply un-American."

Police still arrest flag burners on occasion, as they often do with people exercising other protected acts of protest, like refusing to stand or salute for the national anthem. One of those arrests took place at the most recent Republican National Convention in Ohio. The arrested activist's name? Gregory Lee Johnson, the same man who took his first arrest for flag burning to the Supreme Court.

Flag burning is already a staple of pre-inaugural protests.
Source: 
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

"If nothing else, it's disappointing that re-litigating questions of constitutional law settled for decades is a priority for anyone," Rowland said. "The problem of this country is that we have too much freedom? It's just ludicrous. It's astounding to me that anyone would make that a priority."

The counter-protesters who want to bring fire extinguishers and save the flag set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise supplies for their efforts.

"We seek to raise money for equipment such as extinguishers and water to put out any illegal fires that may be started, and battery packs to keep our cameras charged throughout the event to record activity and use as evidence for any crimes that may be committed such as destruction of nearby businesses," the page says.

Their goal is a modest $200, of which they've raised exactly zero dollars.

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Jack Smith IV

Jack Smith IV is a senior writer covering technology and inequality. Send tips, comments and feedback to jack@mic.com.

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