A dinner guest saw my neighbor’s Gadsden flag flying outside our window. She was horrified that someone would display that racist banner. Her disgust surprised me. The bright yellow flag means different things to different people; but, I never associated it with racism. Sure, racists poached the flag over the past few years while the statues, flags, and other objects reflecting their supremacist ideology were lawfully removed. Still, the banner does not belong to them. The Gadsden flag is two dimensional, but it has many sides. One side it displays is the growing rage seeded in discontent. Discontent and rebellion is sewn into the Gadsden flag’s very fabric.
Christopher Gadsden designed the flag in 1775 while the American Revolution was underway. The Gadsden flag flew for the first time by the Continental Marines, just months before the United States Declaration of Independence was adopted.
During the same year, in Culpeper, Virginia, the Culpeper Minutemen joined the Revolution. The Virginians adopted the flag, and added their own declaration: “Liberty or Death”.
The First Navy Jack was another early variation of the Gadsden flag. The Jack portrays a snake climbing across 13 alternating red and white stripes. How widespread its acceptance was, is uncertain. We know that, in 1975, the Rattlesnake Jack made an official comeback to commemorate the bicentennial of the American Revolution.
Over the years, fringe groups, many of them rebellious, adopted the Gadsden flag.
Libertarians’ quest for peace, individualism, freedom of speech and freedom of association are challenged by society’s militarism, collectivism, and cancel culture. The Gadsden flag found a place in the Libertarian Party — the third largest political party in the United States.
The Tea Party, a subset of the Republican party, also adopted the Gadsden flag. It symbolizes their opposition to the country’s direction and shows their discontent with the Republican party’s wandering ways.
Survivalists fly the Gadsden. Survivalists may not seem like a disgruntled group, but they prepare for anarchy as widespread discontent sinks into a complete societal meltdown.
LGBTQ organizations, notably Street Patrol, created their own version called the Rainbow Gadsden where the original emblem coils on top of the distinctive rainbow background. LGBTQ organizations have made progress in normalizing their lifestyle, but that was not the case in the 1990’s when the Rainbow Gadsden flag was introduced. Back then, many ambitions of the LGBTQ community were unfulfilled.
During the U.S. Capitol riot on January 6, 2021, rioters and protesters flew the Gadsden flag along with many other banners and symbols. The disturbance emerged from election anomalies, last minute COVID induced rule changes, and poorly administered ballot processing, all leading to a general belief that the election was rigged.
The flag’s only cataloged linkage to racism comes from a complaint involving two USPS employees. One employee objected to the other employee’s Gadsden symbol, which he wore during work hours. While the Postal service administration dismissed the complaint, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), called for an investigation. In the end, the EEOC conceded that the flag was not a symbol of racism.
The Gadsden flag belongs to all Americans who wish to deliver a rattlesnake’s warning. The flag symbolizes their festering discontent, and their determination to set things right.