The Gadsden Flag Is a Far Right Symbol, but That Wasn't Always the Case

The Gadsden Flag has been appropriated by the far right in recent years, but the flag wasn't always such a divisive symbol in America.


Aug. 30 2023, Updated 3:33 p.m. ET

The Gadsden flag.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

If you've traveled in right-wing circles at any point in your life, or if you've spent time on the internet, you're likely aware of the fact that there are some on the right who are very fond of hanging flags that aren't just your typical American flag. Sometimes, they fly the Thin Blue Line flag to signify their support for the police, and at other times, they fly a flag known as the Gadsden flag.

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The Gadsden flag actually has a long history in the U.S. dating all the way back to the Revolutionary War, which has led some to wonder what the flag actually means, at least in a historical sense.

A police officer taking down the Gadsden Flag at the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Source: Getty Images
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What does the Gadsden flag mean?

The flag is probably best known for its use in recent years by certain far-right groups that are in some way rebelling against the government or "deep state." The flag was prominently featured in a report on the attacks on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and was flown by some of the people who were at the Capitol at that day. Some celebrities have also come under fire for wearing representations of the symbol, in large part because it's usually associated with the right.

As one recent TikTok video points out, though, the historical meaning of the Gadsden flag is a little bit different from how it's being used today. The rattlesnake on the flag was a symbol of the 13 colonies at the dawn of the American Revolution, and Christopher Gadsden, the man who created the flag, did so as a reminder that the British should not infringe on the rights of their colonial subjects.

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While on its surface it may seem like the flag very much aligns with the modern right wing, though, its history is actually much more complicated than that. One of the things that the revolutionaries in the 1770s were most ardently opposed to was the use of state power, specifically in the form of red coats, to quash dissent. They wanted the right to free expression and equality as British citizens.

So, it doesn't make a ton of sense for right wingers to use the Thin Blue Line flag, which is specifically about supporting the police, and the Gadsden flag, which is at least in part about opposing police oppression. The ideology is a little confusing to say the least, although it's unlikely that many on the right are all that concerned about this contradiction.

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Source: TikTok/@ari_and_rainbows_

The Gadsden flag symbolizes the revolution.

Above all, though, the Gadsden flag symbolizes the U.S. Revolution, and as a result, it can be appropriated by people across the political spectrum to support a wide array of causes. The Revolutionaries were not split into Democrats and Republicans and had many disagreements basically the second the country was actually founded.

To suggest that the flag can be neatly co-opted by either party may be foolhardy, as it's ultimately a symbol of revolutionary spirit and not much else. You can make it mean whatever you want it to mean, which is true of a huge number of major symbols.

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