Far-right extremists over the years have adopted a number of flag designs as their representative banners. First it was the yellow “Don’t Tread On Me” Gadsden flag flown by the Patriot movement and tea party. The alt-right came up with its Naziesque “Kekistan” banner. In the past few years, the prominent use of flags by belligerent far-right Trump fans, particularly those in “Trump Trains” or participating in right-wing invasions of urban liberal centers, has ranged from basic Trump or MAGA banners to “Blue Lives Matter” flags to their most recent “Fuck Biden” iterations.
Now, amid far-right protests against COVID-related vaccine and mask mandates, far-right extremists are unfurling their latest symbol: An all-black American flag, with stars and stripes mainly visible through variations in material and shading. “No quarter shall be given” is the black flag’s traditional message—and in the context of the building drumbeat of right-wing “civil war” talk, a deeply ominous one. People flying them are essentially signaling that they’re prepared to kill their liberal neighbors.
The black flags have been showing up at various right-wing protests, such as last weekend’s “Health Freedom Rally” in Spokane, Washington—really a low-turnout affair mainly comprised of anti-vaccination protesters standing on a street corner, waving flags. One of these was a black American flag. Another one turned up when the protest moved to Riverfront Park.
The same flags have been showing up on people’s home flag displays as well, as Michelle Davis of Living Blue Texas observed in a post headlined, “Are Your Republican Neighbors Planning On Killing You?” Primarily, videos of people erecting these flags on the fronts of their homes are being widely shared on social media, particularly TikTok and Facebook; Davis reported finding hundreds of them.
Black flags have a particular historical meaning for Americans: They first appeared on Civil War battlegrounds, carried by some Confederate Army units, and symbolizing the intent of the soldiers to neither seek any quarter nor give any—essentially, the opposite of the white flag of surrender, signifying that enemy combatants are to be killed rather than taken prisoner. It’s a vow to massacre their enemies.
Its use in the Civil War primarily appears to have been featured in some of the heinous massacres of Black Union soldiers in the war, notably at the Battle of the Crater and at Fort Pillow. Both battles are considered Confederate atrocities.
The people posting the “black flag” videos on TikTok appear primarily to use two different pieces of music as accompaniment: The first, “Raise the Colors,” is a gloomy sea shanty from Pirates of the Caribbean 2; the second, the song “God We Need You Now” by country rapper Struggle Jennings and cowriter Caitlynne Curtis, features QAnon-derived lyrics that threaten retribution for the people who “desecrate” the “values of our country and our God”:
We've been dancing with the devil way too long
I know it's fun but get ready to pay your dues
Oh God, come back home
This crazy world is filled with liars and abusers
We need you now before we're too far gone
I hope one day they finally see the truth
God, we need you now
Davis noted that the same right-wing channels where the black flag-raisings are being posted are similarly rife with “patriots” advising their cohorts to prepare for a civil war. “Who are their enemies? Pretty much any non-Conservative. You know, Democrats, Liberals, LGBTQ, BIPOC, and the vaccinated,” she notes. “So, we're the enemy, and they're openly professing to want to execute us.”
Their primary grievance appears currently to revolve around COVID restrictions, with a number of military members talking about their imminent discharges for refusing to be vaccinated.
“The biggest message they have been sending out is, ‘it's time’ or ‘the time is now’,” Davis notes. “They primarily use Tik Tok as a recruiting tool and let others know their willingness to commit violence. Then they tell people to message them or where to find them on Telegram.”
Some of the people posting videos of black flag hangings appear to be police officers, including one from Pea Ridge, Arkansas, who takes pains to carefully fold and unfold both his ordinary American flag and his all-black version. Several “black flag” groups have already formed on Facebook, and some Twitter accounts, such as the Michigan-based “Great Lakes Black Flag Coalition” (“Our mission is to unite Liberty minded organizations, communities and individuals for the purpose of promoting and restoring Freedom”) specifically reference the symbol.
American far-right extremists have fantasized about embarking on a “second civil war” for several decades now, but the idea began building in intensity during the tea party years, when militia groups like the “Three Percenters”—whose name references its members’ desire to embark on a “second American Revolution”—began attracting significant numbers of participants. It began gaining real traction during Donald Trump’s tenure as president, mainly through the growth of such phenomena as the “Boogaloo” movement, which is specifically focused on preparing for a civil war.
Trump himself encouraged this narrative by threatening to unleash a civil war if Congress dared to impeach him, which sparked a wave of fevered preparations among his “patriot” fans in the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, Three Percenters and similar far-right groups. When it became apparent late in the 2020 campaign that he was likely headed for defeat at the polls, the civil-war discussions became intense, particularly among militia groups and white nationalists who were engaged in street-brawling protests, and “Boogaloo” activists tried leveraging street protests as opportunities for violence. Terrorism experts warned even then that fanatical Trump supporters were likely to engage in acts of mass violence.
This same, faux-patriotic worldview is what eventually inspired the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, which was the apotheosis of the GOP’s two-decades-and-longer descent into right-wing authoritarianism, fueled by eliminationist hate talk, reality-bereft conspiracist sedition, anti-democratic rhetoric and politics, and the full-throated embrace under Trump of the politics of intimidation and thuggery. There was a reason the insurrectionists believed they were all partaking of a “1776 moment”: they envisioned themselves as heroic patriots saving America from the commies.
If anyone believes the radicalized American right’s drive to push the nation into bloody civil strife was somehow expiated or exhausted that day, they only need check the presence of black American flags the next time there is a right-wing protest in their town. Or maybe they can just check the front porches in their neighborhoods.