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Right wing patriots love their country in much the same way that an abusive spouse loves his wife.

“I love you baby, now do what I say or else!”

When one of those participating in the riots on the 6th picked up a flag used it to beat an officer, that struck me as rather par for the course. Independent of all the other crap perpetrated by those engaged in this insurrection, Francis Stager’s choice of a weapon might have seemed ironic to some, but for me it actually seemed rather telling. An American flag used as a weapon makes a fitting symbol for right wing politics.

It makes a fitting symbol of right wing patriotism.

Peter Stager beat Capitol Police Officer with American Flag Credit: FBI

This morning I started thinking about another image of a flag used as a weapon.

Was it the hard had riot of the Nixon era?


After digging around a bit, I fount it. This iconic photo, “The Soiling of Old Glory,” captures a moment in the busing riots of 1976. This time the flag wielder was a student upset that his friends would be bused away in an effort to desegregate the schools. His target wasn’t a cop, it was a random African-American.

Luckily, he missed!

I don’t know if Joseph Rakes, the flag-wielding student, fits the right wing stereotype quite so well as Francis Stager, but the meaning of the moment seems comparable enough. As does the outrageous nature of the action. You’d be hard-pressed to avoid seeing in either conflict some sense of the defense of privilege; harder to still to find any meaningful excuse for the decision to turn the arguments of the day into a physical assault against a momentarily defenseless victim. Whatever the cop might have done in some other context, he was hopelessly outnumbered when Stager attacked him. Ted Landsmark, the black man in the 76 photo hadn’t done a damned thing; he too was hopelessly outnumbered and already realing from another blow. Neither deserved to be attacked with a deadly weapon.

Not any weapon.

Still, the weapon in each of these cases does seem to make a statement.

It’s just not a very good one.


The photo of the Capital Hill riots is taken from Yahoo News.

The Soiling of Old Glory is taken from an NPR story about it.