Unraveling extremist symbols and groups from the Capitol riot


NBC News

Pro-Trump rioters close in on the U.S. Capitol building on January 6, 2021.

Sophia Keang, Reviews-Opinions Editor

Pro-Trump mobs stormed the Capitol building, on January 6, 2021, hoping to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election. Images from the insurrection show rioters in D.C. proudly displaying an arrangement of symbols and slogans, which to many Americans, uncovered an alternate political universe where violent extremists, conspiracy theorists, and blatant racists strode alongside Trump supporters. However, what do these flags and phrases truly mean?

1. “Don’t Tread on Me” Flag

34-year-old Rosanne Boyland holds a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag before getting trampled to death by fellow rioters during the Capitol Hill insurrection. (New Civil Rights Movement )

“Don’t Tread on Me” Flag, also known as the “Gadsden Flag,” is a traditional and historical patriotic flag that originated in the Revolutionary era and has been used ever since in the U.S., according to Senior Research Fellow at the Anti-Defamation League, Mark Pitcavage, in an interview with Time. This is often a symbol against tyranny where the phrase “Don’t tread on me” is rising against tyrannical authority.

Historically, right-ists tend to appropriate imagery from the American Revolution to show that they are patriotic.

The modern-day Tea Party movement started in 2009 in opposition to Obama’s economic stimulus package. The deal was passed without much Republican support.

This group consists of highly-conservative Republicans who reflect the values of Andrew Jackson: individualism, self-reliance, and loyalty. Followers have three central beliefs: economic competence, limiting the federal government, and free markets. The flag became extremely common among tea party supporters, who soon turned into Trump supporters.

2. Confederate Flag

Pro-Trump rioter, Kevin Seefried, holding a Confederate flag in the Capitol. He has now been arrested after violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds and entering in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority. (CNN)

The Confederate flag was not born as a symbol but as a practical banner. From 1860-1861, eleven southern states withdrew from the U.S. to defend the institution of slavery which formed the Confederate States of America and triggered the Civil War. Organizations such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans adopted this flag as an emblem of Southern heritage. 

However, this flag is also a symbol of white supremacy and slavery which has become very popular among white supremacists, Trump supporters, and racists.

3. Proud Boys

Group of Proud Boys at the Capitol riot uses the “OK” sign as a trolling gesture and is a symbol of white power. (CNN)

Proud Boys represent an uncommon strain of American right-wing extremists. Members of this group come from all different ethnic backgrounds, however, this group can also be described as Islamaphobic, homophobic, misogynistic, and violent. 

Gavin McInnes, the founder of Proud Boys, describes its followers as those who “long for the days girls were girls and men were men”. 

The organization has been a supporter of President Trump and has shown up to rallies in Washington D.C. with “Stop The Steal” signs. 

4. III Percenters

Rioters wave the “III Percent” flag outside of the Capitol. (ABC News)

III Percenters are those part of a militiamen movement that supports the idea that a small number of devoted “patriots” should protect Americans from government tyranny, similar to how patriots of the American Revolution protected Americans from British Tyranny.

The concept developed in 2008 is based on an inaccurate historical claim that the Revolutionary War was fought by only three percent of Americans.

5. Oath Keepers

A man wears an Oath Keepers hat as he screams at police. (CBS58)

According to ADL, this yellow title represents those involved in a large yet loose far-right, anti-government militia organization. This extremist group directly focuses on recruiting current and former law enforcement or anyone who believes that the U.S. is conspiring with a “one-world tyrannical conspiracy” to strip Americans from their rights. Members pledge to obey the Constitution and refuse to obey any orders deemed as unconstitutional. 

6. QAnon

A QAnon sign is displayed during the riot at the Capitol. (Getty Images)

QAnon is a wide-spread conspiracy theory popular among many right-wing extremists and some Trump supporters. This theory emerged from 4chan, an online disinformation movement. 

Adherents to this conspiracy have been connected to acts of kidnapping, murder, violence. They also believe world governments are being controlled by a global cabal of high-power criminals. 

According to BBC News, members believe that President Trump is executing a secret war against Satan, who worships pedophiles in government, media, and business. 

7. “Kekistan” Flag

A pro-Trump rioter standing on the balcony of the Capitol wearing a military uniform using colored smoke bombs that represent the “Kekistan” Flag. (Time)

The green, black, and white flag was generated by members of the 4chan online community. The “Kekistan” flag represents a fictitious joke named for “Kek”, a fictional God that has been displayed in right-wing rallies. 

“The Kekistan flag is controversial because its design was partially derived from a Nazi-era flag; this was apparently done on purpose as a joke,” said Pitcavage, in an interview with Time.

8. “Camp Auschwitz”

Robert Keith Packer wears a “Camp Auschwitz” shirt during the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. (NBC News)

A rioter stormed into the Capitol wearing a “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt. Just beneath it, the sweater said “Arbeit Macht Frei”, a phrase on the gates of Nazi concentration camps, which translates to “Work Brings Freedom”.

According to a CNN report with Pitcavage, this sweatshirt came from the website, Aryanwear. The site has been up for around ten years before it was recently shut down due to complaints.