Meaning of the Gadsden flag as boy is kicked out of school for displaying symbol

Meaning of the Gadsden flag as boy is kicked out of school for displaying symbol

A man with a Gadsden flag at a "Freedom Rally" in Kentucky

Jon Cherry/Getty Images

A 12-year-old boy in Colorado was reportedly kicked out of class on Monday for displaying the Gadsden flag – and it sent the internet into overdrive.

While the student Jaiden Rodriguez was at first ordered to remove the flag, which features a coiled rattlesnake and the phrase “Don’t tread on me”, he was allowed back in with it on Tuesday.

An administrator at the Colorado Springs school had said the flag has ties to racism and “slavery and the slave trade”. Eden Rodriguez, the boy’s mother, said its roots can be traced back to the Revolutionary War.

“The Vanguard School recognizes the historical significance of the Gadsden flag and its place in history,” the district said in a statement.

“This incident is an occasion for us to reaffirm our deep commitment to a classical education in support of these American principles.”

So what does the flag actually mean?

The flag was designed by Christopher Gadsden, a general in the Continental Army and congressional delegate, during the American Revolution in 1775.

The politician wanted it to serve as a symbol warning the British not to violate Americans’ liberties that would rally support against coercion, said Marc Leepson, the author of Flag: An American Biography.

Back then, the image of a rattlesnake was a Colonial-era symbol representing unity between the 13 colonies.

In recent years, the words “Don’t tread on me” have come to represent a more general opposition to government overreach in the US.

The flag itself began to gain popularity in Libertarian circles as a symbol boosting minimal government beginning in the 1970s.

That was when it became popular, ending up on everything from T-shirts to bumper stickers after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

And the flag became co-opted by Tea Party enthusiasts and die-hard Second Amendment supporters, as an all-purpose emblem of liberty.

Members of the Proud Boys then adopted it in 2020 at a rally in Portland. So yes, it does have ties to racism.

In 2014, a US Postal Service worker in Denver filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against a colleague wearing a hat with the symbol on it.

He claimed it was a “historical indicator of white resentment against blacks stemming largely from the Tea Party” as President Obama, the country’s first black president, was in power.

However, after an investigation, it was concluded that “it is clear that the Gadsden Flag originated in the Revolutionary War in a non-racial context,” according to the Washington Examiner.

The investigation did allow the complaint to move forward though. “Whatever the historic origins and meaning of the symbol, it also has since been sometimes interpreted to convey racially-tinged messages in some contexts,” it said.

Ultimately, the Postal Service dismissed the complaint.

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