First they came for the flag burners…

by Gregory "Joey" Johnson | Posted December 8, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper |



(Gregory “Joey” Johnson, was the defendant in the U.S. Supreme Court case Texas v. Johnson (1989) that established flag burning as protected speech; he writes for and follows the Revolutionary Communist leader Bob Avakian.)

Joey Johnson Flag Burning Cleveland RNC

Joey Johnson with the support of the Revolution Club burned the American flag outside the Republican National Convention to protest the toxic chauvinism and reactionary ideas of all stripes surrounding Trump's nomination. Joey Johnson said, "We're standing here with the people of the world."



Today Donald Trump bellowed a new threat: “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”  Trump was apparently condemning students at Hampshire College who burnt an American flag in protest.

Let’s take a minute to let this latest outrage from “Mein Trumpf” sink in.  The commander-in-chief decrees now decrees that speech found to be utterly constitutional by the Supreme Court – in the case that I fought and won there – should in fact be punished.  And not just by prison, but by stripping those who exercise this right of all rights of citizenship.  This smacks of the Nazi legislation – and the Nazi mentality – that made it a crime to “profane” the swastika. 

This is deadly serious.  It is a hint, along with so many other outrages, of the kind of fascist regime that Trump intends to impose.  It is yet another reason why people cannot normalize this, but must actually undertake unprecedented resistance to prevent Trump from consolidating his regime.

Let’s take another minute to think about why people might want to burn the American flag.  What took place under this flag?  For one thing, the kidnapping and enslavement, for generations, of millions of people from Africa…followed by a century of Jim Crow segregation and more than 4,000 lynchings of Black people, not one of which was punished… right down to today’s “new Jim Crow” of mass incarceration and murder by police.  For another, the genocide of the peoples who lived here, the Native Americans… this flag flew over the many massacres and the trails of tears carried out by the US Army for centuries and it will no doubt fly over the police and troops that will be used when and if the government carries out its threats in Standing Rock.  This flag flew over the troops who massacred Vietnamese at My Lai and so many other places, and at the entrance to the torture chambers like Abu Ghraib Iraq, and is probably plastered on the drone that will next week take out a wedding party on the other side of the world.

For all those reasons and more, I burned the American flag in 1984 outside the Republican National Convention in Dallas, Texas as Ronald Reagan was being renominated for a second term.  I was arrested for “desecration of a venerated object”, jailed, tried, convicted, sentenced to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.  I appealed the conviction and fought for five years to the U.S. Supreme Court.  And I fought in the court of public opinion against forced patriotism.  The support built outside the court, combined with the legal strategy of my lawyers (including William Kunstler) led to victory.  

Today, however, I again face criminal charges for burning the American flag.  This time, I burned an American flag and was arrested along with 15 other people outside the 2016 Republican National Convention as Donald Trump, fangs bared, swore he would “make America great” by hunting immigrants, further unleashing killer cops against Black and other minority people, bashing women, carrying out pogroms against Muslims and ramping up American military firepower and agression.  At this protest, we were assaulted by police, illegally arrested, and now face serious criminal charges.   You might be interested to know that the “complaining witnesses” were connected to Alex Jones, one of Trump’s many fascist – excuse me, “alt-right” – minions.  Jones’ people bragged on Youtube of assaulting us.  Yet we are the ones being charged.

I burned the flag because it’s wrong to close our eyes to the crimes this country is committing against people inside the U.S. and even more all over the world. I burned the flag because I agree with the great revolutionary leader Bob Avakian that “American lives are not more important than other people’s lives.” 

What’s the best response to Trump’s threats?  On an immediate level, nothing would better refute this attack on political expression than a wave of flag burnings.  I would also urge you to support the fight already being carried on by myself and 15 others against utterly unconstitutional prosecution [link].  But what must be done most of all now are two things: first, to recognize the threat on so many fronts posed by Trump’s fascism and carry out unprecedented resistance to prevent him from consolidating this; and second, to question deeply why and how we got into what is so truly a nightmare situation and to actually and actively engage the question of revolution at


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