As Repression and Threats Against Dissent Grow…

Two Protesters Face Felonies in Cleveland for Burning Flag at Republican National Convention

September 4, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper |


On September 19, two of the RNC 16 defendants are going to trial in Cleveland, Ohio. They are facing serious felony charges. The RNC16 are 16 protesters who were arrested for burning an American flag on July 20, 2016 during a righteous political protest outside the entrance of the Republican National Convention (RNC) on the very day the RNC selected Donald Trump to be its presidential candidate. Donald Trump campaigned under the slogan “Make America Great Again” and the fascist program of law and order, white supremacy, “build the wall” scapegoating of immigrants and Muslims, disgusting misogyny, and unbridled wars of aggression.

The way the authorities and fascist stormtroopers attacked these protesters was a harbinger of what has happened since then: physical assaults and heavy charges against people exercising their basic right to protest, including the righteous and protected speech of burning the American flag. What happens in this case has big stakes for what happens in the struggle against the fascist consolidation of the Trump/Pence regime and their Nazi minions. Those who are being prosecuted for protesting the Trump/Pence regime must be defended.

“We’re standing with the people of the world today!”

On July 20, 2016, in protest of Trump’s nomination, Gregory “Joey” Johnson along with the Revolution Club went right up to the gates of the Republican National Convention and declared: “We’re standing with the people of the world today!... Donald Trump is an open fascist. Hillary Clinton is a proven war criminal. We’re not following either one of their leaders.... America No. 1? America First? It always has been first: at genocide, at slavery, at exploitation, at destruction of the environment, at torture....We’re standing here with the people of the world today.” Then Joey Johnson lit the American flag as he stood in the middle of a safety circle of the Revolution Club who chanted “1, 2, 3, 4, Slavery, Genocide and War! 5, 6, 7, 8—America Was NEVER Great!" (Johnson is the same Johnson of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case of Texas v. Johnson that established flag burning as constitutionally protected speech in 1989.)

Even before the flag was lit, a mob of police and fascist thugs brutally attacked those in the safety circle. Sixteen of the protesters were arrested and charged with serious felony and misdemeanor charges. The two protesters going on trial on September 19 are charged with a total of five felonies and two misdemeanors and face up to three to four years each in prison. There are 12 other defendants who face numerous misdemeanor charges.

The response to this protest foreshadowed how this fascist regime (even before coming to power) would treat political protest. This included the use of illegal and pre-emptive massive police brutality, the over-charging of protesters so that they face the threat of years in prison, AND the role of fascist thugs in assaulting protesters. All for exercising constitutionally protected political protest.


In the months before the RNC, the Secret Service, FBI, and Department of Homeland Security were in Cleveland knocking on doors and spying on political activists and others. Thousands of militarized cops (with a $50 million federal budget for “heightened security measures” and equipment for the RNC) from across the country swarmed Cleveland. All this to preemptively intimidate people from coming to protest and to suppress protesters who dared to come.

Not only were the RNC 16 attacked by this massive police force—fascist thugs physically assaulted them, and then tried to play "the victim." During the flag burning, two fascists physically assaulted Joey Johnson. They publicly bragged about punching and kicking Joey Johnson in an interview with Alex Jones posted online later that day. (See “Who Is Alex Jones and”) Not only were these thug provocateurs NOT charged for an assault on Johnson, but based on their claim that they were “burned” in putting out the flag—an act violating the constitutional right to protest by burning the flag—they became the “victims” for which the prosecutors charged Joey Johnson and one other protester with assault! These fascists admitted to assaulting Johnson and then bragged about filing charges, but the authorities went ahead and pressed charges against Johnson and another defendant! In the face of public support and media coverage, this bogus charge was dropped six months later.

In the last months—from Sacramento, to Berkeley, to Charlottesville—we’ve only seen these kinds of extralegal assaults grow, with fascists coming to intimidate protests in full battle gear, wielding bats, knives, and even using their cars as weapons. Often, these fascists get a free pass from the police to terrorize and brutalize righteous political protest.

Serious Stakes and Consequences

On November 29, 2016, Donald Trump tweeted a dangerous 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.” During his campaign rallies, Trump openly longed for the days when protesters were “carried out on stretchers.” Since Trump’s inauguration, state laws have been passed or are pending to criminalize peaceful forms of political protests, including giving immunity to drivers who run over protesters who are in the streets or highways as long as it is “an accident.” The NRA has made videos calling their followers to attack those resisting and protesting against the Trump/Pence regime, including specifically targeting people who burn the American flag.

Here is a case of real freedom of expression, which is being suppressed BY THE STATE. Protesters facing prison sentences based on trumped-up charges after they were brutalized by the police and fascist thugs. Fascist provocateurs getting away with threats and outright violence, working hand in glove with the cops. Yet the news of this is being kept hidden while the media-wise people (some of whom want to both criticize Trump but at the same time keep that criticism and the whole struggle against Trump within very strict—and restrictive—bounds) direct our attention to the “threats” posed by those who are protesting against fascism and fascist attacks on the people. While we’re being told that people like Ann Coulter and such ilk, with backing and access to the fascist regime in power, should have an “all access” pass to vomit their filth all over people.

What happened on July 20, 2016 at the gates of the RNC with the burning of the American flag was an alarm being sounded against what has become a true nightmare for humanity. This bold (and completely legal) flag burning called out Trump’s campaign and now regime for what it is: a fascist regime which must be opposed. That day, before the eyes of the world, we saw a clashing of two futures for humanity. The RNC 16 said, “We had a right to [burn the U.S. flag] and it was the right thing to do!”

The upcoming felony trial, and continued prosecution, of the RNC 16 is a very serious attack on the right to dissent. This has great stakes in the context of the Trump/Pence regime moving to consolidate a fascist America. And the arrests and prosecution of protesters is aimed at silencing and intimidating all those who have been drawn into motion to stop this. We must not allow this to go down, their repressive moves to criminalize dissent have to be defeated by all who are horrified and outraged by the future the Trump/Pence regime is working to lock into place. In addition to the importance of winning this fight in the courts, it can give strength and courage to everyone who wants to see a better world.

At the gates of Trump’s coronation and in the face of a massive and brutal police assault and of fascist thugs, and before hundreds of international media, the RNC 16 stood up for the people of the world. These beautiful and courageous brothers and sisters must be defended and the powers that be must not be allowed to punish them for the so-called crime of telling the truth. They acted in the name of humanity and now all of us are being called on and challenged to do the same. Join in this fight: DROP THE CHARGES ON THE RNC 16!



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