Why I Burn the Flag
Notorious flag burner Joey Johnson on the fascist Donald Trump’s attacks on athletes
taking a knee during the national anthem

October 2, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


Gregory “Joey” Johnson was the defendant in the U.S. Supreme Court flag-burning case Texas v. Johnson (1989) that decided burning the American flag in protest is constitutionally protected speech.

Right now, a lot of people are saying that Trump’s fixation on the flag, and demanding that athletes stand for the national anthem, is an expression of Trump’s racism and white supremacy. “Trump doesn’t care about the suffering of Black people; he doesn’t care about all the police terror.” That’s ALL TRUE! In fact, he is actively working to intensify white supremacy and the overall suffering of Black people, and especially the police terror and mass incarceration directed against Black people, as well as emboldening these vile white supremacist mobs.

But there is more going on. Trump recently went before the United Nations and threatened to “totally destroy North Korea”—threatening the nuclear annihilation of North Korea and its people! He is threatening the people of Iran and the people of Venezuela. Trump and Pence and the class of imperialists they are heading up really need people to hate who they are told to hate, and really get into the jingoism and be obedient and “follow the flag” into the next horrific war for empire.

A lot of the athletes protesting have been making the point: they are taking a knee to protest the oppression of Black people and the police terror going on. And that they in no way mean to reflect on the men and women in the U.S. military and their sacrifices. And it has been essentially made a precondition to be part of the conversation that people first say how patriotic they are, how much they support the military, how this has nothing to do with disrespecting the flag.

But wait a minute! Stop the train! Shouldn’t someone tell these athletes, and people broadly in society—including the soldiers in the U.S. military—the TRUTH? Don’t people need to know that there is not a separation between so many of the outrages they are protesting, police brutality and murder, mass incarceration, the oppression of Black people and other people of color—and the American flag? Because the American flag has flown over all that oppression. And don’t people need to know that what the U.S. military does on a global scale is oppression and slaughter, a million times worse than what the police do every day—especially in Black and Brown communities across the U.S.?

It is right for people to take a stand (or a knee!) and shine a light on howling injustices. But people have to go deeper, to the root of the problem. That is the work that Bob Avakian (BA) has been doing for decades. BA is the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) and a movement for an actual revolution in this country, someone who has brought forward a whole new framework for human emancipation. And as he says in his new talk, “The Problem, the Solution, and the Challenges Before Us”:

While it is right and necessary to unite with people broadly in opposing the injustices and outrages committed by those who rule this country, and while this has taken on heightened importance with the coming to power of the Trump/Pence fascist regime, it is a basic truth that without breaking with American chauvinism—without confronting the very real horror of what this country has been, and what it has done, here and all over the world, from its founding to the present—and without coming to deeply hate this, it is not possible, in the final analysis, to retain one’s own humanity and act in the highest interests of all humanity.

And what about disrespecting the flag? Well, I’ll tell you why I have burned the American flag in protest—and why I am proud of having burned it, and will do it again; why the Revolution Club burns the flag; and why we believe many other people should do the same. The truth is America was NEVER great! And the American flag is a blood-soaked rag of oppression and empire—soaked in the blood of millions of Native Americans who this country committed genocide against and the blood of millions of Africans, brought to America in chains and whipped and driven and raped. Was America great when it stole half of Mexico, or colonized the Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico? What about the hundred years of open Jim Crow segregation against Black people and the more than 4,000 lynchings of Black people. Was it great then?

Here’s a challenge: spin the globe and try and find a country the U.S. has not invaded and occupied or carried out a coup in, or backed a monstrous regime in. In just the last three decades, the U.S. has waged repeated wars for empire—invasions, occupations, torture, and predator drone attacks in an arc of countries across the Middle East, repeatedly invading and occupying Iraq, killing hundreds of thousands and kicking off a civil war in Iraq that has virtually destroyed that nation and helped spawn ISIS. Other Middle Eastern countries have been swept into the maelstrom and the toll in dead, wounded, and people driven from their homes in the region is now over six million.

I burn the American flag because, as Bob Avakian says, “American Lives Are NOT More Important Than Other People’s Lives.” (BAsics 5:7) A statement that should so obviously be seen as true but which completely conflicts with the way that people in this country are indoctrinated to think.

And I think soldiers in the U.S. military, just like everyone else, should be told the truth. As Bob Avakian says in his new talk:

The military of this country is not a body of heroes who should be thanked for their service, but a machinery of perpetual war crimes and crimes against humanity, repeatedly carrying out slaughter and destruction on a mass scale in the service of a system literally built on blood and bones.

And he adds:

And as for people who should be appreciated, those from this military who should be supported are those who have broken with it, especially those who have come over to the side of opposition to these crimes and the system this military enforces with its depraved violence and massive destruction.

I want to be absolutely clear: I am really excited to see all these professional athletes taking a knee during the national anthem to protest the oppression of Black people, and other oppressed people, especially at the hands of police terror. That is a very important beginning!

But I do believe people who, righteously, are calling out Trump for being a racist and white supremacist—we need to pull the lens back further. And when it comes to the Trump/Pence regime’s threats of war against oppressed people across the world—in North Korea, or Iran, or Venezuela, or all the countries in the Middle East where the U.S. is carrying out horrific destruction—you are needed to call that out, you are needed to be challenging all that, the illegitimacy of all that, as well. Humanity is urgently calling on us to go further, NOW, and people with diverse viewpoints who can see the dangers of the Trump/Pence regime should take up the call from RefuseFascism.org to drive them out, through massive mobilizations beginning November 4. I know why the capitalist-imperialist CNN and MSNBC are not doing that, why they say, “Well Mr. Trump is the commander in chief, he makes the decisions about going to war,” because to them fascism is a matter of taste, and they would rather keep the American empire with Trump, than lose it. But we are not them. And we should stand with the people of the world!

Joey Johnson can be contacted at joey4revolution@gmail.com.


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