We’ve all seen it before – the sharp yellow flag featuring a rattlesnake and the words “Don’t Tread On Me.” Chances are if you’re here, it’s because you got curious enough to Google the meaning of the flag, and want to know at least a little bit about its historical significance. Chances are you have also seen it quite a few times before Googling, maybe even used it yourself without knowing the full history, bought a T-shirt with the symbol on it, or seen someone walking around with one on.
The flag featuring the defiant rattlesnake and sharp yellow background, is actually called the Gadsden Flag, and it’s been around since Benjamin Franklin’s time. Franklin actually referred to the imagery of the flag when he suggested sending rattlesnakes to England as a method of repaying England for sending criminals to America way back in his day. But we’ll get into the flag’s historical significance more in a later section in this article.
Ever since it’s creation, the rattlesnake, the flag itself, and the message – “Don’t Tread on Me” have been a visible symbol of American individualism and assertiveness over the years. It’s a message that has lived on through the ages, and I feel will continue to represent strength in the years to come.
WHAT DOES “DON’T TREAD ON ME” MEAN? WHAT DOES THE RATTLESNAKE SYMBOLIZE
The Gadsden flag is often described as the American equivalent of the Spartan “molon labe” (“come and take [them]”) motto. The comparison is apt as they both represent responding with force to perceived threats, but I have always preferred the Gadsden flag as the perfect expression of subtle defiance and resistance. It’s not a declaration of war, but rather an implicit threat implying: “We won’t take shit from anyone.”
This is spelled out, not as a contrarian argument, but more as a fact – a plainly put statement of resistance, which makes it far more applicable to day-to-day life and thus far more frequently used and thus ubiquitous in terms of seeing it used regularly. In my mind, “Don’t Tread on Me” is very similar to the Roman, “Si vis pacem, para bellum” (If you want peace, prepare for war). It’s a fair warning for all would-be oppressors to back off. Regardless of where you’re from, I think this is a sentiment you can relate to on a human level.
THE HISTORY BEHIND THE GADSDEN FLAG
The Gadsden Flag was designed in 1775 during the American Revolution by the general and politician Christopher Gadsden. Originally, it was flown by the Continental Marines as a motto flag along with the Moultrie (Liberty Flag).
Its application in history is rooted in its imagery – the infamous snake has been used in the past by Benjamin Franklin’s “Join, or Die.” – which was actually the first political cartoon – and the rattlesnake as a symbol continued to be used throughout the years as the representation of the American people and their drive for self-determination.
If you’re wondering if it’s ever been used to promote racist agendas before, yes, it has. Indeed the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag has at times in the past been hijacked by less than savoury groups. Frankly, however, I wouldn’t put much weight on that. Why? That’s not at all what it was created to mean. It was never originally intended to be used this way, and if tomorrow, My Little Pony were randomly hijacked to represent something terrible, degrading, and racist, I’d like to think people wouldn’t put any fault on My Little Pony for that – it’s just plain not what the intended purpose of the original creation was.
It’s very easy for people to claim any symbol “as their own” and twist it for their own ends. Objectively speaking, we can find negative connotations attached to all symbols, so on that note; any mention of racist connotations regarding the Gadsden flag or the phrase “Don’t Tread On Me” demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of its history and seems to be pushed by a movement levelled by individuals who have an axe to grind against anything that didn’t spawn at a Starbucks. I find it thoroughly disappointing that so much of our relations with our fellow man have dwindled down to petty partisan bullshit, but here we are.
2017 folks. The fact that this is even being debated is tragic, but to settle the matter once and for all; From the New Yorker:
“The origins of ‘Don’t Tread On Me,’ “ Leepson summarizes, “were completely, one hundred percent anti-British, and pro-revolution.” Indeed, that E.E.O.C. directive agrees, “It is clear that the Gadsden Flag originated in the Revolutionary War in a non-racial context.”
[*] I am aware that as a Brit, it is extremely ironic that I am happy to use the Gadsden flag as a symbol of defiance. On that note, if you accept Her Majesty the Queen as your sovereign monarch I am sure all will be forgiven. I’ll await for your formal notice. 😉
With regards to the rattlesnake’s historical adoption as a symbol of the strength of American independence, Benjamin Franklin phrased it best in his essay published by the Pennsylvania Journal (quote pulled from this source);
I recollected that her eye excelled in brightness, that of any other animal, and that she has no eye-lids. She may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance. She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage. As if anxious to prevent all pretensions of quarreling with her, the weapons with which nature has furnished her, she conceals in the roof of her mouth, so that, to those who are unacquainted with her, she appears to be a most defenseless animal; and even when those weapons are shown and extended for her defense, they appear weak and contemptible; but their wounds however small, are decisive and fatal. Conscious of this, she never wounds ’till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her.
Was I wrong, Sir, in thinking this a strong picture of the temper and conduct of America?
All this to say, using the rattlesnake as a symbol of American independence and strength made perfect sense due to the predominance of the timber rattlesnake throughout the Thirteen Colonies and the perception of the rattlesnake as an animal that won’t attack until provoked, but will leave a nasty bite once it is.
As a side note, the original Gadsden flag shows the snake by itself. Modern versions from the 20th century onwards, sometimes have a grass bed below the rattlesnake. There can also be some debate over the use of an apostrophe over the “Don’t,” but early versions all (for the most part) use an apostrophe, so as far as I am concerned it is the standard. Similarly, the snake is usually facing left.
MODERN APPLICATIONS: HOW THE FLAG IS USED TODAY
The Gadsden flag has carried over as a symbol of defiance against the perception of tyranny. Its significance, I feel, transcends all nationalities and creeds.
In present day, the Gadsden Flag is iconic in its symbolism as a rallying cry for Libertarianism and individual liberty, as far as the modern mainstream political discourse will allow it to be.
I will say that common criminals masquerading as “anarchists” have in the past hijacked this flag, and it’s a damn shame that that’s happened to such a valuable historical symbol of strength, but broadly speaking the flag still is taken to represent freedom and, more importantly, the willingness to fight for this freedom.
To the best of my knowledge, no single group has ever “claimed” the flag, appropriating it completely for itself. Instead, the flag has been used time and time again as an iconic symbol of rebelliousness.
One example of the flag having been used in an attempt to show a rebellious spirit with no ill-intention meant: the heavy metal band Metallica using the outline of the rattlesnake on the cover of their Black Album back in 1991.
Walk around malls often enough and you’re likely to see the rattlesnake featured on band t-shirt reproductions of this popular cover art.
The perception from the media (broadly speaking) is that this flag is a right wing symbol. This is patently false. You also often get the perception, from the media, that this flag is somehow representative of anti-government ways of thought, which I feel is moderately true – only insofar as it’s often used to be representative of the oppression of government and the sacrifice of individual liberties.
The Gadsden flag cannot be considered anti-government from a historical perspective, especially considering how Benjamin Franklin used it in the past. Again it remains, in my opinion, a symbol of individual liberty and freedom, and strength in the face of potential oppressors of that liberty. 2nd amendment causes, individual liberty, pro constitution, and anti big government movements have rallied around this symbol, though this doesn’t fall out of line with the general message of the flag because they consider big government to be their potential oppressors.
PERSONAL MEANING: WHAT “DON’T TREAD ON ME” MEANS TO ME
As for me?
I take this flag to mean – I’ll mind my own business, if you mind yours. If you don’t, you will regret it.
This way of thinking is becoming a rarity in mainstream culture. We tiptoe around our individuality promoting this bizarre sense of forced collective cohesion, which I think is incredibly detrimental to society. We have forgotten that it is a-okay to dislike other people, and yet still respect them and their individual right to dislike you in turn.
People are different. That’s normal. That’s good. We should accept that fact and move on.
Resisting is not a bad word, nor should it be considered one. Why? Because being different is not bad, and it should be celebrated instead of condemned. Resisting other’s attempts at forcing you to do things you don’t want to do, resisting attempts at taking away your personal liberties – I feel this is an important message that the Gadsden flag still reinforces today. The Gadsden flag is a representation that consequences are on the table should respect not be reciprocal – there’s nothing in that sentiment that’s negative, in my opinion.
Personally, I don’t view the Gadsden flag as abrasive in nature, despite recent media frenzy over it. For me, the flag and the snake represent accountability. Every action has a reaction – a rattlesnake will hold you accountable for provoking it. Again, it doesn’t strike first, just reacts defensively to keep itself safe from harm from another entity. It’s a tacit acceptance that even with everything that is going on around us, all the rage, anger and accusations being thrown around the media, some of us will hold our ground; our rights are our own and will remain as such – because we will defend them to make it so.
Something to think about.
By Jay Syrmopoulos – June 30, 2016
After coming into the White House with statements about being the most transparent administration in history, the Obama administration has done anything but operate with transparency.
The CIA has been operating a covert weapons program in Syria, buying Kalashnikov assault rifles, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades in Eastern Europe for delivery to “moderate” Syrian rebels, with the ultimate intent of toppling the Assad government. It was recently revealed that truckloads of these weapons have been systematically stolen in route to the rebels by Jordanian intelligence officers.
Some of the stolen weapons were used in a shooting in November that killed two Americans and three others at a police training facility in Amman, according to a joint investigation by the New York Times and Al Jazeera.
A Jordanian officer shot dead two U.S. government security contractors, a South African trainer and two Jordanians at a U.S.-funded police training facility near Amman before being killed in a shootout, Jordanian authorities had said in November.
Incredibly, when a U.S. State Department official was questioned about these revelations by the White House press corp, she refused to comment on the situation, citing an ongoing investigation. When the journalists pushed back and asked who is conducting the investigation, the official again stonewalled the media, claiming that she couldn’t even divulge who was investigating the allegations.
The awkward press conference was more reminiscent of a Saturday Night Live skit than an official press briefing by the U.S. State Department. When society has gotten to the point at which there is trouble discerning between a comedy entertainment show and an official press briefing by a federal government agency, it may be time to do something different.
The utter contempt shown by our government, by failing to inform the populace about activities undertaken in the name of the American people, should raise serious red flags about how little the federal government is actually beholden to the people they claim to serve.
By Jay Syrmopoulos – June 30, 2016
A remarkable incident is being largely ignored by corporate mainstream media – as it doesn’t fit their “guns are bad” narrative. A man with a concealed carry license stopped a mass shooting in progress outside a South Carolina nightclub in the early morning hours on Sunday after an assailant opened fire in a crowed of people, striking and injuring three people.
Jody Ray Thompson, 32, faces multiple attempted murder charges stemming from the incident, according to Spartanburg County deputies. None of the victims’ injuries were life-threatening, according to police.
“His rounds struck 3 victims, and almost struck a fourth victim, who in self-defense, pulled his own weapon and fired, striking Thompson in the leg,” Lt. Kevin Bobo said.
As Thompson was firing at the crowd of people, one of his would-be victims, with a concealed carry permit, was able to return fire, striking Thompson in the leg and ending the mass shooting in progress.
“Thompson was still on the scene when deputies arrived, but the initial scene was chaotic,” Lt. Bobo said. “It wasn’t until victims and witnesses were interviewed, and video from the scene was reviewed that Thompson was identified as the suspect.”
Police confirmed that the man who stopped the attack had a valid concealed weapons permit and won’t face any charges. Thompson faces four counts of attempted murder, possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime, and unlawful carrying of a weapon.
The interesting thing about this incident is that it flies in the face of the narrative that people would be safer if we make it harder for individuals to gain access to, or legally carry, firearms.
There is a certain level of common sense regulation, such as not allowing violent felons or convicted terrorists to own guns. However, the push to make it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to access or carry firearms actually works against public safety, as clearly illustrated in this case.
The current narrative on gun control is that “mass shootings,” defined by the FBI as three or more people shot in one incident, are at an epidemic level. This ostensible epidemic requires society to increase restrictions on gun ownership as a means of saving lives and lowering the U.S. homicide rate.
It’s important to keep in mind that mass shootings in public places should never be the main focus in the gun debate for gun control. The reality is that on average mass shootings account for much less than a single percent of the U.S. homicide rate.
Had this legal concealed carrier not been present when this gunman began opening fire, this incident would have likely had much more deadly consequences. The reality is that a legal concealed carrier at ground zero of an attack can stop the carnage sooner.
When good people carry firearms it saves lives, not that the media will tell you that.
Please share this story if you agree!
By Claire Bernish – June 30, 2016
Yet more fallout from the government’s notoriously ill-conceived “gunwalking” scheme as Judicial Watch found one of the guns used in the Paris terror attacks of November 13, 2015 appears to have been sold illegally, without repercussion as part of Fast and Furious.
A Report of Investigation (ROI) filed by a case agent in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) tracked the gun used in the Paris attacks to a Phoenix gun owner who sold it illegally, ‘off book,’ Judicial Watch’s law enforcement sources confirm.
Evidencing a hallmark of the Fast and Furious scheme, the unidentified Phoenix seller had been caught twice previously for federal firearms violations — “for selling one weapon illegally and possessing an unregistered automatic” — for which no charges or prosecution ever developed.
In fact, according to unidentified and unverified “law enforcement sources involved with the case,” the ATF acted to ensure the seller’s identity and information pertaining to his involvement remained concealed from scrutiny — “kept quiet,” as Judicial Watch sources put it.
“Agents were told, in the process of taking the fully auto [mentioned above], not to anger the seller to prevent him from going public,” Judicial Watch says a “veteran law enforcement officer” explained.
For those unfamiliar with Fast and Furious, the ATF office in Phoenix devised an ill-fated plan, beginning in 2009, to allow gun buyers — “straw purchasers” for Mexican drug cartels — to purchase weapons and cross into Mexico without interference from agents. Ostensibly, this would allow the ATF to trace firearms to those powerful drug cartels; but whistleblowers and various investigators later discovered the feds made no attempts to follow through in tracking any of the thousands of weapons sold in this manner.
Many of these weapons have, however, been tragically linked to crimes against Americans, including the shooting of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry — killed in a shootout along the Mexican border in 2010.
Now, if what Judicial Watch uncovered holds weight, another Fast and Furious weapon has been used against civilians in an horrific way — thanks to the utterly irresponsible, nefarious scheme unleashed by the Obama administration’s feds.
As the watchdog group notes, it isn’t entirely certain whether or not the Phoenix seller’s identity has been suppressed by the ATF — the agency putatively tasked with reining in the selling and use of illegal weapons — because of his participation with Fast and Furious.
ATF spokesman Corey Ray opaquely told Judicial Watch “no firearms used in the Paris attacks have been traced” by the agency — leaving open the possibility the ATF hasn’t bothered to try. Asked to discuss the ROI report linking the Paris weapon to Phoenix, Ray flatly stated, “I’m not familiar with the report you’re referencing.”
Repeated calls by Judicial Watch to the Phoenix ATF office were never returned.
As the group noted, the Los Angeles Times reported previously a weapon intended to be used to carry out an attack last year at a controversial ‘draw the prophet Mohammed’ cartoon contest in Garland, Texas, had been purchased in a Phoenix gun store associated with Fast and Furious.
For obvious reasons, considering the ATF and feds never tracked the scheme’s weapons, most of the over 2,000 Fast and Furious weapons have been lost.
Apparently, however, the guns have a nasty habit of showing up in rather telling incidents — a weighty responsibility for the U.S. government, considering. It remains highly unlikely those agencies or individual agents will ever be called to task for tragic repercussions from the ill-begotten and scandalous program.
By Justin Gardner – June 29, 2016
If invading countries and drone bombing innocent civilians were not enough to promote death and destruction in the Middle East, the U.S. is also helping to flood the region with small arms.
As part of its effort to foment regime change in Syria, the CIA has been buying Kalashnikov assault rifles, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades in Eastern Europe for delivery to “moderate” Syrian rebels. However, it’s been revealed that truckloads of these weapons are being systematically stolen en route to the rebels.
The stolen weapons were then sold on the black market in Jordan at bazaars in Ma’an, Sahab, and in the Jordan Valley. Those involved in the theft scheme, worth millions of dollars, used the profits to purchase expensive SUVs, electronics, and other luxury goods.
It is also believed that some of the stolen weapons were used to kill two Americans and three others at a police training facility shooting in Amman in November.
The thefts were purportedly being done by Jordanian intelligence officers acting as intermediaries between the CIA and Syrian rebels, including senior officials who covered up the dealings for lower level officers.
The idea that American officials knew absolutely nothing about the lucrative scheme is questionable, especially considering that some of the weapons were destined for a classified CIA-run rebel training program in Jordan that began in 2013.
Basic accounting of inventory should have alerted officials early on that something was awry, but the lure of black market money is a powerful force. It takes many people and many bribes to carry off repeated weapons theft of this magnitude.
Jordan’s minister of state for media affairs insists that none of their intelligence officers were involved and that “Weapons of our security institutions are concretely tracked, with the highest discipline.”
But these are empty words, as Jordanian officials have already described how logistics officers—relying on cover provided by senior officers—were involved in the actual siphoning of weapons and delivery to large arms markets in Jordan. Several dozen officers, including a lieutenant colonel, were arrested, then released and fired from the intelligence service.
Two heads of the service, called the General Intelligence Directorate (GID), have been sent to prison for theft, embezzlement, money laundering and bank fraud totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. Clearly, the GID is no stranger to criminal behavior.
The CIA has been cultivating its relationship with the (GID) for decades, beginning in the 1950s with payments to King Hussein for permission to set up intelligence operations on Jordanian soil. As part of the deal, the CIA helped the monarchy squash threats to its reign.
The Jordanian kingdom has tried to maintain complete secrecy about the CIA rebel training program, which is also funded by Saudi Arabia and has trained thousands of rebels over the past three years. It was launched to try and “gain control of a chaotic situation in which Arab countries were funneling arms into Syria for various rebel groups with little coordination.”
The news of this massive siphoning of weapons into the black market is another sad chapter in the decades of U.S. meddling in the Middle East. Time and time again, the CIA has armed “rebels” to fight the governments it deems undesirable.
The CIA nurtured the mujaheddin in Afghanistan in the 1980s to fight off communist Russia, but that misadventure brought us al-Qaida. The U.S. latched onto the Salafist sect in Syria to fight against Assad and destabilize the region, ultimately leading to the creation of the murderous Islamic State.
The efforts to train and equip rebels in Syria have led to the absurd situation where CIA-armed militias have fought Pentagon-armed militias between the Turkish border and the war-ravaged city of Aleppo.
By TJ Martinell –
Since the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida there has been a lot of discussion about prohibiting people on the federal government’s terrorist watch list or the so-called no-fly list from obtaining firearms.
For gun grabbers, it’s a clever way to get both sides of the aisle on the same page.
For one side, it provides an opportunity to finally get unpopular (and ineffective) gun control measures passed. For the other side, the ban makes them look “respectably” bipartisan and “tough on terrorism.”
From a purely practical view, the concept relies on the feds actually knowing who the terrorists are and accurately identifying them. It seems their suspicions need fine-tuning.
According to The Intercept, almost half of the people on the feds’ database of terrorist suspects are not “connected to any known terrorist group.”
Of the 680,000 people caught up in the government’s Terrorist Screening Database—a watchlist of “known or suspected terrorists” that is shared with local law enforcement agencies, private contractors, and foreign governments—more than 40 percent are described by the government as having “no recognized terrorist group affiliation.” That category—280,000 people—dwarfs the number of watchlisted people suspected of ties to al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah combined.
This kind of ban provides the convenient precedent for a future president to simply place anyone they don’t like on the watch-list or no-fly list in order to restrict their gun rights. If this were to occur, a person can have their right to keep and bear arms stripped from them without any kind of trial or means of recourse – based solely on the secret discretion of a few individuals.
Just as the IRS is used as a weapon against political opponents, these lists could be used against anyone who poses a threat to a would-be tyrant.
If you’re a regular reader here at the TAC, that probably includes you. Even if you’re not, sooner or later someone who be in charge you oppose or who doesn’t like people such as yourself.
Needless to say, the federal government has no authority in any way whatsoever to restrict the right to keep and bear arms.
If a person is suspected of a crime, the matter should be investigated. If sufficient evidence is found indicating a crime has been committed, then the person should be arrested, charged with the crime, and tried. Only after they’ve been found guilty in a court of law do they forfeit any rights.
Our rights are not lost by mere suspicion. They are not contingent upon whether or not other people exercise those rights lawfully. We should not be silenced or censored because others libel or defame. Likewise, we do not lose our right to keep and bear arms because someone else used their guns to commit murder rather than self-defense.
The arguments we hear today about keeping guns out of the hands of suspected terrorists is no different than the discussion about putting innocent Japanese Americans into internment camps after Pearl Harbor. No matter what the Supreme Court decided afterwards, the decision was not just unconstitutional. It was more than a waste of military resources when they were needed elsewhere.
It was an egregious violation of the rights of innocent people.
The Japanese internment set a terrible precedent that remains today, and might very well be used by a future president.
It’s at times of crisis that our liberties are endangered the most because it’s then that people are the most willing to give up those rights for the sake of “national security.” What they don’t realize is that we are most safe when we are free. Once our rights are surrendered for temporary security they are never returned, and the security promised by the agreed price fails to arrive.
Think carefully about what rights you consider worth surrendering for a false promise of national security.
TJ Martinell is a Seattle-based reporter and author of the Orwellian novel The Stringers. Visit his personal site at tjmartinell.com. He writes for The Tenth Amendment Center, where this article first appeared.