Matt Bush, FISM News
NPR released an article on Wednesday stating a new Florida license plate featuring the Gadsden flag “reopened the debate” over the flag’s controversy.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis tweeted a picture of the new license plate as a way of advertising a way to support veterans in the state. DeSantis stated that the new license plate was available for pre-order and would benefit the Florida Veterans Foundation.
— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) July 30, 2022
DeSantis has become a polarizing figure in the political world since becoming Florida’s governor, but it is unclear if the unveiling of this license plate was political or simply an attempt to raise money for veterans in the state. NPR wasted little time bringing the debate to the national stage.
In a Wednesday NPR article, the second paragraph stated that the Revolutionary War-era Gadsden flag has come to symbolize “a far-right extremist ideology and the ‘Stop the Steal’ movement that sought to overturn the 2020 presidential election results.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis said a new Florida license plate featuring the Revolutionary War-era Gadsden flag sends a "clear message to out-of-state cars." Critics say it symbolizes a dangerous far-right extremist ideology.https://t.co/7rU6zTwj9p
— NPR (@NPR) August 11, 2022
A spokesman for Gov. DeSantis told Newsweek that the claims against the license plate are “absurd” and said that they likely came from “political opponents looking to smear the governor.”
“From a historical perspective, the Gadsden flag was used during the American Revolution by colonists fighting for freedom from the oppressive big government of the English king. That spirit has guided America to this day, and Governor DeSantis likewise believes that freedom is a worthy pursuit and viable alternative to heavy-handed government,” the spokesman for the governor stated.
Rachel Carroll Rivas, deputy director of research and analysis for the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said, “The state can’t claim a lack of knowledge about what this image represents to most of the public…It’s become clear that the flag has been used for some ‘really awful’ causes, most notably the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, where violent protesters attacked police as part of an effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.”
Ironically, the Southern Poverty Law Center has come under fire in recent years by many who call it a far-left, “hate-based scam” that has inspired real-world extremism and violence.
10 years ago a gunman inspired by a "hate list" tried to kill everyone at the Family Research Council. As my then employer rented space there and I had just walked through the lobby, I could have died. I did not because of Leo Johnson. Thanks Leo.https://t.co/yqnkCybJes
— Casey Mattox (@CaseyMattox_) August 15, 2022
While the meanings of symbols change over time, there is a fine line between changing historical facts and changing the meaning of a symbol. Marc Leepson, a journalist and historian who wrote “Flag: An American Biography,” described how the flag came into existence. Benjamin Franklin used the rattlesnake as a symbol of defiance against the crown, and a South Carolina politician named Christopher Gadsden took that symbol and put it on a flag he said.
“One thing we can say about its origins, regardless of how it’s used or who uses it or why it’s used today, is that it really was just completely an anti-British [and] anti-colonial symbol,” Leepson said.
Over the years, the symbol with the phrase “Don’t Tread on Me” has been used by political groups for different reasons. It was a symbol for the Tea Party in 2010, was seen at the January 6 protests/riots, and has even been tied to racism by opponents because Gadsden was a slave-owner. It has also been used by the Marines, the Navy, and fans of the U.S. men’s national soccer team at international competitions.
What can be known about the flag for certain is that it was a symbol of defiance against an oppressive government during the revolutionary war. It was a symbol of unity for a group of states and people to fight together against their oppressors so that they could enjoy a life of freedom as opposed to one of oppression.
It is also clear, considering that $25 of every license plate purchase goes to the Florida Veterans Foundation, that DeSantis is using this license plate as a way to support veterans.
The governor’s spokesperson told Newsweek that “many Floridians celebrate Florida as the vanguard of freedom, and countless others have moved here from across the country to live under a state government that enshrines freedom in its decision making.”