The hidden meanings behind the far-right hate symbols on display during the US Capitol riot

Groups in and around the Capitol building on 6 January wore many accessories and symbols associated with white supremacists. Here's a look at their disturbing origins.

Jake Angeli and fellow Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol.

Jake Angeli and fellow Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol. Source: AFP

The riot at the US Capitol on 6 January sent shockwaves around the world, after right-wing fanatics stormed the building in protests that left at least five people dead.

The rioters included members of assorted right-wing groups with interests in false conspiracy theories, racist and homophobic ideologies, and neo-Nazism.

In the wake of the demonstrations, attention has been drawn to the disturbing accessories and symbols associated with the far-right and white supremacy. 

Here’s a look into some of the hate symbols and their origins that were on display during the riot.

Noose and gallows

Among the most disturbing images at the US Capitol riot were of a noose and gallows - so much so that Snopes released a fact-checking article confirming one image was not doctored.

Supporters of US President Donald Trump gather across from the US Capitol on 6 January 2021 in Washington, DC
Source: NurPhoto

The origins of the noose are connected to lynching in America, particularly in the South and after the Civil War. The wooden gallows, however, could be a reference to punishment for traitors.

Jim Bourg, a Reuters picture editor in Washington, posted a tweet during the riot saying he witnessed numerous rioters saying they wanted to hang Vice President Mike Pence.

Mr Pence was at the Capitol at the time of the riot, tasked with presiding over the counting of Electoral College votes that would confirm President Donald Trump’s defeat.

As the riot was underway, footage on Twitter showed the mob chanting “hang Mike Pence”, confirming Mr Bourg's account.

Mr Pence and Mr Trump did not speak for several days following the riot.

Paul McLeod, a Capitol Hill reporter for Buzzfeed News, also posted a photograph showing how a camera cable had been twisted into a noose:

‘The Day of the Rope’

History experts said the overall imagery at the Capitol riot recalls the 1978 novel The Turner Diaries, in which an underground group of self-proclaimed patriots that calls itself "The Organisation" attacks the US Capitol. 

Known as “The Day of the Rope” in the novel, members of "The Organisation" publicly hang members of Congress, journalists, and others they deem to be traitors.

The FBI now calls “The Turner Diaries” the “bible of the racist right”, and the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism deemed it “arguably the most important single work of white nationalist propaganda in the English language”.

The novel was written by William Luther Pierce, head of the neo-Nazi group the National Alliance, under the pseudonym Andrew Macdonald.

Speaking to The LA Times after the 6 January riot, historian and author Kathleen Belew said there was a clear link between the protests and the book.

“It’s clear to anyone who studies this movement that some of the activists at Wednesday’s action were white power activists. What we’re looking at on Wednesday is sort of a broad coalition of Trump fans and QAnon believers and more extremist white power groups,” she said.

“But I think that 'The Turner Diaries' really becomes a clear point of reference if you look at the photographs of the action.

“The Department of Homeland Security has been trying to tell us that white supremacist extremism is the greatest terrorist threat to the United States, that they represent an enormous danger to our democracy and to everyday people.

"I hope that after Wednesday, more people will heed that warning and that we can finally hold our lawmakers accountable for keeping us safe from that threat.”

The Turner Diaries has been referred to as 'a bible for the alt-right'.
Source: Supplied

The Confederate flag

The Confederate flag is a longstanding symbol in the United States, dating back to the country's long Civil War.

After World War II, it became a prominent symbol of Jim Crow and segregation.

More recently, the flag has been adopted by far-right white supremacists, both inside and outside of the United States. 

The Confederate flag had never been flown inside the US Capitol - until 6 January, when one rioter carried the flag through its halls.

A Donald Trump supporter held the Confederate flag inside the US Capitol building.
Source: AFP

The OK sign

The OK hand gesture originally symbolised positive connotations. Dating back to ancient Greece, it was seen as a gesture of expressing love. 

But over the past few years, users on 4chan aimed to re-appropriate the symbol as a white power symbol.

The Anti-Defamation League in 2019 added the OK gesture to its “Hate on Display” database.

In March 2019, the terrorist responsible for the Christchurch mosque massacre flashed the sign to the cameras in a New Zealand courtroom during his arraignment.

In June 2020, footage went viral of a NSW Police officer making the hand symbol during a response to a Black Lives Matter protest.

The officer denied intentionally making the gesture, saying he “did not know the gesture had any other meaning”.

At the US Capitol protests, rioters frequently used the gesture; the ADL described it as a "popular trolling tactic of right-leaning individuals".

 

A Trump supporter flashes the 'OK' hand symbol, which has come to be associated with far-right trolls.
Source: Getty Images

'Kekistan' flag

The “Kek flag” is a banner for a fictional country known as “Kekistan”.

Some far-right members refer to Kek as a “religion” - others, a country.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Centre, an American non-profit organisation that specialises in civil rights and monitoring hate groups, a 4chan user picked up on the fact that there was an Egyptian god named Kek - a deity that was depicted as having a frog’s head.

The god was a bringer of chaos and darkness - a perfect symbol for the alt-right, whose identity is steeped in destroying the world order.

This imagery saw the “Kek” meme take on a life of its own, and “Kek” became a symbol of the far-right’s ideology.

The alt-right 'Kekistan' flag was flown at the US Capitol riot.
Source: Corbis News

Adherents to this “subculture” manufactured an ancient kingdom called “Kekistan”, and created their own green-and-black flag which they called the “national flag of Kekistan”.

The banner’s design perfectly mimics a German Nazi war flag - the Kek logo replaces the swastika and the green colours replace the German red.

In April 2017, an alt right-rally supporting Stephen Bannon was posted on YouTube, featuring a mocking “Free Kekistan” campaign.

“The Kekistani people are here, they stand with the oppressed minorities, the oppressed people of Kekistan. They will be heard, they will be set free. Reparations for Kekistan now! Reparations for Kekistan right now!” said one man in a speech.

QAnon

QAnon is the umbrella term for a series of right-wing internet conspiracy theories that falsely claim the world is run by a secret cabal of pedophiles who worship Satan and are plotting against Mr Trump. 

Flags and posters carrying the capital letter Q were on display during the Capitol riot. 

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the QAnon movement has come to include anti-mask and anti-vaccine conspiracy theories.

Mr Trump has also previously retweeted QAnon's false claims.

A QAnon symbol is seen during the US Capitol riot.
Source: Getty

Norse symbolism

Of all the US Capitol rioters, the one that arguably garnered the most media attention was “Q Shaman” Jake Angeli.

Angeli has appeared at various far-right rallies over the last year, and images of him wearing red, white and blue face paint and a horned helmet during the Capitol riot went viral during the protests.

The shirtless protester prominently displayed his tattoos of Viking and Norse symbology - symbols that have been appropriated by white supremacist and neo-Nazi movements.

Among his tattoos are a valknut - or interlocking triangles - and what appears to be a Thor’s hammer on his stomach.

The valknut - which translates to “knot of those slain in battle” - could be a symbol of death in violent struggle. 

The ADL states: "Some white supremacists, particularly racist Odinists, have appropriated the Valknot to use as a racist symbol. Often they use it as a sign that they are willing to give their life to Odin, generally in battle." 

Jake Angeli and fellow Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol.
Source: AFP

‘Don’t tread on me’ flags

The term "Don’t tread on me" is a reference to the Gadsden flag - a historical American flag with a yellow field depicting a rattlesnake.

Underneath the snake are the words "Don’t Tread On Me".

The flag dates back to the American Revolution, and was named after Christopher Gadsden.

It has since been picked up by some far-right groups and individuals, including Jerad and Amanda Miller, the perpetrators of the 2014 Las Vegas shooting that killed two police officers and a civilian.

Many of the 6 January rioters held Gadsden flags. One of them, 34-year-old Rosanne Boyland, was trampled to death during the riot while carrying the flag.

The 'Don't Tread On Me' flag, on display during the Capitol riot.
Source: Denver Post

'Camp Auschwitz'

Footage from the Capitol riot captured a man wearing a “Camp Auschwitz” shirt, with a skull logo and accessories.

Underneath it are the words “work brings freedom” - a translation of the Nazi slogan “arbeit macht frei”, which was written at the entrance to the Nazis' Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp during World War II. 

More than one million people, primarily Jews, were killed during the Holocaust at the Auchwitz-Birkenau camp.

A protester at the US Capitol riots wearing a 'Camp Auschwitz' jumper.
Source: Supplied

The entrance gate of one of the Auschwitz concentration camps, with the words 'Arbeit Macht Frei'.
Source: De Agostini Editorial

In the wake of the riot, online retailer Etsy has apologised after shirts with the slogan were found on its website.

The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum had called the shirt "disrespectful to the memory of all victims of Auschwitz" in a tweet.

The shirts were subsequently removed, and Etsy apologised in a follow-up tweet.

Nationalist Social Club stickers

During the riot, social media footage showed Nationalist Social Club stickers on what appears to be US Capitol Police equipment.

This image shows Nationalist Social Club stickers on what appears to be US Capitol Police equipment.
Source: Telegram

It's unclear when this photo was taken, but it was posted during the 6 January riot in a group Telegram chat. The group uses a Nazi symbol as its profile image.

Members of the Nationalist Social Club (NSC), one of the most active neo-Nazi groups in the United States, took to Telegram during the riot and noted they were present among the violent rioters. 

NSC - a word play on the National Socialists or Nazi Party - members see themselves as soldiers of war, and seek to form an underground network of white supremacist men who are willing to fight against their perceived enemies.

"NSC members see themselves as soldiers at war with a hostile, Jewish-controlled system that is deliberately plotting the extinction of the white race," according to the ADL.

"Their goal is to form an underground network of white men who are willing to fight against their perceived enemies through localised direct actions."

Oren Segal, vice president of the ADL’s Center on Extremism, said he spotted members of the NSC and other white supremacist groups among the pro-Trump crowds.

Three Percenters flag

The Three Percenters refers to an American-Canadian faction of people who believe, without evidence, that only three per cent of Americans fought during the American Revolution.

The flag features the red and white stripes of the American flag, with III (the Roman numeral for three) in the middle of a ring of stars.

The ADL described the group as “anti-government extremists who are part of the militia movement”.

The Three Percenters flag was among the many altered flags on display during the riot.
Source: Getty

‘Stop the steal’

The “Stop The Steal” flag is a reference to a right-wing conspiracy theory falsely claiming there was widespread voter fraud during the 2020 presidential election.

There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud from the election, despite repeated claims by Mr Trump and his supporters that the results were rigged.

In the wake of the riot, Facebook announced it will remove certain content containing the phrase "stop the steal" from its social media platforms, in response to what it describes as "continued attempts to organise events against the outcome of the US presidential election that can lead to violence".

 A Stop The Steal sign was posted inside of the Capitol Building after a pro-Trump mob broke into the building.
Source: Getty

Upside-down American flag

The US Capitol riot saw several American flags on display, but also a few upside-down flags.

The US Flag Code stipulates that an upside-down American flag can only be used when there is “dire distress and extreme danger to life or property”.

An upside-down American flag, a symbol for national distress, is flown outside the US Capitol during the riots.
Source: AFP

State flags

Several state flags were present at the US Capitol, including Texas, Maryland, and also the state of Georgia, which flipped to blue.

At least one person may have been confused about the official state flag for Georgia, as the symbol for the Republic of Georgia - a country in the Caucasus region - was also spotted on the scene:


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Published 12 January 2021 at 7:23pm
By Gavin Fernando