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What does a black and white American flag with a yellow stripe mean?

What does a black and white American flag with a yellow stripe mean?

The black and white American flag with a yellow stripe has become a common sight at protests and rallies in recent years. This symbolic flag has a specific meaning and represents the views of a particular movement. Understanding the origins and symbolism behind this flag can provide insight into the motivations of those displaying it.

History of the Black and White Flag

The black and white American flag can be traced back to the Revolutionary War era. During that time, the flag was known as the Culpeper flag or Gadsden flag. It featured 13 alternating black and white stripes representing the first 13 American colonies. The flag also depicted a rattlesnake and the words “Don’t Tread on Me.” This slogan reflected the rebellious spirit of the colonists and their opposition to British control.

The Gadsden flag fell out of use after the Revolutionary War. But in recent decades, it has seen a resurgence. The modern version replaces the rattlesnake with a single yellow stripe. This updated design first emerged during the 2014 Bundy standoff in Nevada. Rancher Cliven Bundy was engaged in an armed confrontation with federal agents over grazing rights on public land. Supporters flew the black, white and yellow flag to signal their anti-government views.

Meaning of the Yellow Stripe

The yellow stripe on the flag carries important meaning. It represents the rattlesnake from the original Gadsden flag and slogan. Just as the snake warned enemies not to tread on it, the yellow stripe conveys the same “Don’t Tread on Me” message. This communicates a sentiment of defiance and independence. The stripe and flag as a whole have become associated with libertarianism, resistance to government overreach, and defense of constitutional rights.

Use in Recent Protests

Since its emergence in 2014, the black, white and yellow flag has been increasingly visible at protests and political gatherings. It has been frequently seen at rallies in support of gun rights, free speech, and limited government. The flag has also appeared at protests against measures to combat COVID-19, such as mask and vaccine mandates. For many displaying this banner, it represents pushback against restrictions on individual liberties.

The flag notably featured prominently during the January 6, 2021 rally and storming of the US Capitol. Carried alongside Trump flags and Confederate flags, the black, white and yellow banner conveyed the anti-government leanings of many in the crowd. To them, the flag reflected beliefs that the election was being “stolen” from Trump and that their rights were under threat from Democrats taking power.

As a Symbol of the Libertarian Movement

In addition to protests and rallies, the black, white and yellow flag has become a regular sight at events and gatherings involving the Libertarian Party. This political party advocates extremely limited government, free markets, gun rights, non-interventionism in wars, and the legalization of drugs. The flag’s symbolism resonates with Libertarian ideals of individualism and minimal government regulation.

Prominent Libertarian politicians and activists frequently share images of themselves with the flag on social media. This includes high-profile figures such as former presidential candidate Ron Paul and Fox Business host John Stossel. The flag visualizes their staunch opposition to government programs, taxes, and constraints on personal freedoms.

Controversy Surrounding the Flag

Despite being seen by supporters as representing noble ideals of freedom and anti-authoritarianism, the black, white and yellow flag has become increasingly controversial. Critics argue the flag’s emphasis on unchecked personal liberties disregards responsibilities to the social good and can enable racism, hate, and violence. They point to the flag’s presence among the Capitol rioters and at events with extremist ties.

There is also pushback against using a flag originating from slaveholding Revolutionary era leaders like Christopher Gadsden. Some now see the “Don’t Tread on Me” slogan as only protecting the rights of privileged groups when originally written. The complex origins and modern associations of the flag have led some Libertarians to stop displaying it.


The black, white and yellow Gadsden flag has evolved from its Revolutionary War beginnings to take on new life in 21st century political activism. While supporters see it as representing ideals of freedom and limited government, critics argue it promotes selfishness and disregards responsibilities to society. The provocative flag is likely to remain a fixture at contentious protests and rallies where personal liberties and the role of government are at stake. Though open to interpretation, the flag’s bold colors will continue sparking debate over individual rights versus the collective good.

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