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What does the black American flag with red mean?

What does the black American flag with red mean?

The black American flag with red stripes has become a symbol with multiple meanings in recent years. The origins and initial symbolism of this distinctive flag design are rooted in the history of anarchism and anti-government libertarianism. However, more recently, the black American flag with red stripes has also been adopted for use by some far-right extremist groups.

Origins and Early Symbolism

The black American flag with red stripes first emerged in the 19th century as a symbol of anarchism and anti-government libertarians. This variant of the American flag replaced the normal red, white, and blue colors with black to signify the absence of government and red to represent the people’s struggle against oppressive systems.

The black color has long been associated with anarchism as a rejection of the legitimacy and authority of the state. The red stripes were likely inspired by the red flag used broadly across leftist and labor movements globally. This adapted American flag was meant to convey a distinctly libertarian and anti-government message.

Through the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the black American flag with red was sometimes used as the symbol of individualist anarchists in the United States. It represented the anarchist principles of voluntary cooperation, autonomy, mutual aid, and resistance to coercive hierarchies. The flag communicated an ideal of a society without centralized power structures.

Use By Anti-Government Extremists

In the latter half of the 20th century and into the 21st century, the black American flag with red began to be appropriated by anti-government extremist groups, particularly in the context of the militia movement.

These anti-government groups rejected the authority of the federal government and promoted elaborate conspiracy theories about a tyrannical “New World Order.” The black American flag with red stripes was seen as aligning with their hostility toward the government and openness to violent resistance.

Well-known examples of anti-government extremist groups that have flown the black American flag with red include the Montana Freemen, a faction involved in an armed standoff with federal law enforcement in the 1990s. More recently, the flag has also appeared at armed protests associated with the sovereign citizen movement.

Use By Far-Right Extremist Groups

In addition to anti-government extremists, some far-right groups have also adopted the black American flag with red stripes. This includes certain white nationalist, neo-fascist, and neo-Nazi organizations.

For these groups, the flag’s symbol of conflict against the existing order fits with their ideological opposition to multiculturalism, immigration, and racial equality. The provocative altered colors of the American flag allow them to portray themselves as the true upholders of patriotism.

Far-right groups seen displaying the black American flag with red include iterations of the Ku Klux Klan, the National Socialist Movement, and the now-defunct Traditionalist Worker Party. Individuals affiliated with broader far-right extremist causes like QAnon have also flown the flag at rallies and protests.

Ongoing Use As Anarchist Symbol

Despite appropriation of the black American flag with red by right-wing extremists, the flag continues to hold meaning as an anarchist and anti-authoritarian symbol, particularly in anarchist communities.

Contemporary anarchist groups distance themselves entirely from the ideology of right-wing extremists. But they maintain the original symbolism of the black American flag with red as representing libertarian socialism, solidarity, and emancipation of oppressed groups.

The flag is commonly displayed at events such as May Day marches to represent a vision for a socialist society without domination. However, its ambiguity results in complex debates within anarchist communities about the extent to which the flag has been co-opted by harmful groups.

General Ambiguity and Controversy

The black American flag with red’s array of different meanings has made it a ambiguous and controversial symbol in the 21st century. To many, it represents general resistance to the status quo. But its specific ideological connections are often unclear or contested from group to group.

This ambiguity has fueled heated disagreements about who has a legitimate claim over its symbolic message. Both left-wing anarchists and right-wing extremists continue to use the flag with distinct interpretations of what it represents.

This complex situation means the black American flag with red is prone to misunderstandings and contentious reactions. Increased awareness of the flag’s layered history can help provide clarity about its evolving connotations in contemporary society.


The black American flag with red stripes originated as an anarchist and anti-government symbol in the 19th century. In the 20th and 21st centuries, it has also been adopted by anti-government extremists and certain far-right groups.

Despite this appropriation, the flag maintains its historic meaning in anarchist communities as representing anti-authoritarianism and liberation. But its overall ambiguity has made it a controversial symbol prone to competing interpretations about what ideals it represents.

Time Period Use of Flag
19th century Early anarchist symbol
Late 20th century Anti-government extremists
Early 21st century Far-right groups
Present day Anarchists and ambiguous meanings