Anti-ICE Protestors Replace US Flag with Mexican Flag

A symbolic gesture sure to backfire

AURORA, CO – July 12: Mexican flag and damaged American Flag are placed by protesters on the flag pole of the ICE detention facility in Aurora. July 12, 2019. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

Today’s entry into the ‘What were they thinking?’ file:

Hundreds of protesters gathered in Aurora on Friday evening to march to the ICE detention facility where illegal and undocumented immigrants are being housed. They also removed the U.S. flag, replaced it with a Mexican flag, and spray painted graffiti on a Blue Lives Matter flag before it was seen flying upside down on the flag pole.

This comes before planned ICE raids in Denver and 10 other cities nationwide.

The protesters say they are demonstrating against the treatment of the people living inside. The Blue Lives Matter flag was vandalized with “Abolish ICE” in spray paint.

—CBS4 Denver, “Protesters Remove U.S. Flag, Replace It With Mexican Flag Outside ICE Facility In Aurora

While I think the various protests against the National Anthem to protest the actions of local officials misdirected, the American flag is arguably a reasonable target of anger here. It is, after all, the US government, under the direction of President Trump, that is using awful tactics to combat illegal immigration.

But, of course, rather than highlighting the cruel and injustice actions of the administration, this gives ammunition to those who see illegal immigrants and their supporters as un-American. Tearing down the American flag is bad enough. Replacing it with the Mexican flag fuels the “Reconquista” nonsense going around on right-wing sites for years. And, naturally, it’s already being exploited by the Russian government’s propaganda machine to further divide Americans.

The Blue Lives Matter flag is a less offensive target since ICE is indeed a US law enforcement agency and some of its agents have engaged in brutality. But being seen as violently anti-police is likely not a good look for a movement seeking to win over the American public.

I continue to believe that the archetype for successful protest movements is the marches led by Martin Luther King, Jr. is which peaceful demonstrators in their Sunday best calmly defied police with dogs and tear gas. The juxtaposition was a powerful symbol of who was on the side of justice.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. I get what you’re saying and largely agree.

    But….

    When we have a situation where children are living in filth, women are being told to drink out of toilets because there’s isn’t enough drinking water available, and guards are reportedly groping teen girls, flying a flag seems tame by comparison.

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  2. James Joyner says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    flying a flag seems tame by comparison.

    Sure. I just think it’s counter-productive. Trump will point to this to show he’s on the side of good an decent Americans and their police and the protestors are dirty Mexicans trying to take over the country with violence.

  3. @James Joyner:

    As I said, I largely agree that something like this is counterproductive.

    At the same time, though, it’s not as if the reaction of Trump and his base would be any different if these people engaged in simple peaceful protests.

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  4. James Joyner says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    it’s not as if the reaction of Trump and his base would be any different if these people engaged in simple peaceful protests.

    I don’t think Trump or his base are persuadable, at least in the short-to-medium term. The question is how does this play in Peoria?

  5. SKI says:

    For evidence of Doug ’s point, see the NYT story on the white US-citizen Trump voter in GA who was held by ICE for a year who is still supporting him.

  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Protestors do something that is sure to piss off some people. Kind of the whole idea, isn’t it?

  7. michael reynolds says:

    1968, Chicago, when protesters managed to get Richard Nixon elected, rewarding the Southern Strategy, prolonging the war they supposedly opposed, and opening the door to the Killing Fields and Watergate.

    I’m not inclined to be charitable to protesters so stupid and so narcissistic that they would bring about the opposite of their goals.

    Anti-Americanism does not sell in the United States.

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  8. DrDaveT says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Protestors do something that is sure to piss off some people. Kind of the whole idea, isn’t it?

    Not really. If you’re doing it right, the purpose of the protest is to shame people — to cause them to view their own positions in an unflattering light — or to make them aware of unacceptable facts that they weren’t aware of.

    Just pissing them off does not move them toward supporting your goals, or putting pressure on the government to change things. Making them uncomfortable with themselves and their government is much more useful. Putting up a Mexican flag isn’t going to do that.

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  9. Stormy Dragon says:

    How many of the people upset about this are the same ones who fly the Confederate Flag everywhere because “MUH HERITAGE”.

    We waste far too much time wondering if the white supremacists are okay with what we do.

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  10. James Joyner says:

    @DrDaveT:

    If you’re doing it right, the purpose of the protest is to shame people — to cause them to view their own positions in an unflattering light — or to make them aware of unacceptable facts that they weren’t aware of.

    Exactly. This is what I was trying to say in the last paragraph of the OP but you’ve stated it more clearly.

  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @DrDaveT:

    the purpose of the protest is to shame people

    Have you met a Republican of late who is capable of shame? Especially the xenophobic racist core? In my 50 or so years of political awareness I have never seen a protest that didn’t piss off some group of people, the ones who were never going to be won over anyway.

    And the point of a protest is to draw attention to an issue which by and large the general public is ignoring.

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  12. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    And the point of a protest is to draw attention to an issue which by and large the general public is ignoring.

    Or they would prefer to just go away.

  13. michael reynolds says:

    If we lose to Trump in 2020 it will be on this issue. Democrats talking about open borders, decriminalizing illegal entry and the rest are committing suicide. This earns them zero additional support from Hispanics and alienates many whites, blacks, Asians and Hispanics.

    I’ve been saying ‘danger Will Robinson’ on this for a while now. We need a policy on immigration that is not just about the things we oppose, or about DACA, those are the low-hanging fruit. We need a serious, realistic policy that allows us to control our own borders and configure immigration in a way that benefits the country. We can yell ‘kids in cages!’ but it carries a lot less weight when we have no answers to the underlying problem.

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  14. DrDaveT says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Have you met a Republican of late who is capable of shame? Especially the xenophobic racist core?

    My goal is to separate the ones capable of shame from the unsalvageable core, leaving only the deplorables behind to lose elections. All protest of GOP policies should be gauged accordingly.

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  15. Stormy Dragon says:

    @michael reynolds:

    The “underlying problem” is that there’s too many people who don’t accept that minorities are fully human. If the Dem nominee builds their immigration policy around making sure none of them have to feel bad about being racist, Trump will win anyways because he’ll always be able to do that better.

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  16. Kathy says:

    A protest’s result should be attention to the object of the protest, not attention to the methods of the protest or the protest itself.

    Me, I’d have printed photos of the inhuman condition these children are kept in on a flag-sized cloth banner, and hung that on the flagpole instead of the ICE flag. Leave the US flag alone, it’s not what’s being protested.

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  17. Gustopher says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Have you met a Republican of late who is capable of shame? Especially the xenophobic racist core? In my 50 or so years of political awareness I have never seen a protest that didn’t piss off some group of people, the ones who were never going to be won over anyway.

    I don’t think the target audience is Republicans.

    @Kathy:

    Me, I’d have printed photos of the inhuman condition these children are kept in on a flag-sized cloth banner, and hung that on the flagpole instead of the ICE flag. Leave the US flag alone, it’s not what’s being protested.

    Vandalizing the American flag is just dumb. Hanging the Mexican flag up is just dumb. Inverting the American flag, as a sign of America in crisis, is less dumb — it’s still respectful, and the only people who don’t understand that are willfully not understanding that.

    A better protest would be to cage children on the national mall.

  18. Gustopher says:

    @Stormy Dragon: For better or worse (worse) immigration is seen as a crisis. And “not that” is not a compelling message for dealing with a crisis.

    The Democrats are not effectively making a case that this is a Trump manufactured crisis.

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  19. Tyrell says:

    I agree that this sort of misguided action will cause a backlash and turn people off. It seems to me that maybe these sort of events probably would not occur if they were not publicized. Photos and videos may well encourage these kinds of corrosive actions.
    The Blue police flags represent the honest police who work hard and put their lives on the line every day: police who follow the code of honor. It does not represent dishonest, abusive police.

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  20. michael reynolds says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    The underlying problem is three failed states to our south making life so miserable for their people that they flee north. Republican nativism and racism exploit this fact, and they make it impossible to have a rational policy, but the basic problem is that we have a right as a nation state to control our borders and we aren’t finding a way to do that humanely.

    We’d get much more traction with ‘kids in cages’ if we could point to a reasonable alternative.

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  21. Gustopher says:

    Is it a weird trick of the light, or is that an entirely different American flag than what would have been flying? The red stripes look black, and there is a blue stripe between them.

    (reads article before posting)

    Wait, THAT’S a “blue lives matter” flag? Oh, fvck those people. Fvck them with a red hot poker. THEY are disrespecting the American flag tying it to their neofascist nonsense.

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  22. Gustopher says:

    I continue to believe that the archetype for successful protest movements is the marches led by Martin Luther King, Jr. is which peaceful demonstrators in their Sunday best calmly defied police with dogs and tear gas. The juxtaposition was a powerful symbol of who was on the side of justice

    I continue to believe that Martin Luther King, Jr. was only effective because Malcolm X was the other alternative. The persuadable white folks were happier to deal with MLK when they feared not doing so would lead to a whole lot of violence from the a Malcolm X crowd.

    In modern terms, Malcolm X moved to Overton window far enough that MLK looked reasonable.

    Further, we generally ignore peaceful protest in this country, unless they are old white people. Protesters have to do something to break through that, if they are to have any hope of being effective. They should be careful about what that something is though.

  23. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Gustopher:

    Don’t forget that up until his death, even MLK was wildly unpopular due to people thinking he should ‘slow down’ to avoid alienating white people.

    There may be this reaction among many whites in this country. I am sure that many whites in both North and South have the feeling that we are pushing things too fast and that we should cool off a while, slow up for a period. I cannot agree with this at all, because I think there can be no gainsaying of the fact that the Negro has been extremely patient. We have waited for well-nigh 345 years for our basic constitutional and God-given rights, and we still confront the fact that we are at the bottom of the economic ladder. We confront the fact that the gap between the medium income of Negroes and whites is widening every day. We confront the fact that the Negro is still the victim of glaring and notorious conditions of segregation and discrimination. I think instead of slowing up, we must push at this point, and we must continue to move on, and I am convinced that our moving on will not only help the Negro cause, so to speak, but the cause of the whole of America, because the shape of the world today just doesn’t permit our nation the luxury of an anemic democracy.

    — MLK on Meet the Press the week before the March on Washington.

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  24. gVOR08 says:

    Yes, flying the Mexican flag was bad tactics. But it seems a bit unrealistic to expect every one of thousands of protesters to be an astute political tactician. Do you expect people to stop screaming “Lock her up” at Trump’s rallies because it repels people like me?

  25. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: “1968, Chicago, when protesters managed to get Richard Nixon elected”

    I do hope you realize that while you’re here complaining about hippies, there are clouds outside that need to be yelled at.

  26. James Joyner says:

    @gVOR08:

    Yes, flying the Mexican flag was bad tactics. But it seems a bit unrealistic to expect every one of thousands of protesters to be an astute political tactician.

    This was rather clearly an orchestrated effort.

    Do you expect people to stop screaming “Lock her up” at Trump’s rallies because it repels people like me?

    I think it’s stupid but less stupid. “Lock her up” comes off as unhinged but it’s directed at a particular politician. Tearing down the American flag and defacing a Blue Lives Matter flag comes across as anti-America and anti-police. That’s just going to alienate pretty much everyone not already on their side.

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  27. michael reynolds says:

    @wr:
    Do you have an actual counter-argument, or just random ageist insults?

    Did the 1968 Chicago riots not help destroy HHH’s chances? Did they not help Nixon? Did Nixon not continue and expand the war? Did the Killing Fields not happen? Am I mistaken in any of that?

    Actions have consequences. I’m not interested in ignoring those real-world consequences in order to preserve the mythology of the heroic anti-war protests. The anti-war movement did not cause the war. It is not responsible for Nixon’s decisions. But it set out with a purpose and it manifestly failed, and it failed because it was self-indulgent, lazy and undisciplined.

  28. Gustopher says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Did the 1968 Chicago riots not help destroy HHH’s chances? Did they not help Nixon? Did Nixon not continue and expand the war? Did the Killing Fields not happen? Am I mistaken in any of that?

    I’m not willing to place moral responsibility for disgusting actions on people who were ineffectively protesting those actions. Maybe 0.005%.

    There were a shitload of people who had more direct responsibility that the protesters. From Mayor Delay and his police department (I assume this was during some Mayor Delay period), to the people who actually committed the atrocities, to Pol Pot who orchestrated them, to HHH.

    If leaders don’t lead, protests get bogged down in the stupid. I have more respect for the protesters than the leaders in that case.