Donald Trump’s racist attacks, dog whistles, and comments haven’t slowed down in the weeks and days leading up to the U.S. presidential election. From his digs at Barack Obama to his refusal to condemn white supremacist groups, Trump is feeding the flames of white supremacy more than ever — despite his assertion that he was “the least racist person in this room” during last week’s debate. In his latest "least racist" act, Trump has taken to blatantly featuring Blue Lives Matter flags at his events and rallies.
At gatherings in Wisconsin, including one in Janesville, Trump displayed the flag in a prominent place next to the American flag. But then there was a noticable shift: last weekend, at a rally in Waukesha, WI, the Blue Lives Matter flag replaced the American flag altogether.
The Blue Lives Matter flag deceitfully resembles the American flag. The major difference is that it's black and white and features a blue stripe down the middle. Oh, and it's also entrenched in the racism of the Blue Lives Matter movement, which is mostly used as an anti-Black, pro-police response to the Black Lives Matter movement. Andrew Jacob, the president of retailer Thin Blue Line USA, told the Marshall Project that the flag “has no association with racism, hatred, bigotry” and was created solely to show support for American police officers. But the history of this flag tells a completely different story than it's manufacturers do.
As police officers have recently taken to wearing the symbol on their face masks while confronting Black Lives Matter protestors, some members of law enforcement have distanced themselves from the image. In May, San Francisco’s chief of police, Bill Scott, banned the city’s officers from wearing the flag on their masks, writing that the symbol is seen as “divisive and disrespectful,” according to CBS.
The flag isn’t new, either. It was flown alongside Confederate flags at the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA; more recently, in 2019, a Black corrections employee in Oregon filed a lawsuit against a probation officer who refused to take it down. In her suit, Karimah Guion-Pledgure cited racial harassment and emotional distress, and wrote that the flag “repurposes [the Black Lives Matter movement] to shift focus to law enforcement — a chosen profession, not a racial identity — and thus denigrates, dilutes, and demeans the purpose of the Black Lives Matter movement.” She settled her lawsuit for $100,000 USD.
The state’s Trump campaign group, Wisconsin Trump Victory, didn’t answer questions about why the flag replaced the American one at his rally. Although Trump hasn’t directly addressed the flag's clear presence, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany seemed to confirm its placement was intentional. After the Janesville rally, McEnany shared a photo of the flag on Twitter, drawing attention to “the Thin Blue Line flag flying over President @realDonaldTrump’s rally in Janesville, Wisconsin!” She added, “We LOVE our police officers!”
Trump’s support of this symbol, especially as we near the election, sends a clear message. And it's far from his first time featuring racist imagery in his campaign: in June, Trump came under fire for using a Nazi symbol in his Facebook ads. But the choice to replace the American flag altogether has an entirely different objective when you consider the fact that, in the past, Trump has reiterated over and over again the importance of the American flag and criticized athletes like Megan Rapinoe and NFL players who disrespect it; now, Trump is the one tossing it aside in favor of a symbol with strong anti-Black associations.
Although some insist that the Blue Lives Matter movement and flag don’t run counter to Black Lives Matter, Trump himself has promoted division by calling Black Lives Matter “a symbol of hate” and seemingly encouraging his supporters to use violence during Portland’s anti-racism protests. And ultimately, as criminology professor Michael White told the Marshall Project, the Blue Lives Matter flag “fosters this ‘us versus them’ mentality.”
It also should be noted that Blue Lives Matter — especially as a counterargument to Black Lives Matter — is completely ineffectual: no one is born a "Blue Life" or a police officer, they chose to be one. And Trump is choosing not only to support them but promote them in a time of mass protest against police brutality in the U.S.