MILWAUKEE – In a year when political tensions already are running high, a group of protesters is fueling the acrimony by showing up to political rallies and events with a large American flag – and stomping on it.
The members of the self-described “F*** Your Flag Tour” most recently popped up at a Donald Trump rally Sunday in West Allis, Wis. They posted themselves next to the line of thousands of people waiting to get into the Republican presidential front-runner’s event at the local high school.
They proceeded to lay the muddied flag on the ground and stand on it, triggering heated exchanges with those nearby.
One man shouted to the group, “My brother is fighting overseas for that flag, pick it up."
He got into an argument with the protesters and tried to get close enough to pick up the flag but was blocked and shoved. Police eventually had to lead him away out of safety concerns.
The protests are just the latest sign of how raw and confrontational the political season has become. But even in a year when the Republican front-runner has been accused of inciting violence, and those opposing him have gone so far as to block traffic (at an Arizona event), the flag-stomping is touching a nerve.
The visual of the flag on the ground in Wisconsin brought some people to tears.
Among them, one woman who attended the Trump rally demanded the protesters get off the flag. She yelled, “I’m married to a black man and am not voting Trump but would never step on the flag. I respect my country and I respect my flag.”
So who is this group?
Made up primarily of black protesters, it goes by the name of the “F*** Your Flag Tour” and uses the hash tag “F**YoFlag” on social media.
Members of the movement told that Fox News stepping on the American flag symbolizes their stand against black oppression, pointing specifically to recent controversial killings of black men by white police officers, such as the Laquan McDonald case in Chicago.
The “F*** Your Flag Tour,” which largely formed in 2015, has been spotted at protests and marches in a few states and has been increasingly present outside political events in Wisconsin ahead of the state’s primary on Tuesday.
When asked why the group was specifically choosing Trump events, a lead member told Fox News it is because Trump did not denounce the Ku Klux Klan (a reference to praise from former KKK leader David Duke) and encourages racism.
The group said it is not targeting Trump, but rather the “entire political system including Hillary Clinton.”
A website with the group’s name and description says the “F**YoFlag” movement called for supporters nationwide to burn the flag last Sept. 11. The website says, “We the people, are psychologically and physically breaking free of the imperialist, colonialist, and racist empires by burning representations starting on September 11, 2015.”
The group may share some of the same goals and grievances as Black Lives Matters, but the two are not the same. Maya Neal, a BLM student leader in Minnesota, said she understands what the flag stompers are fighting for but would not encourage people to deface the flag.
Casey Abbott Payne, who runs the BLM Milwaukee Facebook group, also said in a statement: “The flag stomping is, in my opinion, misdirected energy. It is from a group of people who are, justifiably, angry and don't feel as though they have any other way to be heard. I believe that their act of stomping on the flag only displays the power of our flag. Whether they know it or not, they are also making a display of how awesome our country is, even though we have a dark past (all countries have a dark past).”
Burning or defacing the American flag is not prohibited by law, and is protected by the First Amendment.
Matt Finn is a Fox News correspondent based in the Chicago bureau. Follow him on Twitter: @MattFinnFNC