Conspiracy Theories

You Fly that Flag Right, or Else

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Matthew Rothschild at The Progressive reports on Dale Decker, a Wisconsin man who was harassed by police for hanging an American flag upside down:

On June 25, [Dale Decker] decided to fly the American flag upside down on the patio of his apartment….

Two days later, Manitowoc police officer Jason Delsman came to his door. But Decker was at Wal-Mart, so, Delsman left his business card with a handwritten note, "Call ASAP."….

"He told me I was committing a criminal act and could face fines or imprisonment," Decker said.

When Decker asked for the statute criminalizing this, he says Officer Delsman responded: "I'm sure that it is somewhere."

I wonder how many cops subscribe to a bastardized version of the "Better safe than sorry" mantra:"Better arrest/cite you in case there's a law that supports my prejudices"?

Stephen F. Hayes of The Weekly Standard wrote for reason about silly flag laws here.

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  1. While the cop obviously misses the mark, I find it disturbing at how often the American flag is displayed improperly by grown-ups who should know better. Is “field of blue, upper left” so hard to remember?

  2. I’m mature enough to resist the temptation, but crap like that makes me want to deface the U.S. flag in public. If I ever do, it will be offensive.

  3. sixstring beat me to TWO points I was going to make.

    No cops told me to take down my US and Israeli flags from my old apartment in Reston, VA, but I sorta kinda think it might have been a different version of a pissy attitude on the part of the property managers. No evidence, just suspicion.

  4. Maybe Decker was in distress? Did you think of that, pig?

  5. “Where does it say in the law that you have the right to pull me over for no reason, stick a cumbersome object up my raw ass and plant 100 grams of crack in my car?”

    “I’m sure it’s in there somewhere.”

    I’m having a very hard time — very fucking hard time — respecting any cop.

  6. However, doesn’t anybody see the irony of flying an American flag upside down, and then go shopping at Wal-Mart?

  7. I’m having a very hard time — very fucking hard time — respecting any cop.

    You must be young. Don’t worry, when you get older you don’t even need to think about them deserving the slightest bit of respect, except for when you act like you do as they write you a ticket.

  8. However, doesn’t anybody see the irony of flying an American flag upside down, and then go shopping at Wal-Mart?

    Not in the slightest. Why?

  9. The scary part is that the cops have a legitimate point. Flying a flag upside down is a universal distress signal. It is something like flying a big “SOS” sign.

    Of course I doubt that’s why they are busting his chops but police are always happy to rely on an incidental offense to punish those they choose.

  10. If the 1st covers flag burning as protected political speech, then it also covers the universal sign of distress (flag upside down) as well.

  11. …except for when you act like you do as they write you a ticket.

    I dunno, I still remember the time the state trooper gave me a ticket at a seat-belt checkpoint (at a time when local drug crime was rampant) and I asked him if he felt proud of what he was accomplishing towards preventing actual crimes, and commented that “his mom must be so proud of you for this.”

    Respect is earned, not granted wholesale, and never mimicked.

  12. Any real, red-blooded, god-fearin’ American law enforcement officer would know that flying the flag upside down is a sign of distress and would have checked on the well-being of the citizen.

    To Protect and Serve.

  13. The scary part is that the cops have a legitimate point.

    Wrong.

    Flying a flag upside down is a universal distress signal.

    Correct, however the second point does not imply the first point.

    However, I sure some quick thinking cop/prosecuter can turn this into crime similar to calling in a fake bomb threat 🙁

  14. Sort of what kinnath said.

    But back to the comment:

    If the 1st covers flag burning as protected political speech, then it also covers the universal sign of distress (flag upside down) as well.

    1st does NOT cover the stock example of fire shouting in a theater, nor does it cover putting a sign in a bus window saying you are being kidnapped. This could have fit that, if the cop would have acted like he suspected someone in distress, rather than just wanting to mess with someone for flying his flag wrong.

  15. 1st does NOT cover the stock example of fire shouting in a theater, nor does it cover putting a sign in a bus window saying you are being kidnapped. This could have fit that, if the cop would have acted like he suspected someone in distress, rather than just wanting to mess with someone for flying his flag wrong.

    Like I said in the second post, some enterprising dickhead could probably turn this into the equivalent of calling in a fake bomb threat.

  16. 1st does NOT cover the stock example of fire shouting in a theater, nor does it cover putting a sign in a bus window saying you are being kidnapped.

    Sure it does, if the theater’s on fire or you have been kidnapped.

    If, on the other hand, your speech constitutes wrongful action that causes some harm to someone else, you may be sued for that harm.

    I don’t see how flying a flag upside down causes any actionable harm.

  17. I have visions of the next “bong hits 4 jesus”. in this vision, Decker says he wasn’t trying to make a political speech, but just get some attention. 3 years later, the Supreme Court says it’s illegal to hang a flag upside down.

  18. Will I get arrested if I continue to affix first class flag stamps upside-down as a protest of the US Postal Service monopoly on first class mail service?

    I affixed a few Sinatra stamps that way, but I was visited by a guy named Guido who suggested that I stop it. Very persuasive, that Guido.

  19. Having dealt with the cops on a few occasions about guns, it’s quite frankly amazing how little your average cop knows about the actual laws they’re supposed to be enforcing. Most cops don’t know crap about what the law says and are quite happy to arrest you based on what they think it might say.

  20. “and then go shopping at Wal-Mart?”

    I think you’ve put your finger on the source of his distress. Hence the flag.

  21. Most cops don’t know crap about what the law says and are quite happy to arrest you based on what they think it might say.

    They figure that there are so many laws, so many of which are vague, that cover so many things, that they can make something stick later with a prosecutor’s assistance.

    And they’re right.

    Having dealt with the cops on a few occasions about guns, it’s quite frankly amazing how little your average cop knows about the actual laws they’re supposed to be enforcing.

    When peasants get pistol permits, they have the law drilled into them. Cops are too busy in the academy practicing dynamic entry and coming up with military mottoes to actually, you know, learn the actual law.

  22. I find it funny that most of the comments here take the officers actions as randomly oppressive. Sure its oppressive, but its not random.

    Likely a check of local law would out that the officer can not make Rothschild remove his inverse flag and no such law is likely to handle Constitutional muster. I realize that having to prove this would be an enorrmous hassle, one that would likely end in the flag being “voluntarilly” removed.

    Yet at the same time doesn’t it seem likely that this action plays well for Rothschild. The only thing worse than having your protest objected to is to have no one notice at all. When the object of protest is a government symbol don’t you want government officials to notice it? And if they do, what do you expect them to say?

    The more signficant test than if one officeer is outlandish would be if anyone backed him up on his claim to authority.

  23. Decker committed no crime, but the cop did. Depriving a citizen of a constitutional right under color of authority is a felony.

    -jcr

  24. 1st does NOT cover the stock example of fire shouting in a theater, nor does it cover putting a sign in a bus window saying you are being kidnapped. This could have fit that, if the cop would have acted like he suspected someone in distress, rather than just wanting to mess with someone for flying his flag wrong.

    Distress signal?? Maybe on the high seas in 1812 or something, but, come on, when was the last time anyone in “distress” in their home, took the time to go run up their upside down flag to summon help? The last person to try that was probably wearing a powdered wig.

    Since those days everyone knows the upside down flag is a political statement. I’d hope that in the modern world any “distress signal” claim would be laughed out of court should the police be silly enough to try such a shameless rationale for harassment.

  25. I don’t like the flag any more…i think i am going to make a new one then fly that sucker upsidedown and sideways.

    Flying a flag upside down is a universal distress signal.

    If that is the case shouldn’t have the officer knocked on the door and asked what the problem was?

  26. Sorry,

    I meant to refer to Decker, not the reporter, above.

  27. From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

    After all, he opines, “The Patriot Act gives (President Bush) the authority to declare martial law and become the dictator and all-powerful ruler of the United States government.”

    Speaking of Bush, “Did you know,” he asked me, “that George Bush’s grandfather, Prescott Bush, funded the Third Reich in Germany?”

    The American government today (FEMA, to be specific), he also says, is setting up what he calls “concentration camps” that will be used “when it comes time to start rounding up Americans.”

    It’s the concentration camps, he said, that first caused him to hang his flag upside down.

    In two relatively brief interviews he also talked about everything from his belief that the U.S. government launched the 9-11 attacks to his belief in Steven Avery’s innocence to the “chem trails” that planes leave behind. He says they can be used to control the weather.

  28. I hung an Israeli flag upside down to protest against their oppressive Zionist regime, but no one could tell the difference because it’s symmetric about the x-axis. 🙁 🙁

  29. Fuck the flag.

  30. Guy Montag,
    I’m 40. And still I maintain this delusion that somehow, some way, cops can be decent people.
    Then I actually, you know, run into one of the mustachioed fuck widgets.

  31. Flag desecration related.

    This is Not Safe For Work, but it is the best comedy sketch ever on teevee (this is just the second half — rent the DVD):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZI0hvm10AHo

  32. oh yeah, while we are doing Mr. Show linx, here is a purrfect 1 4 the HnR crowd:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aF8wLg5Asgo&feature=related

  33. The American government today (FEMA, to be specific), he also says, is setting up what he calls “concentration camps” that will be used “when it comes time to start rounding up Americans.”

    It’s the concentration camps, he said, that first caused him to hang his flag upside down.

    Someone clearly was playing Deus Ex while high as a fucking kite and got confused as to what exactly was real.

  34. Shows how ignorant some cops can be.

    Let’s assume for a moment, flying the flag wrong is against the law. It would be a federal law, so why did the cop think he had jurisdiction? A state can not determine how a federal flag is flown. I guess understanding boundries is too much to ask.

  35. “””Flying a flag upside down is a universal distress signal.”””

    Yes.

    The guy wouldn’t have thought it was funny if the SWAT team responded thinking there was a real problem. I would hope for them to show if I flew the flag upside down.

  36. The flag still stands for freedom, and they can’t take that away.

    Oh. Nevermind.

  37. Let’s assume for a moment, flying the flag wrong is against the law. It would be a federal law, so why did the cop think he had jurisdiction? A state can not determine how a federal flag is flown.

    The desecration statute struck down in Texas v. Johnson was a Texas state law. The conviction was obviously vacated on First Amendment grounds, but setting that aside, I don’t see any reason why such a law would have to come from the federal government simply because it’s a “federal” flag. No court raised that issue in Johnson and I imagine such statutes were (and remain, but unenforced) on the books of many states.

  38. Fuck the Roscoe…with a flag pole…with the truck still on it.

  39. “Flying a flag upside down is a universal distress signal.”

    true, but kind of a stupid one

    nonetheless, the flag was accidentally flown upside down at one of my little league games once 25 years ago. the town police stopped by to make sure everything was alright.

  40. true, but kind of a stupid one

    I don’t see why it’s stupid and how does one “accidentally” fly the flag upside down?*

    *Unless they’ve never seen it before.

  41. how does one “accidentally” fly the flag upside down

    Pretty easy, really. Most flags are attached to a lanyard with a grommet at the top and bottom of the flag, and are often attached while the flag is folded. Get the grommets turned around, and voila, upside down flag.

  42. Pretty easy, really. Most flags are attached to a lanyard with a grommet at the top and bottom of the flag, and are often attached while the flag is folded. Get the grommets turned around, and voila, upside down flag.

    Gotcha. I’ve been on flag detail a few times and we always unfolded the flag before attaching it.

  43. “”” I don’t see any reason why such a law would have to come from the federal government simply because it’s a “federal” flag.”””

    The U.S. flag code determines what’s proper. While I don’t think that’s law, and enforcement is questionable, a state can’t modify that code.

    Of course, there is no real question of legality here, since the cop was merely bullshitting the guy to get his way.

  44. I’ve been on flag detail a few times and we always unfolded the flag before attaching it.

    It helps to have two guys – one to attach the unfolded flag, one to hold it off the ground. With only one guy, unfolding it, keeping it off the ground, and attaching it can be a little trickier.

  45. R C,

    Word. Always travel with a battle buddy. And now we know. And knowing is half the battle.

  46. I cannot express strongly enough my contempt for those who knowing abuse the flag. Before the idiots on the Suprme Court outlawed the wishes of 42 states such cretins could be prosecuted. This does not abridge their right to protest. Go out there and burn George Bush or your state flag if you wish.

    The reason these cretins don’t is obvious. The people that do this always sport their Che Tshirts as a way of showing their patriotism. Those wallowing in incoherence are representative of those who know everything about their rights but have no respect for others. Still America seems to belive that those who are obnoxious while irresponsible must be shielded from the consequences of their actions. Those who act as they wish to be awarded the Cythnia McKinney Award should get it and not be lauded as honest citizens.

  47. Speaking of TV shows and the flag: I love the establishing shots of Stan’s house on “American Dad!”. It’s a nice subtle character touch on a show that’s not exactly drowning in subtle touches.

  48. Because flying the flag upside-down is an established signal as a sign of distress (and an international sign too), Mr. Decker could be charged with claiming a false emergency—similar to phoning 911 or pulling the fire alarm when no emergency exists. Oh it would probably get thrown out, but in the meantime, Mr. Decker would probably get more than he bargained for.

  49. Thank You

    Mr Decker knew what he was doing when he flew that flag
    ===============================================
    >>dee | July 11, 2008, 12:29am | #
    Because flying the flag upside-down is an established signal as a sign of distress (and an international sign too), Mr. Decker could be charged with claiming a false emergency—similar to phoning 911 or pulling the fire alarm when no emergency exists. Oh it would probably get thrown out, but in the meantime, Mr. Decker would probably get more than he bargained for.

  50. From a different state, but still…

    Don’t “cry wolf” …
    It is illegal to knowingly transmit a false distress or hoax call, whether it be by radio, telephone, emergency flares, or any other means of communication. Under Rhode Island law, the penalty for a false distress or hoax call is a $1,000 fine, one year in jail, and reimbursement of emergency response costs.

  51. fuck the flag, fuck the police, they deserve no respect for being hipocritical oppressive pigs

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