(UPDATE: Now With Video) Flag Burning Outside RNC Turns into Chaotic Melee Between Police and Protesters
Several self-described communist activists arrested.
Reason was on the scene for what was arguably the hottest moment yet between police and protesters during the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Cleveland: a flag burning by a small group of communist activists, which quickly turned violent as police attempted to make arrests.
The flag burning had been advertised by a local bookstore as scheduled to take place near the entrance to the RNC secure zone at 4p. Around 3:30p, a man carrying a flag was quickly surrounded by police and firefighters, which caused a scrum of media and looky-loos to follow, but no burning took place and the man left the scene without incident.
Then, a group of very loud homophobic and racist Christians with megaphones arrived on the scene and were quickly surrounded by police from the crowds they were antagonizing. After about 20 minutes, this group started to march away from the arena, and much of the crowd and assembled police followed them down the street.
This is when a group wearing black t-shirts reading "Revolution-Nothing Less!" locked arms and formed a circle. After a brief statement where a man with a megaphone said they were protesting "open fascist" Donald Trump and "proven war criminal" Hillary Clinton. He added, "America has always been first at genocide, at slavery, at exploitation, at destruction of the environment." Then, he lit an American flag on fire.
One police officer standing behind me called for backup while another officer advanced on the group with a fire extinguisher. At that point, dozens more officers broke up the circle and formed a perimeter as two of the flag burners were arrested.
As supporters of the flag burners chanted "America was never great," the police attempted to widen the circle by shouting "move back" and physically pushing people. Some protesters pushed back and were detained, which led to the police pushing back on the assembled crowd even harder into an area near the RNC entrance controlled by the Secret Service.
A Secret Service officer standing behind me shouted at the police, "Guys! The other way!," but the officers continued pushing people into a steel fence near the entrance. About a minute later, the police ordered everyone to cross the street and leave the scene or be arrested.
At least five of the protesters were led away in handcuffs, and USA Today reports that the flag-burners are associated with the group Revcom, which describes itself as "The voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA."
Flag desecration was ruled by the Supreme court to be a form of constitutionally protected speech in 1989. But the two current major party presidential nominees appear to disagree with that precedent. In 2005 Hillary Clinton co-sponsored a law which would have criminalized flag burning and in 2015 Donald Trump told the Daily Caller, "Personally, I don't think it should be legal," adding, "People burning the flag, I don't like them in this country."
UPDATE: You can watch raw video I shot of the flag burning and the police response below: