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NPR reported on Wednesday that Gov. Ron DeSantis’ tweet of a new Florida license plate with the Gadsden flag has “reopened the debate” over the flag’s controversy.
Scott Neuman’s report claimed that, despite the famous “Don’t Tread on Me” flag existing since the founding of the nation, it's now associated with “far-right extremist ideology.”
“The imagery of the Revolutionary War-era Gadsden flag dates to Benjamin Franklin but has, for many, come to symbolize a far-right extremist ideology and the ‘Stop the Steal’ movement that sought to overturn the 2020 presidential election results,” Neuman wrote.
DeSantis tweeted out the image on July 30 and promoted pre-orders for the plates with proceeds going to the Florida Veterans Foundation.
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Throughout the NPR piece, though, Neuman quoted critics such as Rachel Carroll Rivas, deputy director of research and analysis for the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, who attacked the image.
“She says it's become clear that the flag has been used for some ‘really awful’ causes, most notably the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, where violent protesters attacked police as part of an effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election,” Neuman wrote.
NPR's tweet promoting the article read, “Gov. Ron DeSantis said a new Florida license plate featuring the Revolutionary War-era Gadsden flag sends a ‘clear message to out-of-state cars.' Critics say it symbolizes a dangerous far-right extremist ideology.”
Despite this, Neuman admitted in his article that both the flag and the motto are considered protected speech under the First Amendment, regardless of who uses them.
He wrote, “Extreme or not, First Amendment scholars such as Eugene Volokh of the UCLA School of Law say the Gadsden flag and the ‘Don't Tread on Me’ motto are legitimate — and protected — speech, whether they are on a flag waving inside the besieged U.S. Capitol or on a vehicle license plate heading down a Florida highway.”
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The report also found that multiple states have approved of political messages on license plates, including the Gadsden flag. Neuman spotlighted how Kansas approved of the Gadsden flag on its state license plates just weeks after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. However, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, vetoed the design before the Republican legislature overruled her.
“I don't think it's appropriate,” Kansas Senate minority leader Dinah Sykes said. “When I see that, whether it's a flag or a license plate … it's not a good feeling for me.”
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DeSantis tweeted a Florida-inspired version of the Gadsden flag in 2021 after calling for a special session to ban vaccine mandates for the coronavirus.
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