My next-door neighbor has affixed a Gadsden Flag to his minivan.

It could be worse, I suppose. Ten years ago I’d have looked at the Gadsden Flag or the Pine Tree Flag (a white flag with a pine tree and the words “An Appeal to Heaven”) and thought the person was a history junkie. Today I look at them and think, “Well, at least it’s not the Confederate battle flag or an upside-down American flag.”

Which I think shows how these Revolutionary War-era flags have been appropriated — or reclaimed, as I suspect Tea Partiers would say — as symbols of opposition, even rebellion, against the federal government. But if the Confederate battle flag is more familiar and more obvious as a rebellious symbol, the Gadsden Flag is more covert because it’s so obscure. Maybe that makes it more socially acceptable?

Suffice it to say, the historian in me has a little “squick” when I see a Gadsden Flag. (And the atheist in me wants to curl into a fetal ball when I see a Pine Tree flag; there’s a house nearby that flies one.) People are free to fly what they want, even the Confederate battle flag, but the message that’s sent isn’t always a positive one.

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