Fact check: U.S. and ‘Thin Blue Line’ flags were displayed at Trump Wisconsin rally

Correction Oct. 29, 2020: Correcting Sharlet’s title in paragraph three. Removing “later” from paragraph five. Switching order of paragraphs five and four.

U.S. President Donald Trump reacts to the crowd while walking to the podium during a campaign event at the Waukesha County Airport in Waukesha, Wisconsin, U.S., on October 24, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

A black-and-white American flag with one blue stripe, also known as a “thin blue line” flag, was displayed behind the stage of President Donald Trump’s rally at Waukesha County Airport, Wisconsin on Oct. 24. Some users on social media are claiming this flag, used as a symbol of solidarity for the police by some but holding a racist subtext for others, was displayed instead of the American flag. This is inaccurate: footage of the scene shows both flags were present at the rally.

Posts on Facebook with this claim are visible  here ,  herehere  and  here  . 

Most iterations of the claim feature a screenshot of a tweet  here  by Jeff Sharlet, professor of English at Dartmouth College (here), that features a photograph of the stage of the rally and reads: “Tonight in Wisconsin. First the anti-Black Lives Matter flag flew outside his rallies, then beside the American flag. Now it has replaced the American flag. That’s significant.” 

A bigger American flag was also displayed at the rally  which is not visible in the photo of this claim. Sharlet, who has written about the origin of the “thin blue line” flag in the past  here , acknowledged this in another tweet  here  .  

Video of Trump’s rally at Waukesha County Airport  and  shows that American flags were displayed with flagstaffs behind and next to the stage. See Reuters photographs  herehere  and  here  . 

As reported by the Marshall Project  here , a non-profit news organization covering the U.S. criminal justice system, the “thin blue line” flag image was created by Andrew Jacob on 2014, now president of Thin Blue Line USA, an organization that sells flags and merchandise with the imagery and has donated part of its profits to support the police ( here ). 

According to Jacob “the flag has no association with racism, hatred, bigotry” and it is used to “show support for law enforcement”, he told the Marshall Project.

But the flag created controversy when displayed next to Confederate flags in the Unite the Rights rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 ( here ). Michael White, professor of criminology at Arizona State University told the Marshall Project that the flag fosters an “us versus them mentality” which does not enhance a positive relationship between the community and law enforcement.  

The “thin blue line” has also been displayed at rallies of the “Blue Lives Matter” movement ( here  ,  here ) which advocates tougher hate-crime sentences for the murder of police officers. “Blue Lives Matter” was launched in response to Black Lives Matter, a campaign protesting police violence against Black people ( here ) . As reported by NPR   here  ,  some critics “believe (the flag) connotes opposition to the goals of ending police brutality and systemic racism.”  

A “thin blue line” flag was also displayed at Trump’s rally in Janesville, Wisconsin on Oct. 17 ( here ,  herehere )  


Partly false. The American flag and the “thin blue line” flag were both displayed at Trump’s rally in Waukesha, Wisconsin

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts here   .