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San Francisco stops flying "Appeal to Heaven" flag that landed Justice Alito in hot water

Flag being waved by right-wing election deniers removed from San Francisco's Civic Center Plaza
Flag being waved by right-wing election deniers removed from San Francisco's Civic Center Plaza 04:29

There was a subtle change in the flags being flown at San Francisco City Hall last Saturday when a banner that has been there for decades was taken down after becoming a political hot topic. 

The "Appeal to Heaven" flag -- which shows a green tree on a white field under the words "AN APPEAL TO HEAVEN" -- dates to the American Revolutionary War. During the war, it was flown by then General George Washington's cruisers and has long been associated with the founding fathers' quest for independents from the British.

However, in modern times the flag has been adopted by far-right extremists. The flag was seen being carried by rioters as they stormed the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on January 6th. More recently, the flag was flown outside the New Jersey beach vacation home of conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito last summer, the New York Times reported.  

Alito has firmly rejected calls to recuse himself in a pair of cases before the Supreme Court involving former President Donald Trump because of two flags that flew outside his homes, one of them being the "Appeal to Heaven" banner.  

The "Appeal to Heaven" flag also hangs outside the office of Republican Speaker of the House Rep. Mike Johnson. He has issued a statement in support of the banner, saying he "has long appreciated the rich history of the flag, as it was first used by General George Washington during the Revolutionary War." 

According to a statement released Wednesday by Tamara Barak Aparton, the Deputy Director of Communications and Public Affairs with the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department, the Appeal to Heaven flag removed from City Hall over the weekend.

Aparton said the flag "was swapped with an American flag on Saturday. It had been among 18 flags initially raised on Flag Day in 1964 in the Civic Center, each representing a key moment or symbol in American history." 

"It's since been adopted by a different group—one that doesn't represent the city's values, so we made the decision to swap it with the American flag," Aparton's statement added. "There is no legislative requirement around taking down a flag, nor is it the first time it has happened."

The flag had become the subject of social media posts by people wondering why San Francisco would be flying a flag that has become so closely associated with right-leaning politics.

Larry Bolander, an expert on historical flags, said he has noticed a growing trend of right-wing conservatives appropriating Revolutionary War emblems to represent their views and causes. 

" A part of their ideology is this is like the revolution, and they are sort of doing the same thing that their ancestors did in 1776, rebelling against the evil British king and so on," Bolander explained. 

Supervisor and mayoral candidate Asha Safai told CBS News Bay Area he supports the move to remove the flag that has since been linked to those who challenge the outcome of the 2020 election.

"It's been taken now with people who wanted to discredit the election of President Biden, and I think it's appropriate to remove it at this time. Maybe it can be reconsidered in the future," said Safai. "A lot of people are really paying attention to the democratic process, and I think people were starting to get offended by it. And so we got ahead of it and I think it was time to take it down."

In 1984, the Confederate battle flag was taken down several times by a protester. Then Mayor Dianne Feinstein initially ordered the flag returned to the array of 18 being flown outside city hall, but eventually relented.

Another flag that was carried by January 6th rioters continues to fly at Civic Center Plaza: the yellow Gadsden or "Don't Tread on Me" flag. So far, there has not been a push to remove that flag.

Lauren Toms contributed to this story.

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