Appeal to Heaven flag: History, symbolism and controversy

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. Supreme Courtroom Justice Samuel Alito is embroiled in a second flag controversy in as many weeks, this time over a banner that in recent times has come to represent sympathies with the Christian nationalist motion and the false declare that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

An “Attraction to Heaven” flag was flown final summer time outdoors Alito’s seaside trip residence in New Jersey, based on The New York Occasions, which obtained a number of photographs displaying it on totally different dates in July and September 2023. The Occasions beforehand reported that an the other way up American flag — an indication of misery — had flown outdoors Alito’s Alexandria, Virginia, residence lower than two weeks after the violent Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump.

A number of the rioters carried the inverted American flag or the “Attraction to Heaven” flag, which exhibits a inexperienced pine tree on a white discipline. The revelations have escalated issues over Alito’s impartiality and his skill to objectively resolve instances at the moment earlier than the courtroom that relate to the Jan. 6 attackers and Trump’s makes an attempt to overturn the outcomes of the 2020 election. Alito has not commented on the flag at his summer time residence.

Right here is the historical past and present symbolism of the “Attraction to Heaven” flag.


Ted Kaye, secretary for the North American Vexillological Affiliation, which research flags and their which means, mentioned the “Attraction to Heaven” banner dates to the Revolutionary Conflict.

Six schooners outfitted by George Washington to intercept British vessels at sea flew the flag in 1775 as they sailed underneath his command. It turned the maritime flag of Massachusetts in 1776 and remained so till 1971, he mentioned.

In keeping with the pine tree on the flag symbolized power and resilience within the New England colonies whereas the phrases “Attraction to Heaven” stemmed from the assumption that God would ship the colonists from tyranny.


There are a number of totally different causes individuals fly “Attraction to Heaven” flags at this time, mentioned Jared Holt, a senior analyst on the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a London-based suppose tank that tracks on-line hate, disinformation and extremism.

Some followers of it establish with a “patriot” motion that obsesses over the Founding Fathers and the American Revolution, he mentioned. Others adhere to a Christian nationalist worldview that seeks to raise Christianity in public life.

“It’s not abundantly clear which of these causes can be correct” on this state of affairs, Holt mentioned. However he referred to as the show outdoors Alito’s residence “alarming,” saying those that do fly the flag are sometimes advocating for “extra illiberal and restrictive types of authorities aligned with a selected non secular philosophy.”

The “Attraction to Heaven” flag was amongst a number of banners carried by the Jan. 6 rioters, who additionally favored non secular banners symbolizing the white Christian nationalist motion., the Accomplice flag and the yellow Gadsden flag, with its rattlesnake and “Don’t Tread on Me” message, mentioned Bradley Onishi, writer of “Making ready for Conflict: The Extremist Historical past of White Christian Nationalism.”

“That’s the household,” he mentioned.


Home Speaker Mike Johnson shows the flag within the hallway outdoors his workplace subsequent to the flag of his residence state, Louisiana. He mentioned he has flown it “for so long as I can bear in mind.”

Johnson, a Republican, advised The Related Press he didn’t know the flag had come to signify the “Cease the Steal” motion.

“By no means heard that earlier than,” he mentioned.

The speaker, who led one among Trump’s authorized challenges to the 2020 election, defended the flag and its continued use regardless of the modern-day symbolism round it.

“I’ve at all times used that flag for so long as I can bear in mind, as a result of I used to be so enamored with the truth that Washington used it,” Johnson mentioned. “The Attraction to Heaven flag is a important, necessary a part of American historical past. It’s one thing that I’ve at all times revered since I’ve been a younger man.”

He added: “Individuals misuse our symbols on a regular basis. It doesn’t imply we don’t use the symbols anymore.”

Johnson mentioned he had by no means flown the U.S. flag upside in misery, as Alito did, and he declined to evaluate the justice’s state of affairs and whether or not elevating the flags at his residence was acceptable.

However he referred to as the criticism of the “Attraction to Heaven” flag “contrived.”

“It’s nonsense,” he mentioned. “It’s a part of our historical past. We don’t take away statues and we don’t cowl up issues which can be so important to who we’re as a rustic.”


Home Democratic Whip, Katherine Clark of Massachusetts mentioned in a press release that the show of the “Attraction to Heaven” flag at an Alito residence was “not simply one other instance of extremism that has overtaken conservatism. This can be a risk to the rule of legislation and a critical breach of ethics, integrity and Justice Alito’s oath of workplace.”

She referred to as for Alito to recuse himself from any instances associated to Jan. 6 and the previous president.

There’s a transparent distinction between the Home speaker displaying the flag outdoors his workplace and a Supreme Courtroom justice flying it and the the other way up American flag outdoors his houses because the courtroom is deciding instances involving points these flags have come to represent, mentioned Alicia Bannon director of the Judiciary Program on the Brennan Middle for Justice at New York College.

Alito’s actions don’t “simply cross the road,” she mentioned. “They take you out of the stadium and out of the parking zone.”

Alito and the courtroom declined to answer requests for touch upon how the “Attraction to Heaven” flag got here to be flying and what it was meant to precise.

Alito has mentioned the the other way up American flag was briefly flown by his spouse throughout a dispute with neighbors and that he had no half in it.


The Supreme Courtroom already was underneath hearth because it considers unprecedented instances towards Trump and a few of these charged for the assault on the Capitol.

A problem on the middle of the controversy is that the excessive courtroom doesn’t have to stick to the identical ethics codes that information different federal judges. The Supreme Courtroom had lengthy gone with out its personal code of ethics, however it adopted one in November 2023 within the face of sustained criticism over undisclosed journeys and presents from rich benefactors to some justices, together with Alito. The code lacks a method of enforcement, nevertheless.

The federal code of judicial ethics doesn’t universally prohibit judges from involvement in nonpartisan or non secular exercise off the bench. Nevertheless it does say {that a} decide “mustn’t take part in extrajudicial actions that detract from the dignity of the decide’s workplace, intrude with the efficiency of the decide’s official duties” or “replicate adversely on the decide’s impartiality.”

Jeremy Fogel, government director of the Berkeley Judicial Institute on the College of California, Berkeley Legislation Faculty, mentioned the flag revelations result in questions on whether or not Alito may be neutral in any case associated to Jan. 6 or Trump.

“Displaying these explicit flags creates the looks no less than that the justice is signifying settlement with these viewpoints at a time when there are instances earlier than the courtroom the place these viewpoints are related,” he mentioned.

A March AP/NORC ballot discovered that solely about one-quarter of Individuals suppose the Supreme Courtroom is doing a considerably or excellent job upholding democratic values. About 45% suppose it’s doing a considerably or very dangerous job.

Tony Carrk, government director of Accountable.US, a progressive watchdog group, mentioned the controversy exhibits that additional steps are wanted to place enamel into the courtroom’s ethics code.

“There’s a cause why the arrogance in credibility among the many American individuals for the Supreme Courtroom has plummeted to an all-time low,” he mentioned.


Related Press author Ali Swenson in New York contributed to this report.

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