Alito's the tip of the iceberg: More Republicans wave Christian nationalist flag despite MAGA threat

Nothing innocent about the "Appeal to Heaven" flag, especially when Trump calls for the right's "breaking point"

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published June 5, 2024 5:45AM (EDT)

An "Appeal to Heaven" flag is seen outside of Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) office on Capitol Hill on May 23, 2024 in Washington, DC. (Michael A. McCoy/Getty Images)
An "Appeal to Heaven" flag is seen outside of Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) office on Capitol Hill on May 23, 2024 in Washington, DC. (Michael A. McCoy/Getty Images)

When news broke late last month that Justice Samuel Alito had an "Appeal to Heaven" flag flying over his New Jersey vacation home, alarm bells went off in the press for two reasons. First, this was the second flag associated with the January 6 insurrection that had been spotted gracing the property of the infamous Supreme Court justice. It also suggested that the Alito family (he's blaming his wife) is extremely invested in the semiotics of American fascism. Or, put another way, the "Appeal to Heaven" flag, which features a pine tree on a white background, is a MAGA deep cut. Even many experts on 21st-century authoritarianism have barely heard of it. To not only know this flag but to own it? It's the far-right equivalent of being a Phish fan who owns every demo and live recording.


This affection for a flag that symbolizes a violent rejection of democracy is an outrage, especially in the aftermath of Trump being found guilty on 34 felony charges related to election interference and campaign fraud.

As Lindsay Beyerstein explained for Salon, "the banner is the calling card of a Christian supremacist movement seeking to impose theocracy on America." Ironically, the flag was initially commissioned for General George Washington, to symbolize resistance against tyrants who oppose democracy. In the hands of the January 6 insurrectionists who waved it, however, it symbolized the opposite: A belief that secular democracy must be destroyed, so that Christian nationalism may reign over the United States. As a spokesperson for San Francisco, which recently took down an "Appeal to Heaven" flag flown in front of city hall, said, "It's since been adopted by a different group — one that doesn't represent the city's values."

Alito is notoriously a far-right crank, so drunk on his untouchable power that he feels free to flaunt a frankly fascist aesthetic while openly lying in his opinions. Unfortunately, it turns out that he's far from the only Republican who has become enamored of this flag. We were quickly reminded, for instance, that Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., has the flag hanging outside his office. As Haley Byrd Wilt of NOTUS documented this week, "at least 10 House Republicans were displaying" the flag outside their offices. 

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Tellingly, they pretty much all lie about their motives. Johnson claims not to know that the flag was a symbol of convicted felon Donald Trump's attempted coup, but, as Wilt points out, "Johnson himself was involved in that effort in 2020, leading an amicus brief and coaxing signatures from other Republican lawmakers in a Texas lawsuit that sought to overturn the election results in other states." Others insisted it was a stand against "tyranny," but all of them support Trump in his efforts to become a dictator who does not have to accept democratic checks on his power from either voters or the jurors who found him guilty of election-related crimes in Manhattan late last month. 

There is nothing new, of course, about Republicans playing fascist peekaboo, where they signal support for authoritarian views, and then pretend they did nothing of the sort when called out for it. Gaslighting is the native tongue of MAGA. Still, this affection for a flag that symbolizes a violent rejection of democracy is an outrage, especially in the aftermath of Trump being found guilty on 34 felony charges related to election interference and campaign fraud. Trump's already unsubtle calls for MAGA violence are only going to get louder, as he seeks a bloody Hail Mary to keep him from facing the consequences of his crimes. Flying this flag is, intentionally or not, inherently supportive of Trump in that endeavor. 

During a heavily edited Fox News interview over the weekend, Trump once again made a thinly veiled threat of violence, claiming "the public" will hit a "breaking point" if he is sentenced to jail. After years of this obnoxious winking, no one of good faith is confused about his meaning. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., swiftly noted on MSNBC that Trump's rhetoric is "dangerous" and a signal to "domestic terrorists." This sparked another round of GOP gaslighting, with Republicans pretending it was outrageous to think Trump — a man who literally sicced a murderous mob on the Capitol — might have violent designs. The Republican National Committee even used one of Trump's favorite barely disguised racial slurs — "low IQ" — to smear Waters. It's a reminder that white supremacy is an inextricable part of Christian nationalism. 

After January 6, of course, there's no wiggle room to deny the bad faith of Republicans doing the "how dare you" act when it comes to accusations that they support political violence. But as further proof, Aaron Blake of the Washington Post offered a helpful round-up Monday of how Trump's violent "track record is unmistakable." He offers 11 separate examples of Trump continuing "to not-at-all-subtly raise the specter of unrest and violence as a political bargaining chip," from suggesting that "Second Amendment people" get rid of Hillary Clinton to saying "it depends" on whether he wins if he backs violence after November's election. 

Certainly, the volume of threatening language from Trump supporters in response to his convictions has reached histrionic levels. On MAGA forums, posters have declared someone "needs to take care of [Judge Juan] Merchan," that it's time to "start capping some leftys," and that domestic terrorists need to storm D.C. and "hang everyone." There were thankfully failed efforts to doxx the jurors and an unfortunately successful effort to publish personal information about the wife and children of witness Michael Cohen. 

So far, however, all this vitriol has not manifested in real-world violence towards people involved in this case. As Ali Breland at the Atlantic notes, "mass mobilizations are hard and require work." Trump may think that it's just a matter of calling for it on social media, but even January 6 — which was spurred by Trump on Twitter begging people to come — required "a process that bore out over the course of months" and orchestrated by Trump lackeys like the Proud Boys. As I've argued before, it's also hard to get the MAGA faithful to risk their neck to protest a verdict in a case where even they know, on some level, Trump is guilty as hell. Even those drunk on Democrat-hating outrage are struggling to pretend there's some great principle at stake in fighting for the "right" of Republican politicians to commit campaign finance fraud as part of a larger scheme to deceive the public. 

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That, however, is why the "Appeal to Heaven" flag is so dangerous. It stands for a larger ideological commitment that Trump supporters can feel they're standing up for, namely the end of democracy in the name of Christian nationalism. To make it worse, a central aspect of the flag's symbolism is a justification for violence. The phrase "appeal to heaven" literally means that only God can judge the political violence the flag-bearer intends to commit. Human justice should have no say. 

It's unlikely we'll see another riot soon, but if Trump can convince his followers that his avoidance of legal consequences is necessary to preserve their grip on power, the possibility of violence remains high. Not just — or even primarily — towards people directly involved in Trump's prosecution, either. As the guy threatening to murder "leftys" demonstrates, the anger can be inchoate and the targets are chosen nearly at random. 

Past examples like Timothy McVeigh, Elliot Rodger, or Scott Roeder show how this works. Domestic terrorists are generally people — mostly men — who are lost souls that glom onto half-baked political rationalizations. Right-wing rhetoric drives them to fixate on strangers like employees at a federal building, college girls, or abortion providers, so they can blame these people instead of themselves for their personal failings. With Trump and his allies unleashing a firehose of right-wing resentment and violent eyebrow-waggling, the chances are unfortunately high that one of the millions of losers that listens to them will take action. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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