Militiamen showed up proudly bearing the emblems of their groups — American flags with the stars replaced by the Roman numeral III, patches that read “Oath Keepers.” Alt-right types wore Pepe the Frog masks, and QAnon adherents could be seen in T-shirts urging people to “Trust the Plan.” White supremacists brought their variant of the Crusader cross.
And then there were thousands of Trump supporters with MAGA gear — flags, hats, T-shirts, thermoses, socks. One flag portrayed President Donald Trump as Rambo; another featured him riding a Tyrannosaurus rex and carrying the kind of rocket-propelled grenade launcher seen on the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia; or Kandahar, Afghanistan.
The iconography of the American far-right was on display Jan 6. during the violence at the Capitol. The dizzying array of symbols, slogans and images was, to many Americans, a striking aspect of the unrest, revealing an alternate political universe in which violent extremists, outright racists and conspiracy theorists march side by side with evangelical Christians, suburban Trump supporters and young men who revel in making memes to “own the libs.”
Uniting them is a loyalty to Trump and a firm belief in his false and discredited insistence that the election was stolen. The absurdity of many images — the patches that read “Zombie Outbreak Response Team," for instance — only masked a devotion that inspired hundreds from the crowd to mount a deadly attack on Congress.
“It’s often all a caricature — it looks like military fan fiction — until it’s not, and it crosses a very dangerous line,” said Joan Donovan, research director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.
“It’s funny until it’s scary,” she said.
These are some of the groups and their insignia.
Out in force were right-wing militias like the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters, whose symbol, the Roman numeral III, could be seen on patches and flags. Both groups are anti-government, pro-guns and, nowadays, devoted to Trump.
Others on the right who share the militia’s anti-government views often signal their beliefs with the Gadsden flag, a yellow banner dating to the American Revolution with a rattlesnake and the phrase “Don’t Tread on Me.” Dozens were waved at the Capitol last week.
And then there is the Confederate battle flag. A man carried the banner of secession and slavery through the halls of the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Boogaloos and Proud Boys
The Boogaloos marked themselves by wearing their signature Hawaiian shirts. A group of Proud Boys showed up in orange hats.
Both the Boogaloos and the Proud Boys include racists and anti-Semites, though the outright white supremacists tend to keep a lower profile. Some wear Crusader crosses or Germanic pagan imagery that has become popular on the racist and anti-Semitic fringes. Others have adopted an “OK” hand-gesture as their own.
Pepe and ‘Kek’
Pepe the Frog, the smirking cartoon amphibian that has become a widely recognized symbol of the alt-right crowd, was a common sight.
Also on display were the green-and-white flags of Kekistan, the fictional country that is home to the deity “Kek.” In the meme-driven culture of the alt-right, a satirical religion has sprouted up around Kek “as a way to troll liberals and self-righteous conservatives,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups. “He is a god of chaos and darkness, with the head of a frog, the source of their mimetic ‘magic,’ to whom the alt-right and Donald Trump owe their success.”
The flag is partly derived from the Nazi flag, a design that is treated as a provocative joke in alt-right circles.
This conspiracy theory falsely claims that there is a cabal of Democrats, deep-state bureaucrats and international financiers who use their power to rape and kill children and that Trump was elected to vanquish them.
The canard is convoluted and confusing, but its iconography is clear and was plentiful: There were shirts with the letter “Q” or slogans like “Trust the Plan”; signs saying “Save the Children”; and flags with the abbreviation “WWG1WGA,” which stands for “Where We Go One, We Go All.”
Alongside the violent, the overtly racist and the paranoid were thousands of devoted Trump supporters, some of whom even brought young children. The crowd was filled with people in MAGA regalia, and Trump flags were everywhere. Most just said “Trump”; others were a bit more outlandish.
Comic Books and Science Fiction
The skull-like symbol of the Punisher, a crime-fighting Marvel comic book antihero, was a common sight. It has become a popular emblem on the far-right in recent years and is sometimes used by police officers to signal one another without having to wear badges.
There were people waving the South Vietnamese flag, which disappeared decades ago when the North won the war. But now it lives again, adopted by some on the American right as a symbol of anti-communist resistance.
Then there was the Zombie Outbreak Response Team. A man wearing a sticker with its emblem was photographed inside the Capitol. His face is obscured in the picture, and he has not been identified. But the zombie team’s website describes its members as “preppers and survivalists preparing for all worst case scenarios.”
This article was written by Matthew Rosenberg and Ainara Tiefenthäler, a reporter for The New York Times.