US Marines order Confederate flag to be removed from public display

Military branch says battle flag 'presents a threat to our core values' as unrest renews focus on Civil War imagery

A man holds a Confederate flag during a 2017 protest in Virginia.
A man holds a Confederate flag during a 2017 protest in Virginia.

The US Marine Corps has officially ordered the removal of the Confederate battle flag from public display on its bases and offices, citing the flag's use by racist groups as a "threat to our core values".

In a statement on 5 June, the service branch said: "The Confederate battle flag has all too often been co-opted by violent extremist and racist groups whose divisive beliefs have no place in our Corps."

"Our history as a nation, and events like the violence in Charlottesville in 2017, highlight the divisiveness the use of the Confederate battle flag," waved by branches of the secessionist Confederate States Army during the US Civil War.

In an April memo outlining his intent to ban public display of the flag, Marine Corps commandant Gen David Berger said he has "focused solely on building a uniquely capable war-fighting team whose members come from all walks of life and must learn to operate side-by-side" and argued that the symbol "has shown it has the power to inflame feelings of division" and must be removed.

"I am mindful that many people believe that flag to be a symbol of heritage or regional pride," he said. "But I am also mindful of the feelings of pain and rejection of those who inherited the cultural memory and present effects of the scourge of slavery in our country."

Its removal follows a revived movement to take down symbols of the Civil War in public spaces across the US, from flag displays outside statehouses to the removal of Jim Crow-era monuments to the Lost Cause and leaders from the slavery-supporting Confederacy.

Following the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, protesters have struck at statues and buildings across the US erected in the wake of the Confederacy's defeat, prompting several states to consider their removal after they were tagged with "Black Lives Matter" graffiti.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced plans to begin removing monuments from the state's capital, and Randall Woodfin, mayor of Birmingham, Alabama, says he has received death threats after removing a Confederate Soldiers and Sailors monument.

In 2017, New Orleans was among the first cities to begin removing Jim Crow- and Confederate-era monuments, including statues of General Robert E Lee and Confederate president Jefferson Davis as well as an obelisk commemorating a white supremacist uprising that took place a decade after the Civil War. Demonstrators supporting their removal clashed with white supremacist groups for several weeks as crews worked overnight to take the statues off their pedestals. Officials there are now considering renaming street names that honour Confederate leaders.

The Marine Corps order doesn't apply to places where the flag is "not the main focus" of the display, including art and educational use.

It bans the flag from bumper stickers, mugs, clothing, posters and similar displays, as well as on all naval vessels, aircraft, government vehicles, offices and common areas, including recruitment centres.

The order from Marine Corps staff director Lt Gen John J Broadmeadow exempts state flags that incorporate the flag (such as Mississippi's), license plates, Confederate grave sites, and other locations where "commanders are expected to apply their best judgment informed by the spirit and intent" of the order.

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