In a surprising about-face from his normally positive public reception, there seems to be mounting criticism over Chris Pratt’s controversial American flag shirt. The Jurassic World star was spotted out-and-about earlier this week with new wife Katherine Schwarzenegger wearing an at-first-glance patriotic tee. But, superimposed on the shirt’s stars and stripes is a rattlesnake with the phrase “Don’t Tread on Me” — and that design element has some labeling him a “racist” and accusing him of aligning with white supremacist values. As with most things on the internet, though, it’s a complex conversation.
The coiled rattlesnake with the “Don’t Tread on Me” message is the iconography associated with the Gadsden flag, created by Continental Army Brig. Gen. Christopher Gadsden. While the flag’s original purpose wasn’t rooted in white supremacy, it has been adopted by some white supremacists and far-right groups in recent years (in some of these instances, swastikas have even been added to the design). In 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that the flag could be viewed as racial harassment in the workplace, explaining it can sometimes be “interpreted to convey racially-tinged messages in some contexts.”
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So, when Pratt was spotted wearing a shirt bearing the Gadsden design, some people quickly drew a parallel between Pratt’s wardrobe choice and the less positive associations of the flag.
However, others jumped to Pratt’s defense, pointing out that the flag’s historical meaning has nothing to do with its now-negative connections.
Per USFlag.org, the Gadsden flag was born from “a period of intense but controlled individualism — when self-directing responsible individuals, again and again, decided for themselves what they should do, and did it, without needing anyone else to give them an assignment or supervise them in carrying it out.” Later adaptations of the flag, such as the 1st Navy Jack, were also considered to be “a striking indication of the colonists’ courage and fierce desire for independence.”
While the flag has been co-opted by far-right groups and organizations that spread hatred and bias, it is still more categorically viewed for its historical context. As such, as Yahoo cites, it is one of the flags used by the U.S. Men’s Soccer Team, the heavy metal band Metallica and other decidedly non-racist groups.