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False Claim of ‘No Flag’ Above White House


Quick Take

Before President Joe Biden’s inauguration, social media users shared a false claim that there was no flag flying over the White House — suggesting it was a sign that the military had taken control of the government. In fact, the flag was flying above the White House on Jan. 20, and Biden is president.


Full Story

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were sworn into office on Jan. 20, despite a falsehood spread on social media ahead of the inauguration claiming that the military had seized power.

The bogus claim suggested that there was no flag flying above the White House ahead of the inauguration, and that that signaled the military was somehow in control of the government. The claim was paired with a photo of the top of the White House with seemingly no flag, and it appeared in individual posts as well as a long conspiracy theory video that gained traction on Facebook.

“[W]hen there is no flag flying over the White House it means that the power has been turned over to the military,” the fictitious posts read. “This means selective martial law or that the president has signed the Insurrection Act.”

We previously debunked the idea that then-President Donald Trump had “invoked” the Insurrection Act of 1807 in a bid to stay in power — and others, including PolitiFact, have addressed similar falsehoods about “martial law.”

We traced the image of the White House used in the current posts to a Jan. 19 episode of Fox News’ “The Story with Martha MacCallum.” The photo was taken near the end of the show, at 3:51 p.m., and it showed a live shot of the White House as staff members could be seen on the roof working on the flag pole.

But there’s no evidence the flag was removed altogether.

In fact, during the program that follows MacCallum’s, “Your World with Neil Cavuto,” the flag could again be seen flying over the White House.

Moreover, on the morning of Jan. 20, footage again on Fox News showed the flag atop the White House just before Trump departed for the last time.

And Scot Guenter, senior director of the Flag Research Center and professor emeritus of American Studies at San Jose State University, told us in a phone interview that he had “never heard” of the theory that the removal of the flag above the White House is used to signal martial law or the invoking of the Insurrection Act.

Instead, while he wasn’t sure exactly what the staffers atop the White House were doing on Jan. 19, he said there could be a simpler explanation: “Flags are objects that need to be cleaned or changed from time to time.”

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.

Sources

Fichera, Angelo. “False Claim of Trump Invoking Insurrection Act.” FactCheck.org. 14 Jan 2021.

Guenter, Scot. Senior director, Flag Research Center. Phone interview with FactCheck.org. 20 Jan 2021.

Kim, Noah Y. and Samantha Putterman. “Fact-checking claims about the Insurrection Act, martial law after Capitol riot.” PolitiFact. 11 Jan 2021.

McFarland: Pelosi, Clinton always overlooked the threat of China against the U.S.” Fox News. 20 Jan 2021.

Presidential Inauguration.” C-SPAN. 20 Jan 2021.

“The Story With Martha MacCallum.” Fox News. 19 Jan 2021.

“Your World With Neil Cavuto.” Fox News. 19 Jan 2021.