This Week in Political Symbols: Pink Pistols, American Guard, NFAC

Vizpol Research
12 min readOct 12, 2020

By Ishaan Jhaveri

For over a year, a multidisciplinary team of researchers at Columbia’s Journalism and Engineering schools have been developing an app called VizPol which helps photographers and reporters recognize and classify symbols they see at political events. In developing this tool, we have paid keen attention to symbols appearing on tattoos, hats, t-shirts, flags, and elsewhere, at recent demonstrations and protests across the country.

This is the second in our series of weekly posts discussing symbols at recent political events. Our goal is to highlight popular symbols, call for information about new or unfamiliar symbols, and provide journalists with resources on how symbols can (or cannot) be used to glean information about the people and events they are associated with.

For now we will link to the photos, though we are working to secure full image rights for future posts.

On Tuesday, October 7th vice Presidential contenders Kamala Harris and Mike Pence met for a debate at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. At a demonstration outside, amidst some Black Lives Matter supporters two people held a “Pink Pistols” poster:

Photo 1: A group of Black Lives Matter supporters protests in the street as…

Photographer: George Frey

Their sign also had the Transgender Pride Flag on it.

The Pink Pistols is a pro-gun, pro-LGBT group. According to their website, they “teach queers to shoot”, and claim to be “a shooting group that honors diversity and is open to all shooters”. They claim to be nonpartisan though they admit to working with the NRA. From this photograph alone, it is not clear what these particular supporters of the Pink Pistols are demonstrating for in Salt Lake City, but they appear to be allied with the Black Lives Matter supporters around them.

Black Lives Matter supporters in Salt Lake City also clashed with members of the pro-Trump violent right-wing extremist Proud Boys and white supremacist American Guard:

Photo 2: Members of the Proud Boys and Black Lives Matter protesters confront…

Photographer: George Frey

In the above photo, you can identify a member of the Proud Boys in the middle by the “PB” at the back of his hat. You can identify a member of the American Guard on the right of the photo in a white t-shirt and backwards black hat. His white t-shirt depicts the group’s logo, two crossed meat-cleavers. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the group’s logo, is a reference to “Bill the Butcher” in the movie The Gangs of New York. From the ADL: ““Bill the Butcher” was a fictionalized version of William Pool, the leader of the Bowery Boys, a violent street gang in New York City infamous for its attacks on immigrants. And, like the Bowery Boys whom they apparently admire, the American Guard has a background with connections to anti-immigrant extremism, hatred, and violence.”

On Saturday, October 3rd, a group of armed members of the Not Fucking Around Coalition (NFAC) marched through Lafayette, Louisiana:

Ford Fischer on Twitter

According to photojournalist Ford Fischer, “The group was protesting threats directed at them by U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins on Facebook, and the police shooting of Trayford Pellerin.”

NFAC Founder Grand Master Jay described the group to Newsweek as a Black militia and said they are not affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement. They advocate for Black separatism.

The group’s members seem to dress almost entirely in black. I looked through many images and videos of their march to find identifying symbols. I wasn’t able to find any symbols that I could say with certainty are affiliated with the NFAC but I did see the red, black and green of the New Black Panther Party (a Black nationalist organization that is unaffiliated with the historic Black Panther Party) in various forms on several NFAC members:

Photos 3, 4 and 5: Today hundreds of members of the all-Black “Not Fucking Around Coalition"…

Source: Ford Fischer/News2Share on Twitter
Ford Fischer/News2Share on Twitter
Source: Ford Fischer/News2Share on Twitter

Photographer: Ford Fischer

The NFAC is reportedly affiliated with the New Black Panther Party.

This past week, the thin blue line flag and other symbols of the Blue Lives Matter pro-law enforcement movement could be seen alongside Trump 2020 symbology at several events. I highlight some here:

Trump 2020 and Back the Blue rally in New York City on October 4th:

Photo 6: People participate in a Trump 2020 and Back The Blue rally at Macy’s…

Photographer: David Dee Delgado

Among demonstrators counter-protesting a “Rally Against Hate and Vigil for Justice” on October 3rd in St Petersburg, Florida:

Photo 7: Supporters of President Donald Trump attend a counter-protest against…

Photographer: Octavio Jones

At a pro-Trump rally on October 3rd in Staten Island, New York organized by the Staten Island Republican Party:

Photo 8: People hold a pro-Trump rally on October 3, 2020 in the borough of…

Photographer: Stephanie Keith

At a pro-Trump Flotilla rally on October 3rd in Deerfield Beach, Florida:

Photo 9: Demonstrators in boats participate during a pro-Trump Flotilla rally…

Credit: Bloomberg

Outside Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland on October 4th, where the president was being treated for Covid-19:

Photo 10: Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump rally outside Walter Reed…

Photographer: Alex Edelman

At a ‘Make America Great Again’ rally on September 30th in Duluth, Minnesota:

Photo 11: U.S. President Donald Trump cheers to the crowd during a ‘Make..

Credit: Bloomberg

And at a rally hosted by the Long Island and New York City police unions in support of the police in Suffolk County, New York on October 4th. Here we can see New York City Patrolman Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch campaigning for President Trump with pro-law enforcement symbology all around him:

Photo 12: New York City Patrolman Benevolent Association President Patrick…

Photographer: Andrew Lichtenstein

At a few events, a variant of the thin blue line flag with a red stripe instead of a blue one could be seen. The red represents solidarity with firefighters.

Worn by a demonstrator counter-protesting the“Rally Against Hate and Vigil for Justice”:

Photo 13: A supporter of President Donald Trump attends a counter-protest…

Photographer: Octavio Jones

Outside Walter Reed Medical Center (the flag has both a red and blue stripe, to show solidarity for both firefighters and the police):

Photo 14: Supporters of the US president hold flags as they rally outside of…

Photographer: Alex Edelman

A variant of the flag was photographed at the pro-Trump rally on October 3rd in Staten Island, New York with the word “Trump” in red replacing a stripe of a black-and-white US flag. The resemblance to the thin blue line Blue Lives Mater flag might be a coincidence, but is likely a deliberate reference to it, and thereby serve as further evidence of the coalescing of pro-police and pro-Trump politics:

Photo 15: People hold a pro-Trump rally on October 3, 2020 in the borough of…

Photographer: Stephanie Keith

On October 7th protestors in Borough Park gathered to oppose the lockdown measures being imposed in their neighborhood in response to rising COVID-19 cases. Notable symbols at these demonstrations included the Gadsden Flag popular with conservatives and 2nd amendment activists:

Photo 16: Groups of protesters gather in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Borough…

Photographer: Spencer Platt

As well as Trump 2020 signs:

Photo 17: Groups of protesters gather in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Borough…

Photographer: Spencer Platt

And Blue Lives Matter flags:

Photo 18: Groups of protesters gather in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Borough…

Photographer: Spencer Platt

It is clear that most of these demonstrators are dressed in the traditional garb of Orthodox Jewish communities. Borough Park is home to one of the largest Orthodox Jewish communities outside Israel. I will not attempt to closely analyze the various variants of Orthodox Jewish attire on display here.

On October 8th at a “Make America Great Again” rally featuring vice President Pence, a Trump supporter could be seen wearing a t-shirt sporting a Punisher logo with a mop of hair to resemble Donald Trump’s. This symbol could suggest that Trump as the Punisher, the outsider, unapologetically brings “justice” and “law and order” to America.

Photo 19: A supporter waits for the start of a “Make America Great Again” rally…

Photographer: Ronda Churchill

At the October 3rd Staten Island pro-Trump event, one supporter waved a Betsy Ross flag with “2nd Amendment” written across it:

Photo 20: People hold a pro-Trump rally on October 3, 2020 in the borough of…

Photographer: Stephanie Keith

One of the counter-protestors at the“Rally Against Hate and Vigil for Justice”, Trump supporter Gary Snell was photographed ripping up an Antifa flag:

Photo 21: President Donald Trump supporter Gary Snell rips an Antifa flag…

Photographer: Octavio Jones

And also ripping up a Nazi Flag:

Photo 22: President Donald Trump supporter Gary Snell rips a Nazi flag during a…

Photographer: Octavio Jones

purportedly to indicate his opposition to the ideologies symbolized by both flags. The comparison of antifascism to Nazism highlights the sense among Trump supporters that antifascism is an extremist ideology.

In this image, to the left, we can also see a Blue Lives Matter Flag, with 13 stars in place of the usual 50, with “45” in the middle of these. The 13 stars harken to the 13 stars of the Betsy Ross flag which symbolize the 13 colonies that fought against the British in the American Revolutionary War and the 45 is likely a reference to Trump being the 45th president of the United States. This symbol at once shows support for Blue Lives Matter and Trump, and could also mean to support right-wing patriot groups who use the Betsy Ross flag. It must be noted though that many other groups, including those with a non-political interest in the history of the Revolutionary War period use the Betsy Ross flag.

The October 4th rally hosted by the Long Island and New York City police unions in support of the police also featured supporters of the far-right conspiracy theory, QAnon:

Photo 23: QAnon supporters attend a Trump rally hosted by Long Island and New…

Photographer: Andrew Lichtenstein

QAnon supporters were also at the October 3rd pro-Trump Staten Island rally:

Photo 24: A person wears a QAnon sweatshirt during a pro-Trump rally on October…

Photographer: Stephanie Keith

At this rally, one prominent poster featured a bastardized version of the famous poster featuring Muhammad Ali towering over his opponent Sonny Liston, whom he had just beaten in their highly anticipated first encounter in 1964. The modified poster shows Trump’s face replacing Ali’s and someone wearing a headband that says “Antifa” replacing Liston on the ground. The defeated boxer’s gloves also feature the “A” used by anarchists.

Photo 25: People hold a pro-Trump rally on October 3, 2020 in the borough of…

Photographer: Stephanie Keith

Given Trump’s repeated and recent refusals to denounce white supremacy, repurposing a poster of Muhammad Ali, a Black icon and ardent supporter of the Civil Rights movement comes across as deliberately tone deaf. It appears to be a call for Trump supporters to rally around openly rejecting the current Black Lives Matter movement and “defeating” antifascism.

Finally, this past week, the signs and symbols of the Black Lives Matter movement could be seen at various events. I highlight some here:

Amidst demonstrators counter-protesting against Trump supporters gathered outside Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland on October 4th, where the president was being treated for Covid-19:

Photo 26: Supporters and protesters of President Donald Trump gather outside…

Photographer: Tasos Katopodis

At a protest in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on October 7th after Derek Chauvin, the police officer charged with killing George Floyd, the Black man whose death sparked demonstrations for racial justice across the country, was released from a Minnesota jail on $1 million bail:

Photo 27: Protesters lock arms as they march during a demonstration after the…

Photographer: Kerem Yucel

At a “Rally Against Hate and Vigil for Justice” on October 3rd in St Petersburg, Florida. Here we can see a Black Lives Matter fist within a Star of David, widely recognized as a symbol of Jewish identity. The poster on which this appears also has a heart with the LGBT flag in it. This combination of symbols appears to signify harmony between people of various races and gender and sexual identities uniting against hate:

Photo 28: Community activists attend a demonstration billed as a “Rally Against…

Photographer: Octavio Jones

Among demonstrators holding a “Strike for Safe Schools” rally in New York, NY on October 1st, in response to New York state’s spike in COVID-19 cases while schools in most parts of the state remain open:

Photo 29: Demonstrators hold signs in Union Square during a ‘Strike for Safe…

Credit: Bloomberg

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Vizpol Research

A collaborative research project at Columbia University building apps to help journalists identify unfamiliar political symbols in the field.