San Francisco removes Pine Tree flag, says it's tainted by something 'abhorrent and disgraceful'

FILE - People carry an "Appeal To Heaven" flag as they gather at Independence Mall to support President Donald Trump during a visit to the National Constitution Center to participate in the ABC News town hall, Sept. 15, 2020, in Philadelphia. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito is embroiled in a second flag controversy, this time over the "Appeal to Heaven" flag, a banner that in recent years has come to symbolize Christian nationalism and the false claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. The flag was seen outside his New Jersey beach home last summer. (AP Photo/Michael Perez, File)
The "Appeal to Heaven" flag, here carried by Trump supporters in Philadelphia in 2020, has been taken down outside San Francisco City Hall. (Michael Perez / Associated Press)

A Pine Tree flag, a symbol originally from the Revolutionary War but more recently linked to groups who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, has been removed from the San Francisco Civic Center Plaza.

The simple white flag with a green pine tree in the center and the words "An Appeal to Heaven" at the top had flown in the city's Pavilion of American Flags for 60 years, but it was taken down after the mayor's office said the flag, and its meaning, was co-opted by extremists.

"The Pine Tree flag, or the Appeal to Heaven flag, has recently been adopted to represent a different meaning by extremists who led the insurrection at the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021," said Jeff Cretan, a spokesperson for San Francisco Mayor London Breed. "This was an abhorrent and disgraceful moment in our country's history that threatened the very fabric of our democracy and continues to affect those who lived through the violence and the assault on our fundamental values."

The decision to take the flag down outside City Hall came just days after the New York Times reported that the flag was flown outside of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.'s home in Virginia last year.

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The news outlet also reported that in 2020, after the presidential election, the United States flag was flown upside-down outside Alito's home. U.S. flag code, which is not enforceable, specifies the Stars and Stripes should be flown upside-down only "as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property." The inverted flag was used as a symbol by supporters of former President Trump who contested the results of the presidential election.

The Pine Tree flag has been flown and spotted at right-wing events and was carried by rioters during the Jan. 6 insurrection.

After the New York Times report about the controversial flag being flown at the justice's home, Alito told Congress on Wednesday in a letter that he would not recuse himself from upcoming Supreme Court cases stemming from the Jan. 6 attack.

In San Francisco, city officials took down the controversial flag over the weekend.

Cretan, the spokesperson for the mayor's office, said there was no legislative requirement to take the flag down.

In 1964, the city also took down the Confederate battle flag shortly after it was first flown.

The city has flown 18 flags at the Pavilion of American Flags since June 14, 1964, and each is meant to represent a significant moment in American history.

But the Pine Tree flag is not the only controversial flag in the pavilion that has been used by extremist groups.

The yellow Gadsden flag, which has a coiled rattlesnake and the words "Don't Tread on Me," is also displayed at the pavilion.

The flag has been used by right-wing organizations, including militia groups that have been linked to armed standoffs with federal authorities.

A spokesperson for Breed's office said it was reviewing whether that flag should be removed as well.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.