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According to the following extract, the expression has in recent decades been associated with conservative groups:

Don’t tread on me:

Originating as a motto on an iconic Revolutionary War flag, don’t tread on me is a historic expression of American patriotism. Today, it may be used as a more general expression of personal freedom and individualism.

In the 2000s, the phrase became associated with a variety of libertarian, conservative, gun-rights, or far-right political groups as way to express their beliefs.

Is this still a valid analysis?

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    fyi there is a similar motto on british coins: nemo me impune lacessit. – Nathan Hughes Jun 29 at 18:07
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    FYI, the flag is the "Gadsen flag." – Paul Draper Jun 29 at 23:13
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    I remember vividly when Metallica released a song with this title There was political discussion about it for sure, but I don't remember it being overtly partisan and certainly no racial annotations. Nowadays it's very much associated with GOP/conservatism as far as I can tell. – Douwe Jun 30 at 9:12
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    @Robert: cool, i think the pound coin i read that on must have been one of the Scottish-themed ones then, like the 1994 one. i had not picked up on the Scottish connection. all i meant to suggest is there may be a greater tradition being referenced by the gadsden flag motto. guessing the gadsden flag may have a scottish connection? – Nathan Hughes Jul 1 at 5:01
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    A lot of traditional right-wing politics in the USA comes from the culture of rural Scottish Presbyterians, sometimes nicknamed "Hillbillies". – Robert Columbia Jul 1 at 12:08
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It currently is. From 1 July:

Many held posters or wore T-shirts that said, "Back the blue." ... Two people held up a banner that said, "TRUMP-- KEEP AMERICA GREAT 2020," and someone else stood with a Gadsden flag, which features a coiled rattlesnake and the phrase, "DON'T TREAD ON ME."

https://www.fox13now.com/news/local-news/provo-protest-met-with-counter-protest-downtown-two-days-after-shooting (Note: switched to this article per helpful comment).

For a bigger picture, see this New Yorker article from 2016:

By the nineteen-seventies, it had some popularity in Libertarian circles, as a symbol of ideological enthusiasm for minimal government and the rights of individuals; there was little mainstream interest in the flag as late as the summer of 2001 ... Traffic spiked after the September 11th terrorist attacks, Whitten says, and searches (and sales) also climbed as the Tea Party movement emerged.

https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-shifting-symbolism-of-the-gadsden-flag

There's still some uncertainty over what this flag conveys in regards to race, since it's political, and in the US, politics is racially correlated. I think perception of the flag in that manner is currently evolving due to the current widespread racial justice protests. Just this month:

A rally against racism in Craftsbury last week was interrupted by an armed man and two teenagers who drove by the crowd waving Confederate and Don’t Tread on Me flags from the back of a pickup truck.

https://www.sevendaysvt.com/OffMessage/archives/2020/06/16/trio-with-confederate-flag-interrupts-anti-racism-rally-in-craftsbury

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    "I think perception of the flag in that manner is currently evolving due to the current widespread racial justice protests" - can you elaborate on that? To me the flag has always (well, for a long time at least) been associated with the militant conservative, small government circles, and the protest wave doesn't seem to change the perception of the flag as much as make it more visible. – Maciej Stachowski Jun 29 at 13:59
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    What I mean is that I see it as associated with leave-me-alone political types. It might come to pass that it gets invoked against the current racial justice protests, which could redefine its symbolism. Or, not. We'll see. – Michael McFarlane Jun 29 at 16:02
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    Oh, and there is now a "Don't kneel on me flag" with a black panther. Consult your favourite search engine. – Michael McFarlane Jun 29 at 19:55
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    @MichaelMcFarlane I don't know about against the current racial justice protests, but libertarians frequently invoke it in support of said protests and against police brutality. This remains unchanged, so far. – reirab Jun 30 at 16:15
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    @reirab Agreed. Libertarians have been among those at the forefront of the issue. I hope the flag stays with the protesters against state violence. I just see it as an open question at the moment. For instance, the armed conservative types you might think should align with protesters against government overreach, who use the flag heavily, are aligning with law enforcement for... reasons. – Michael McFarlane Jun 30 at 16:32
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The Gadsden flag is not always a political statement, but it almost always is. It wasn't until the ~2010s that it became associated with the Tea Party movement. As wiki notes

Starting in the 1970s, the Gadsden Flag became strongly associated with libertarianism. In the 2010s it also became associated with the American Tea Party movement.[22] Because of these multiple uses, the meaning of the Gadsden Flag is ambiguous and depends on the context.[23][24][25]

It's popularity or visibility has subsided some since the early 2010's, but it is still commonly associated with right/libertarian causes.

It is currently used in the banner image for the largest right wing subreddit on reddit:

1


I want to offer a counter answer to above for what the flag represents and why it is popular among right leaning groups. (edit: at the time this answer was written, there was only one other answer which is now the lowest rated answer. The following points were written as a response to that.)

  • It represents a willingness to re-interpret the Second Amendment, not only the right to bear arms, but also justify modern militias. Nominally this is in opposition to government overreach, but the Gadsden flag is conspicuously absent from protests against Native people's genocide or state sanctioned police violence. This doesn't mean the flag is a symbol of oppression, simply that right wing "government overreach" crowd doesn't align politically with anti-oppression movement. (But the symbol itself does have meaning in itself, separate from political movements. See the evolution into the "Don't Kneel on Us" referencing the Black Panther Party -- though this hasn't seen widespread adoption).

  • It represents a willingness to defend First Amendment and freedom of speech in general, as long as that speech favors right-wing politics. (Where are the Gadsden/1A folks defending Bolton's book, or protesting the police violence inflicted upon press (as people protest police violence)? )

  • As referenced in other answers, there is some overlap between the political groups that reference the "history" or "heritage" of the Gadsden flag, and what that represents, and other "heritage, not hate" symbols. Nominally, this is in support of the ideal "all men are created equal," but ... Nominally, this is in support of "limited government" in general, but the political groups that associate with the flag are generally missing from left/liberal causes. For instance, missing from protests that convict you of a felony if you protest an oil pipeline on your own land. Or missing from protests about the $25,000 fine a city must pay to remove a confederate statue in Alabama. But just because the flag is missing, doesn't mean the idea the flag represents is exactly opposed.

To summarize: The flag represents a libertarian worldview which is frequently used in support of right wing government, even though some of the underlying libertarian philosophies are shared by those on the left. The context matters, but the flag is usually a symbol showing favoribility towards right leaning views, and this continues to be true at the present time.

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    This is clearly the higher quality answer. Not only does it correctly name the flag, but also discusses it's history and libertarian associations, without politically bias speculation. It's main appeal within libertarian and right-leaning groups is primarily the fact it's pro-Constitution, and is intrinsically opposed to the erosion of rights, E.G. gun restrictions, mass surveillance, curfews, lockdowns, censoring of speech, etc, which, ironically, liberalism seeks to make less liberal. – SSight3 Jun 30 at 8:22
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    "but the Gadsden flag is conspicuously absent from protests against... state sanctioned police violence." No, it isn't. Libertarians have been using it for that for years and continue to do so. It may be conspicuously absent from BLM or other left-leaning group protests against police violence, but it is very often used in libertarian circles in opposition to police violence. If you don't think libertarians have been opposed to the violence against media at the recent protests or against the protesters, then I'd guess you haven't been listening to libertarians much. Many have even joined them. – reirab Jun 30 at 14:59
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    Also, this is unrelated to the Gadsden Flag, but the court cases mentioned in the article you linked about "reinterpreting" the Second Amendment weren't about the Second Amendment at all. Prior to the passage of the 14th Amendment (which was after the Civil War,) the Bill of Rights did not restrict the actions of state or local governments. The 14th Amendment banned any state law "which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States," thereby incorporating the Bill of Rights upon the state (and local) governments, including the Second Amendment. – reirab Jun 30 at 16:11
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    Some of this answer is guilt by non-association. I haven't seen many hammer and sickle emblems at Trump rallies even though both groups insist they champion blue collar workers but I don't think that implies anything about communists and socialists on that issue. Conservatives argue the same sort of guilt by non-association about the ACLU (who defend civil rights that aren't 2A rights) and it's not a convincing argument. – gormadoc Jun 30 at 18:35
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    As for those arguments specifically, "1A folks" have indeed come to the defense of Bolton: reason.com/2020/01/29/…. Your argument also reveals that you don't really understand what the "1A folks" believe, that the "press" as an institution isn't special and the rights given to the press are for everybody, not just media and journalists. There have been substantial criticism of state violence against protests by those folks long before the BLM protests, like the anti-lockdown protests in just this current crisis. – gormadoc Jun 30 at 18:44
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Constitutionalism, therefore against liberal-left

The Gadsden flag is an old revolutionary flag, representing a distinctively American idea of personal responsibility and liberty. In a nutshell, the venomous snake on it symbolizes the American people and their readiness to fight any kind of tyranny and imposed will.

In modern times, it has become a rallying flag of various Conservative and Libertarian groups, with a distinct anti liberal-left sentiment. Reasons for that are simple:

  • It represents a willingness to preserve the Second Amendment, not only the right to bear arms, but also the right to form militia and implicitly to defend liberty (with arms if necessary) from any kind of government overreach. This goes specifically against numerous attempts by liberal-left through the years to limit gun ownership.

  • It represents a willingness to defend First Amendment and freedom of speech in general. This goes especially against the recent spat of people being fired for saying something against BLM, or even if their spouse opposed it. Also against big companies imposing their views of hate speech on internet, censorship etc... Again, this goes against the current leftist narrative of doxxing and harassing everyone who opposes their views.

  • Finally, it represents a willingness to preserve the original designs of the Founding Fathers about limited government in general, and demarcation between rights and duties. It goes without saying that the Founding Fathers are not very popular in leftist-liberal circles, with statues of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington being torn down or otherwise vandalized.

Of course, as the Gadsden flag is today seen as the flag of the anti-left (therefore, the flag of the right), it is often mixed with other flags like for example the Confederate flag, although they have little historical connection.

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    I was going to comment ‘–1 for implying the “liberal-left” (whatever that exactly is) be anti-constitutional’ but further down it turns more into rant/commentary on current events with a clear political colour. – Jan Jun 29 at 9:58
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    out of curiosity, how do you square limited government in general with repeated police killings of unarmed citizens? I would have thought that the state's capacity to use deadly force against its citizens would be precisely something very much of concern to the Founding Fathers and well-thinking, non-lefty, individuals like yourself. – Italian Philosophers 4 Monica Jun 30 at 6:41
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    None of the things mentioned in your bullet about free speech have anything to do with the First Amendment. While I might find firing someone over their views or biased censorship on social media to be distasteful, the First Amendment does not limit the actions of private parties, only of the government. If the government starts censoring social media or firing people over their political views, then it will be a First Amendment issue. Otherwise, it's not. – reirab Jun 30 at 16:01

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