First it Was an Insurrection Flag, Now Supreme Court Justice Alito is Caught Flying Another Far-Right Flag — An ‘Emblem for an Extensive Spiritual Warfare Campaign’

The "Appeal to Heaven" flag flies at Justice Alito's New Jersey summer home. Rather than blame his wife, this time he might claim to be an arborist.

Some things regarding the Supreme Court are not surprising. For example: Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito who, along with Clarence Thomas forms the extreme Right flank of this Court (which is saying something), doesn’t like women very much. Or abortion. Or anything that couldn’t be found in a right-wing policy proposal. It’s also pretty well known that he seems to be a deeply unpleasant person—something that can be confidently deduced from his snarky opinions as a judge on the Highest Court of the land; the way he behaves during oral arguments; and let’s be honest, his behavior during most of his public appearances where he performs a mightily embittered form of victimization. All in all, we’ve long known Sam Alito is as right-wing as the day is long. 

But I’d thought there might be some rules that even a Sam Alito wouldn’t dare break. Unwritten rules, of course, because the “ethics code” this Supreme Court gave itself isn’t worth the paper it was written on. But I—and, judging from the reactions, most political commentators—had presumed there might be some rules that are so self-evident even Sam Alito wouldn’t break them. Such as: A Supreme Court Justice should a) not support an insurrection and b) not feel comfortable enough to show his support of said insurrection publicly. 

So, what’s going on? In case you missed it, Alito’s flag-gate is a two-part story. In the first installment, news broke that, in the days after January 6th 2021, neighbors reported that an upside down American flag had been flown at Sam Alito’s house. The New York Times writes:

While the flag was up, the court was still contending with whether to hear a 2020 election case, with Justice Alito on the losing end of that decision.

The upside down US flag has been used since the nation’s founding as a sign for extreme distress and was, for example, used by sailors to signal danger and fear for life (and property). In recent years, however, the flag has been claimed by those denying the results of the 2020 election, signaling their distress at what they assumed was the overthrow of the nation’s order and became synonymous with the belief that the election had been stolen by Joe Biden and the Democrats. And this is why timing is so important: the flag was flown upside down at Alito’s home for days—days—even after a violent mob stormed the Capitol, threatening to hang Mike Pence, murder Nancy Pelosi, and hunt down whatever member of Congress they could find. 

In response to the reporting, Alito did the noble thing, blaming flag-gate part I on his wife, Martha-Ann Alito. She had, according to Justice Alito, been in a “dispute” with a neighbor and had flown the flag to signal her feelings about this neighborly squabble. 

This is about as believable as if Clarence Thomas had claimed that his wife’s texts to Mark Meadows, in which she voices her support for Stop the Steal, were intended to demonstrate her commitment to stop the scourge of pickpockets besieging Mom & Pop stores. But who knows? Some people phone a friend to unload about their annoying neighbor, so maybe Mrs. Alito’s way of coping with neighborhood strife is to hoist a flag flown by insurrectionists. 

Could it be true? Yes. But it is incredibly unlikely—just as unlikely as misogynist-in-chief Sam Alito allowing his wife to decide which flag is flown for days at his house, openly supporting the insurrection. 

The story would be wild enough if it ended there—and grounds for Democrats to impeach the man. After all, here’s a Supreme Court Justice openly signaling, by hoisting this flag, that he—or at least his household—supports the overthrow of the democratically elected government

But even if we were to suspend all logic and disbelief and accept Alito’s bogus excuse, the second flag has all but settled the matter. On Wednesday, news broke that the “Appeal to Heaven” flag was flying outside Sam Alito’s beach house in New Jersey after the storming of the Capitol—not for a few days, but seemingly for months. The photos that can be found on Google Street View (I’m not joking) are from July, August, and September 2023. 

As previously reported by Bradley Onishi and Matthew Taylor in Religion Dispatches, the “Appeal to Heaven” flag, originally from the Revolutionary War era, is no ordinary historical flag. It’s been claimed by the most extreme right-wing Christian nationalists of the New Apostolic Reformation. They write:

[It was] adopted by Dutch Sheets, a Wagner disciple and a famous apostle in his own right, in 2013. Sheets claimed that this Colonial American military flag was a prophetic symbol of the Third Great Awakening that would arrive as soon as Christians properly aligned themselves in fervent prayer. Since then, Sheets and other apostles and prophets have written books about this Appeal to Heaven meme, and, through the linked efforts of NAR networks, it’s become a potent far-right symbol and a coded emblem for an extensive spiritual warfare campaign, all of which became entwined with the Trump Administration and Trump 2020 Campaign. […] In the helter-skelter season between the 2020 election and the January 6 attempt to forcibly interfere with the result, the Appeal to Heaven flag had become a ubiquitous symbol adopted by charismatic Christians to exhibit their faith in these Trump prophecies.

What this flag stands for, as Matt Taylor told me in an interview about his upcoming book, is, “You go to war and you let God sort it out.”

The flag was everywhere on January 6th—which makes sense given that, as Onishi and Taylor have reported, NAR leaders played a massive role in organizing Jan 6th. This isn’t, as the Times irresponsibly calls it, a “provocative” flag which represents the call for “a more Christian-minded government.” This is a flag calling for insurgency. For insurrection. For the overthrow of democracy. The project it represents wants to replace democracy, not with a “more Christian-minded” government, but with theocracy. Literal theocracy

And yes, this is the same flag Mike Johnson, creature of the Christian Right and Speaker of the House, is flying in front of his office. As Onishi and Taylor wrote for Rolling Stone when it was first reported: 

It represents an aggressive, spiritual-warfare style of Christian nationalism, and Johnson is a legal insurrectionist who has deeply tied himself into networks of Christian extremists whose rhetoric, leadership, and warfare theology fueled a literal insurrection.

Which, don’t get me wrong, is terrible. But Sam Alito flying it is even worse. Johnson is an elected politician. Alito is one of nine judges on the highest court of the land, with a lifetime appointment. What seems striking isn’t just the support for insurrection itself (which is horrifying)—but the proud, almost mocking display of these political leanings. This is a Supreme Court Justice, who is openly, seemingly for months, flying a flag that supports the insurrection—while a case lands at the Supreme Court, which he gets to judge, about the very insurrection he is expressing his support for in flag-form! 

Of course, Alito will not recuse himself. Why would he? Clarence Thomas hasn’t recused himself, and the alleged “ethics code” is a joke. Noone’s coming to enforce it—and Alito knows it. He also seems very confident Democrats won’t try to impeach him (an effort that would probably fail, but would nevertheless be embarrassing and could damage the GOP in the run-up to a presidential election). And, to be honest, he’s probably spot-on about that. Dick Durbin, Democrat and Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, declared after flag-gate part I, that he wouldn’t try to impeach the insurrection-stanning justice so there’s little reason to believe he will now. (What would the logic be for such a thing? You get one free expression of support for the overthrow of the government, but we draw the line at two?) 

Combine this with the other bit of Alito news that was shared recently—that he (like every other rich transphobe) dropped his shares in Bud Light amidst last year’s right-wing boycott, and these two things paint a pretty ugly picture. First, Alito is so deep down the right-wing rabbit hole that he’s both familiar with the “Appeal to Heaven” flag, and either online or watching Fox News enough to know about the Bud Light freak-out—and he feels compelled to participate in both. Second, he’s an insurrection supporter who feels so untouchable that he’s happy to show it for all the world to see, to cast out all what was left of any pretense. He knows he’s safe. And he’s probably right. 

At this point, the question seems to be not so much “which insurrectionist flags has Alito flown?” but, as Jay Willis has pointed out on Twitter, “which coup-adjacent flags HASN’T Sam Alito flown over one of his various homes?” Because, let’s be honest, he already got the most important two.