In the past week alone, Pride flags have been stolen, slashed or burned in at least five states, including California, Utah, Arizona, Nebraska and Pennsylvania. That’s on top of similar incidents in California and New York in May, including a man that defecated on a pride flag in Manhattan.
The thefts and vandalism come as online extremists have been spreading a new hashtag in recent weeks that encourages followers to damage, destroy or steal Pride flags wherever they see them, said Sarah Moore, an anti-LGBTQ+ extremism analyst for the Anti-Defamation League and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation .
“We do know that this is a trend and we know a lot of this stuff is being driven by different campaigns online … in both extremists forums like Telegram and also on mainstream social media forums like Twitter,” Moore said.
“They are advocating for a destroy-the-Pride-flag challenge, or they call them capture-the-flag challenges, where they advocate for their followers to go out in really creative ways and capture and deface or set fire to Pride flags from private residences and businesses across the country,” she said.
In Omaha on June 2, a masked man set fire to a Pride flag being displayed outside a home in what’s being investigated as a hate crime, said the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office .
The sheriff’s office said that home surveillance video shows that the man appears to use accelerant before igniting the flag and fleeing. They’re still looking for the suspect, who may have burned his hands during the attack. A Pride flag was previously stolen from the home in April, also by a masked man.
In another suspected hate crime in Tempe, Arizona on Tuesday, someone took down a Pride flag outside the Phoenix suburb’s City Hall and burned it.