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Don't Tread on Me

Claim:   Navy SEALs were ordered to discontinue wearing the "Don't Tread on Me" uniform patch because it is too closely associated with "radical groups."


Examples:   [Collected via e-mail, November 2013]

I read an article stating that Obama ordered the Navy Seals to remove the "Don't Tread on Me" Navy Jack from their uniforms because the Tea Party uses it as one of their emblems. Is that true?

Origins:   On 1 November 2013 the Daily Caller published an opinion piece which claimed new regulations had been issued requiring Navy SEALs to discontinue wearing the "Don't Tread On Me" patch (i.e., the First Navy Jack) on their uniform sleeves in favor of a U.S. flag patch:


WARCOM and GROUP TWO/ONE have pushed out the uniform policy for NWU III and any patches worn on the sleeve.

All personnel are only authorized to wear the matching "AOR" American Flag patch on the right shoulder. You are no longer authorized to wear the "Don’t Tread On Me" patch.

Again the only patch authorized for wear is the American flag on the right shoulder. Please pass the word to all.

That piece also suggested the regulation had been issued at the behest of President Obama because the Navy Jack was "too closely associated with radical groups" such as the Tea Party, who use the similarly-themed Gadsden flag as an emblem:

I first wondered, 'why?.' Why would our leaders sell out our heritage? Why would they rob present and future sailors of our battle cry?

When a friend of mine asked his leadership the same question, he was told, "The Jack is too closely associated with radical groups." We must assume that this thought policeman embedded in the SEAL community is speaking of the Tea Party, whose flag (which also dates from the American Revolution) depicts a snake with the same defiant slogan as The Navy Jack.

This begs yet another question: Who defines "radical group"? The last time I checked, all military personnel are under oath to "support and defend the constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic." The Tea Party stands for constitutional rights and founding principles of civil liberties and limited government. Radical? Not unless you're a leftist hell-bent on destroying the foundations of our country. Or as the President has stated as the objective of his presidency, "to fundamentally transform" America.

First Navy Jack
Gadsden (Tea Party) Flag

However, the only documentation that article presented for these claims was a reproduction of an e-mail message sent by a Senior Enlisted Advisor whose name was redacted, and a response an unidentified "friend" of the author (a former SEAL) was said to have received when he asked "leadership" about the reasons behind the regulation. And even if the presented e-mail about the new regulation were genuine, the reasons behind its issuance that were proffered in the article amount to little more than speculation. (Others have suggested less political reasons for the rumored change, such as an attempt to standardize the appearance of the NWU III [Navy Working Uniform] across that service branch.)

A few days later the Navy Times published an article in response to the Daily Caller piece which quoted U.S. Navy sources as stating that the Navy was "unable to confirm the validity of the email," and that even if it had been issued, it was in error and authorization for Naval Special Warfare personnel to wear the First Navy Jack patch had actually been expanded, not curtailed:
The Navy is flatly denying claims that SEALs are no longer allowed to wear the First Navy Jack patch on their uniforms. In fact, the Navy recently expanded the wear rules for the iconic "Don’t Tread on Me" Patch.

A number of concerned readers contacted Navy Times to determine whether these claims were true.

The Navy has thus far been unable to confirm the validity of the email from the senior official. If it's legit, then someone in the spec-ops community got their wires crossed.

"As of September 2013, all Naval Special Warfare personnel are authorized to wear the U.S. flag and the 'Don't Tread on Me' uniform patches," Navy spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Sarah Flaherty told Navy Times. "In the past, NSW did not authorize wearing either patch unless one was deployed or in a work-up cycle. However, NSW recently sought special permission from the Chief of Naval Operations staff to wear the patches within the continental United States."

Last updated:   4 November 2013

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    Higbie, Carl.   "Navy SEALs Ordered to Remove 'Don't Tread on Me' Navy Jack from Uniforms."
    The Daily Caller.   1 November 2013.

    Myers, Meghann.   "Official: Spec-Ops Sailors Can Keep Wearing 'Navy Jack.'"
    Military Times.   4 November 2013.