Fact Check

Does This Photograph Show a Migrant Caravan Member Urinating on the U.S. Flag?

Photographs of alleged flag desecration are common fodder for social media posts expressing anti-immigrant sentiments.

Published Nov. 6, 2018

A photograph shows a member of the October 2018 Central American migrant caravan urinating on an U.S. flag.

A caravan of asylum seekers heading toward the United States border from Guatemala in the fall of 2018 was seized on as a campaign issue by many politicians heading into the 2018 U.S. midterm elections. As with most hot-button political issues, internet trolls quickly spread hoaxes and unfounded rumors maligning the caravan group.

On 2 November 2018, a social media user shared a photograph to the "Bill O'Reilly Fans" Facebook group that supposedly depicted a scene in which "migrants in the Guatemalan Caravan stand on, and then urinate on, U.S. flag before throwing it in the trash can":

But the image depicted none of those claimed aspects: It was several years old (not recent), was taken in the United States (not along the caravan), and didn't capture anyone urinating on a flag.

This photograph was snapped in April 2016 at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee before a campaign appearance there by then-candidate Donald Trump, and it shows a protester standing (not urinating) on a U.S. flag.

A news account from Milwaukee television station WITI stated that the protester "stomped" on the flag but did not report that anyone urinated on the flag:

There were protesters outside the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Mainstage Theatre, where Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was set to host a Fox News Channel town hall event scheduled for 3:00 p.m. on campus. Fox News Anchor Greta Van Susteren moderated the event.

A FOX6 News crew estimated there to be about 70 to 100 protesters on hand outside the theatre. Most were a part of the group #WeLove, which was started on Facebook.

An exchange occurred after a protester was seen stomping on an American flag outside the theatre ...

Some weren't happy to see protesters disrespecting the American flag. FOX6 News is told the man who pulled out the American flag and stood on it was not affiliated with the #WeLove group.

"That`s our flag. That`s our country. I mean, that's -- we've got family members, they've got family members that died for their right to do that and there is just no gratefulness, no respect. There's no appreciation and it makes me sick. It thoroughly makes me sick. I think it's sad," James Turk said.

Media Milwaukee, the university's student newspaper, provided some additional context about the protest:

Vaun Mays stood silently among the more vocal protesters, distanced from the crowd, with his feet firmly planted on top of an American flag laying across the cement. Mays wasn’t yelling, he wasn’t shouting, he stood -- silently. He had a message to share for those who were interested in hearing it, justifying his controversial treatment of the American flag.

It is unknown if Mays was directly affiliated with the rest of the protests or if he was acting on his own accord.

“I’m here [against] Trump, and I’m also here to call at hypocrisy and racism of America,” said Mays. “Part of this [Trump’s] message is to ‘Make America Great Again.’ What America is he talking about? We all know the past of America. I always get resistance for this; people take it personally. It’s not aimed at any person or group of people, not against vets or white people in particular; it’s my own personal message.”

The original photograph can be seen here, and a video report on the protest from WITI can be viewed below:

This was not the first time that miscaptioned photographs were used to falsely accuse caravan members of desecrating the U.S. flag. In October 2018, a series of old and unrelated photographs were shared as if they capturedmigrants burning a U.S. flag.


Collins, Julie.   "'Makes Me Sick:' Protester Seen Stomping on American Flag Outside Trump Town Hall at UWM."
    WITI.   3 April 2016.

Hartman, Brandon.   "Conflict in Political Trenches as Trump Comes to Milwaukee Campus."
    Media Milwaukee.   5 April 2016.

Dan Evon is a former writer for Snopes.

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