Fact Check

Did National Guard Troops 'Turn Their Backs' on a Protest in Baltimore?

A viral video from 2015 shows soldiers seemingly turning away as a protester steps on an American flag.

Published May 23, 2017

 (Baimieng / Shutterstock.com)
Image Via Baimieng / Shutterstock.com
A video shows National Guard members turning their backs in response to a flag-stomping protest in 2015.

In April 2017, several web sites published articles centering on a viral video of a 2015 protest in Baltimore, Maryland, in which activist Erica Walker stood on a U.S. flag in the presence of National Guard troops.

The original, full-length video shows Erica Walker standing on an American flag for more than a minute as troops turn away. The articles describing the scene presented a narrative in which the National Guard members turned their backs in response to Walker's protest:

On 24 April 2017, for example, OMGTrueFacts.com (also known as "Deplorable and Proud"), reported that "If you look at the National Guard Troops behind her you will notice they go from facing her... to turning their backs on her."

While we are unsure why the story resurfaced in 2017, it was reported in similar ways soon afterward by various other websites. Each of those articles included a 2015 YouTube video posted by Steven Haffley, which presented edited footage of the incident and a voiceover narration that described the events as follows:

You can see the National Guard turning their backs on her [Walker] as she does this disgraceful act. And then you'll notice that when they all turn their back on her, someone in the crowd points out they did it, and she laughs about it, because she thinks it's funny.

We spoke to Erica Walker, who confirmed that the incident took place in Baltimore in May 2015 during a wave of protests following Freddie Gray's death in police custody. She denied that she was deliberately trying to provoke or upset the National Guard troops and told us that she spoke to them at the time, saying: "This has nothing to do with you; this has nothing to do with veterans."

Vaun Mayes, who shot the original video and posted it to his Facebook and YouTube accounts, told us the voice in the video pointing out that the National Guard members had turned around was his own, and that it was indeed his view that they had done so collectively and consciously in response to Erica Walker's protest: "They pretty much turned around once she stopped ... I was kind of glad they were offended because we were offended by what they were doing there."

Just before the troops turned back around, a voice could be heard saying "He turned his back". It's possible the Guard turned in response to that remark, as opposed to turning around because Walker's protest was then over. It is not implausible that the troops turned around at a certain point in Walker's protest and didn't turn back until it was over, but as we were unable to track down any National Guard members shown in this video, we cannot state with confidence why they turned around -- only that they did.

Dan Mac Guill is a former writer for Snopes.

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