Amid intensifying public debate about the right of NFL players and others to protest against police brutality and social injustice, a photograph emerged online in late September 2017 appearing to show a young black man kneeling at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.
The web site America’s Freedom Fighters wrote:
An anonymous poster recently uploaded a particularly disappointing picture in a thread discussing the protests of the National Anthem during the NFL games. In the photo, a black man with scraggly hair, dressed in baggy khakis and a white t-shirt is seen on one knee hunched over to the side as a crowd of respectful on-lookers places their hands over their hearts and looks toward the flag.
…This is a protest that occurred during the changing of the guard at the most sacred site in all of the Arlington National Cemetery: the tomb of the Unknowns.
The earliest postings of the photograph that we could find were around the same time on 27 September 2017, first in a Reddit group called “The Donald” at 9:50 Eastern time. The caption says only that the scene of the image is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and does not provide a date or any further details. About thirty minutes after that, the Facebook page Salute Media posted what appeared to be a screenshot of an earlier version of the photograph, along with a caption that read:
This photo was taken by my daughter yesterday at the tomb of the unknown soldier while they were playing TAPS. Words cannot express my anger right now.
After publication of this article, Katie Wiederhoeft contacted us to explain that she had taken the photograph. It was originally posted to her Facebook page at 1:03 A.M. on 27 September. In an e-mail, she told us that she took the photograph while visiting Arlington earlier that day:
I did not speak with the man and don’t know his reasonings for kneeling. I felt at the time (and the place) it was not appropriate as I was trying to be respectful to my fallen brothers and sisters and maintain silence… He was video taping so maybe he was trying to get a better shot, but with all that is going on currently I just can’t imagine that’s what it was. I truly hope that his actions were innocent in nature and that he didn’t intend to be disrespectful.
In response to a question under her Facebook post, Wiederhoeft confirmed that the man had been recording a video during the ceremony.
It’s possible that the man was both protesting and recording a video when Wiederhoeft’s photograph was taken. It’s also possible that he was kneeling to get a better angle for his video, or in order to steady his hands while he recorded. Without further evidence, and without being able to speak with the man in the photograph, we cannot say with any authority what exactly might have prompted or motivated his kneeling, although we know from the person who took the photograph that he was recording a video.
The public is requested to remain “silent and standing” during the wreath-laying ceremony, so the person in this image appears to not be adhering to that request.
Update [28 September 2017]: Added information provided by the person who took the photograph.
Correction [29 September 2017]: A previous version of this article stated that the public dress code for wreath-laying ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier applies to those watching the ceremony. In fact, the dress code only applies to members of the public taking part in the ceremony.
Arlington National Cemetery. “Dress Code for Public Wreath Ceremonies.”
Accessed 28 September 2017.