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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Lauren Aratani

US flag was flying upside-down in Alito yard before spat, neighbor says

Samuel Alito at the White House on 23 July 2019.
Samuel Alito at the White House on 23 July 2019. Photograph: Carolyn Kaster/AP

After coming under scrutiny for flying an American flag upside-down in his front yard in January 2021, days before the inauguration of Joe Biden, the supreme court justice Samuel Alito said it was his wife who flew the flag – a signal of political discontent that was waved by some rioters during the January 6 insurrection – in response to a neighborhood spat.

Now, the neighbor at the center of the argument, which was reportedly about anti-Trump yard signs, says Alito’s account of the events is wrong and that the flag was already flying upside-down well before the confrontation.

Alito initially told a Fox News reporter that a neighbor had put up a yard sign personally addressing his wife Martha-Ann Alito, blaming her for the January 6 riot that had taken place days before. When the Alitos later walked the neighborhood, words were exchanged with a man at the home with a sign. The man used vulgar language, “including the C-word”.

The justice said that the confrontation made his wife distraught and that she decided to hoist the flag “for a short time”. He emphasized that January 2021 was a heated time and that neighbors on his street are “very political”.

The upside-down American flag has long been a signal of political discontent and was waved by some rioters during the January 6 insurrection.

In an interview with the New York Times published Tuesday, Emily Baden, the neighbor involved in the argument, disputed the justice’s account. She said the heated confrontation took place on 15 February, nearly a month after the time Alito said his wife put up the flag. By the time of the dispute, Baden said, the flag had already been taken down.

According to Baden, she and her now-husband called the police on 15 February, largely to document the incident. They told police that they were being harassed by Martha-Ann Alito.

“Somebody in a position of authority needs to talk to her and make her stop,” Baden’s husband told the police, according to a recording of the call reviewed by the Times.

After reports of the flag came out, senior Democratic leaders and legal ethics experts have called on Alito to recuse himself from two cases before the supreme court about the January 6 riot – one about whether Donald Trump can be criminally prosecuted over his attempts to interfere with the 2020 election, and another on whether the justice department can prosecute rioters with obstruction charges.

Last week, the Times also revealed the Alito’s flew another flag, known as the “Appeal to Heaven”, at the couple’s vacation house in New Jersey in the late summer of 2023. The flag was also used by rioters during the insurrection. Alito has yet to comment on this second flag.

Baden told the Times the dispute with the Alitos appeared to center around yard signs that she and her now-husband put up after the 2020 election. She spoke of multiple brief encounters she had with Martha-Ann Alito, who appeared to be upset over the signs.

One day after Christmas, when the wind temporarily blew down the sign, Baden said she was approached by an older woman, who thanked her for taking it down. Baden realized the woman was Martha-Ann Alito. She told her that the sign would be staying up.

Later, following the January 6 insurrection, Baden and her partner put up more signs that said “Trump is a Fascist” and “You are Complicit”, though Baden’s mother took them down shortly after. Baden said that the sign was not targeting Alito’s wife specifically, but was rather a message to Republicans generally, but they appear to have led to a series of escalating neighborhood confrontations with the Alitos.

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