Photo of Gadsden Flag Hanging From Southwest Airlines Cockpit Fuels Cover up Claims

A photo of a Gadsden flag purportedly being flown from the cockpit of a Southwest Airlines plane has gone viral as conservative figures continue to claim that the recent mass cancellations and delays that have hit the airline are due to staff protesting over the company's vaccine mandate.

The claims that the disruption was due to staff staging a walkout because they have to take the vaccine has been denied by Southwest Airlines, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA). But that has not stopped multiple prominent figures suggesting a cover up is taking place.

The photo of the yellow "Don't Tread On Me" flag was originally posted by right-wing pundit Benny Johnson on Twitter on Monday.

"This photo was just sent to me of a grounded Southwest plane flying a Gadsden flag out of the cockpit. The Hero Pilots at Southwest and other Airlines deserve our support," Johnson tweeted while the image of the flag.

"True patriots worthy of the American Freedom Fighter tradition. Don't Tread On Me. God Bless Them."

It is unclear when or where the photo was taken, if it is actually being flown from a Southwest plane, or who shared it with Johnson. A spokesperson for Southwest Airlines told Newsweek that they do not have any comment or information because they also cannot authenticate details about the image. Johnson has been contacted for comment.

This photo was just sent to me of a grounded Southwest plane flying a Gadsden flag out of the cockpit. The Hero Pilots at Southwest and other Airlines deserve our support. True patriots worthy of the American Freedom Fighter tradition.
Don’t Tread On Me.
God Bless Them 🇺🇸✈️🙏🏻

— Benny (@bennyjohnson) October 11, 2021

A number of other right-wing figures also shared the photo as apparent proof that the recent issues at Southwest were due to staff taking action against the vaccine mandate.

Nevada State Assemblyman Jim Wheeler tweeted: "I wonder if the air traffic controllers or the weather hung this flag out the copilot's window?"—a reference to Southwest blaming the disruption on air traffic control issues and bad weather.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz implied in response to the photo that the media was covering up stories of pilots protesting, tweeting: "Not possible. The corrupt corporate media told me this doesn't exist."

Bernard Kerik, the disgraced New York City police commissioner who obtained a presidential pardon from Donald Trump in 2020, wrote: "The Southwest Pilots aren't just doing this for themselves, but they're doing it for the entire country and every freedom loving American."

The Gadsden flag, which was designed by Christopher Gadsden during the American Revolution, is used as an anti-establishment symbol in modern times, including being adapted by the Tea Party movement.

More recently, it has also been prominent at far-right and extremist demonstrations along with the Confederate battle and white-supremacist flags, as well as being widely flown during the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

In a statement to Newsweek denying the claims that the disruption was due to pilots and air traffic controllers staging a demonstration against the vaccine mandate, a Southwest Airlines spokesperson said: "Our operational disruptions over the weekend were not a result of Southwest Employee demonstrations.

"Bad weather and ATC issues in Florida, a large operation for us, on Friday night created significant flight disruptions throughout our network and we spent the weekend working to recover from the high number of displaced Crews and aircraft."

Captain Casey Murray, president of SWAPA, dismissed the "false claims" of a vaccine mandate-related walkout as the reason for the disruptions.

"I can say with certainty that there are no work slowdowns or sickouts either related to the recent mandatory vaccine mandate or otherwise," he said in a statement

The FAA also stated in a tweet: "To be clear: None of the information from Southwest, its pilots union, or the FAA indicates that this weekend's cancellations were related to vaccine mandates."

Despite what officials are saying, Fox News' Tucker Carlson also repeated the claim that the canceled flights were due to planned action by pilots on Monday night.

"The official explanation came right away, it was bad weather on the Eastern Seaboard, there were thunderstorms, there were also unspecified issues with air traffic control and all of that together forced Southwest Airlines to cancel its flights," Carlson said.

"We can tell you it is untrue. All of that is a lie. It's not what happened," he added.

"We've spoken to several people with direct knowledge of what actually did happen. We can tell you that the shutdown of Southwest Airlines over the weekend was a direct consequence, it was a reaction to, Joe Biden's vaccine mandates."

Carlson claimed that some pilots are refusing to take the vaccine because they have immunity from already having the virus, claiming religious exemption, or have expressed concerns about potential side-effects.

"Yet others are taking a stand purely on principle, '' Carlson said. "They believe that in a free country, politicians should never be allowed to force citizens to submit to medical treatment they don't want."

The speculation about the cancellations arrived as SWAPA stated last week that they would be filing a Temporary Restraining Order in order to stop Southwest Airlines from proceeding with the mandate.

Gadsden flag southwest
(File photo) A man with a Gadsden flag, a U.S. flag, and a Confederate battle flag listens to a speaker during the Kentucky Freedom Rally at the capitol building on August 28, 2021 in Frankfort, Kentucky. An image of a Gadsden flag being flown from the cockpit of a Southwest Airlines plane cockpit has gone viral amid speculation of a vaccine mandate-related walkout. Jon Cherry/Getty Images