Get PolitiFact in your inbox.
The activities of Barack and Michelle Obama provide endless fodder for chain emails critical of the first family. A reader recently sent us one based on an event that occurred on Michelle Obama’s March 2014 trip to China.
The email features a meme that’s based on a photo of the first lady. It shows her energetically waving two red flags, one in each hand. A superimposed caption reads, "Michelle Obama waves red communist flags on her taxpayer-funded visit to China. Anyone remember her ever waving an American flag?" The meme includes a Web address for Tea Party Nation, a Facebook-style social media website for conservatives.
The reader sent us the email wanting to know whether it is accurate, so we took a look. (Snopes.com beat us to the punch with a fact-check here.)
Was Obama waving "red communist flags"?
No, it was simply a bit of audience participation during a folk dancing exhibition.
It came as Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha were visiting an ancient wall in the former capital city of Xi’an. The exhibit "began with a breathtaking display of drumming and music by performers dressed in colorful traditional costumes," Michelle Obama wrote in her trip diary, which was later posted on the White House website.
Later that day, the family and its entourage watched a second group of drummers and folk dancers. "They did a lovely dance number for us (and my daughters and I joined in for some dancing at the end)," Obama wrote. A White House press pool report said Michelle Obama and Malia were "swaying to the music, mostly drums."
Photographs -- posted at the White House website and also in various media outlets, such as the Guardian and NBC News -- confirm that the flags in question are not the Chinese flag. The national flag of China features five gold stars on a solid red field. Instead, Michelle Obama is clearly holding much longer banners that were used during one of the folk-dancing celebrations. The dancers are wearing and carrying a variety of colors other than red, including shades of purple, yellow and green.
"Anyone remember her ever waving an American flag?"
Our online photo search pulled up at least one image of Michelle Obama waving a flag, taken while she was cheering on United States swimmers at the 2012 London Olympics.
We also found ample evidence that Obama appears to enjoy displays of red-white-and-blue patriotism.
For instance, on the eve of the London Olympics, Obama attended a sendoff for Team USA by wearing "a bright red peplum top and a white and red jacket that basically looked like a retro American flag," according to a Huffington Post account. "Standing against a navy backdrop, Michelle Obama would have made Betsy Ross proud."
In addition, Mrs. O -- a now-defunct blog "dedicated to chronicling the fashion and style of First Lady Michelle Obama" -- noted that when the Obamas celebrated July 4, 2012, on the South Lawn of the White House, Michelle Obama wore "a red and blue striped shell paired with a pleated, side button white skirt. The president did his part on the fashion front, sporting a patriotic red, white and blue cowboy hat."
And during a 2011 trip to Botswana, Obama was photographed looking thrilled when she was welcomed by 25 schoolchildren waving American flags.
The chain email said Michelle Obama waved "red communist flags" on her trip to China. In reality, she didn’t wave the national flag of China or any other "communist" flag -- she was simply waving long red banners during a folk-dancing exhibition. We rate the claim Pants on Fire.
Chain email sent to PolitiFact, March 2014
White House, "The First Lady's Travel Journal: Visiting the Xi'an City Wall," March 24, 2014
White House Press Office, "FLOTUS pool report xi'an city wall," March 24, 2014
Snopes.com, "False Flag Operation," April 1, 2014
Huffington Post, "Michelle Obama's Olympics Outfit Fits The Team USA Theme," July 27, 2012
The Guardian, "Michelle Obama in China – in pictures," March 24, 2014
NBC News, "First Lady Joins in With Chinese Folk Dance," March 24, 2014
Mrs. O blog, "Red, White and Blue," July 5, 2012
The YBF blog, "Michelle Obama Greeted By Chants Of 'Obama Ye-Le-Le' In Botswana!" June 24, 2011
Email interview with Joanna Rosholm, White House spokeswoman, April 2, 2014
Read About Our Process
In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.