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- Former Defense Secretary James Mattis didn’t say this.
An image spreading on social media shows what looks like a dramatic statement attributed to Gen. James Mattis, who served as then-President Donald Trump’s secretary of defense before resigning in protest.
"James ‘Mad-Dog’ Mattis," reads the text above a photo of the general. "Forget jail: If you burn the American flag you’ll spend two years in the military. I promise you, you’ll be cured of the desire to burn a flag ever again. You’ll be waving it; saluting it; or you’ll be lying under it."
This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
We found no evidence that Mattis said this.
That caveat is missing as it spreads on social media today, and it was in 2019 when an Indian politician tweeted the faux Mattis quote. Alt News, a fact-checking website based in India, looked into the origins of the quote claim then and noted that the name "Mahesh Vikram Hegde" was stamped on the photo. Hegde had been arrested twice in the southwest Indian state of Karnataka for spreading misinformation, according to Alt News.
In June 2020, Mattis said that Trump’s actions threatened the U.S. Constitution. Flag-burning is considered "symbolic speech" under federal law, and the Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that it is protected by the First Amendment.
We rate claims that Mattis said this False.
Facebook post, May 18, 2021
The Atlantic, The man who couldn’t take it anymore, October 2019
Facebook post, Jan. 25, 2017
Me.me post, Jan. 26, 2017
Gautam Gambhir tweet, Sept. 4, 2019
Alt News, Is burning of American flag unlawful in the US? Gautam Gambhir shares a fake quote, Sept. 4, 2019
The Atlantic, James Mattis denounces President Trump, describes him as a threat to the Constitution, June 3, 2020
U.S. Courts, First Amendment: Free speech and flag burning, visited June 4, 2021
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