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Madison Czopek
By Madison Czopek May 3, 2023

District of Columbia flag is based on Washington family coat of arms, not ‘three-city empire’

If Your Time is short

  • Washington, D.C.’s flag is based on President George Washington’s family coat of arms. 

  • Neither Washington D.C. nor London are independent city-states, and we found nothing to substantiate claims that the two cities comprise an "interlocking empire" with the Vatican.

Three cities, two continents, one conspiracy theory. And the proof, allegedly, lies in one capital city flag. 

A TikTok video shared April 29 on Facebook made unsubstantiated claims about ancient links between London, the Vatican and Washington, D.C.. 

"Although geographically separate, the city-states of London, the Vatican and the District of Columbia are one interlocking empire called ‘Empire of the City,’" said the video’s narrator. "The flag of Washington’s District of Columbia has three red stars. One for each city state in the three-city empire." 

The narrator continued, claiming that the "corporate empire of three city states" controls the world economically, militarily and spiritually through London, Washington, D.C. and the Vatican, respectively. 

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 Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)

Washington, D.C.’s flag is white with three red stars at the top, above two red horizontal bars. But the stars do not represent the three cities identified in this conspiracy theory.

Advocates for District of Columbia statehood stage a rally and arrest event at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 8, 2023. (AP)

Featured Fact-check

The flag’s design is based on President George Washington’s family coat of arms, according to the city’s website and the Encyclopaedia Britannica

The Washington coat of arms featured three red stars above two red horizontal bars on a silver background, according to the website for Mount Vernon, Washington’s historic Virginia home. The person credited with designing the flag, Charles A.R. Dunn, later wrote that it felt natural that the Washington coat of arms be the inspiration for the District of Columbia flag.

We found no evidence to suggest that the stars on the flag represent London or the Vatican. 

The Vatican, in Rome, is the smallest independent state in the world and home to the Roman Catholic Church’s spiritual leaders, including the pope. The Vatican and the Catholic Church have long been topics of intrigue and the subject of conspiracy theories because of their history of secrecy and scandals.

Washington, D.C., and London are capital cities, not independent states. The phrase "Empire of the City" appears to stem from a book titled "The Empire Of ‘The City’: The Jekyll/Hyde Nature Of The British Government." The book centers London as the "The City," according to Goodreads, and is featured in the TikTok. 

But there’s no evidence to support conspiracy theories about Washington’s flag symbolizing three secret cities ruling the world. 

The stars do not represent London, the Vatican and Washington, D.C. The flag’s design was based on George Washington’s family coat of arms, which featured three stars. It does not legitimize an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory about these three cities.

We rate this claim Pants on Fire!

PolitiFact Researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

Our Sources

George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Coat of Arms, accessed May 2, 2023

D.C.’s Office of the Secretary, DC symbols, accessed May 2, 2023

Encyclopaedia Britannica, flag of Washington, D.C., accessed May 2, 2023

The Washington Post, The birth of the D.C. flag, Jan. 18, 2015

JSTOR, The Origins of the District of Columbia Flag, accessed 2 May 2023

Lead Stories, Fact Check: Video Does NOT Prove CNN Promoted Baseless 'Empire Of The City' Conspiracy, May 1, 2023

The Southern Poverty Law Center, Catholics and conspiracies, accessed May 2, 2023

BBC News, Vatican country profile, March 20, 2023

Lead Stories, Fact Check: The City Of London, The Vatican And Washington, D.C., Are NOT All Sovereign States, May 24, 2022

Reuters, Vatican has long history of intrigue and controversy, June 1, 2012

GoodReads, Empire Of The City: The Jekyll/Hyde Nature Of The British Government, accessed May 2, 2023

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More by Madison Czopek

District of Columbia flag is based on Washington family coat of arms, not ‘three-city empire’

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