Williams made this preposterous claim during a panel discussion with the Weekly Standard's Mary Katharine Ham 25 minutes into the 8 pm Eastern hour. O'Reilly asked the NPR analyst about a point made by Fox News's Brit Hume in an earlier segment, that there's double-standard in the mainstream media in the amount of coverage of extremist imagery and language found at tea party rallies has been given versus equivalent imagery and language used at left-wing protests (a point raised by the MRC's Rich Noyes in an August 2009 Media Reality Check): "There's no doubt that the media will seize upon any kind of misbehavior on the right...Whereas if it happens on the left, it will, as Mary Katharine [Ham] said, be de-emphasized or ignored entirely. So that's a corrupt media system, isn't it?"
The guest raised the militia issue at the end of his answer:
WILLIAMS: I think we're out of context here. If we're talking about- you know, somebody going after Ronald Reagan- you know, one guy who's in love with Jodie Foster, okay- if we're talking about that. You know, people who have a lot of hatred- hateful attitudes towards President Bush, and then somebody who is extremist on the fringe, yes. And if that was also to be then the case with the tea party, yes, that's too much and unfair. But, when you start to see militia groups start to associate with the tea party, when you see the flag-
O'Reilly then interjected and replied, "Whoa, whoa, whoa! Let me stop you there. I haven't seen militia groups associating with the tea party." Williams continued with his bizarre flag point:
WILLIAMS. Oh, let me tell you something, the flag- the tea party flag is now- you know, for example, they use the same kind of imagery-
O'REILLY: The 'Don't Tread on Me' flag?
WILLIAMS: Yeah, the one with the snake- that's the same imagery-
O'REILLY: Well, that's from the Revolutionary War.
WILLIAMS No, no, no. But it's taken away- it's taken away- obviously, it's not the same flag. It's not the flag that you see flying up in the New England states. It's a separate flag- it's a new flag that they have created. But it's the same imagery that was on Timothy McVeigh, you know? I mean, this is the kind of thing that's worrisome to me. I don't see how you can get away from it.
O'REILLY: Oh, come on, Juan. You are smarter than that. You can't possibly think the tea party is taking any cue from Timothy McVeigh. That's suicide.
Perhaps Williams doesn't realize that there are at least three different versions of the "Don't Tread on Me" flag, all of which date back to the War for Independence. The First Naval Jack, a flag of thirteen red and white stripes with an uncoiled rattlesnake on it, was referenced in a letter written by Ben Franklin and John Adams in 1778 when they were serving as diplomats in Europe. The Gadsden Flag, which seems to be the more prevalent of the "Don't Tread on Me" flags flown at tea party demonstrations, is yellow and has a coiled rattlesnake on it. It is named after Colonel Christopher Gadsden from South Carolina, who flew the flag during the war. A variant of this flag, lighter in color and with the additional words "Liberty or Death," was flown by Minutemen from Culpeper, Virginia.
The flags have been used in most recent times as well, before the rise of the tea party movement in 2009. The conservative Evergreen Freedom Foundation of Olympia, Washington flew the Gadsden flag in 2005 in protest of the Supreme Court's Kelo v. City of New London decision on eminent domain. Nike, the world famous athletic apparel producer, uses the "Don't Tread on Me" and the coiled version of the rattlesnake in promotion of the U.S. men's soccer team.
More significantly, two branches of the U.S. military have used the "Don't Tread on Me" flags. The First Naval Jack has been flown on all U.S. naval vessels since the first anniversary of 9/11 in 2002. Marines flew the Gadsden Flag in over Kandahar, Afghanistan's airport shortly after its capture in 2001, and more recently in Helmand Province. But according to Juan Williams ludicrous reasoning, they must have been inspired by the Oklahoma City bomber.