In March 2010, a group of Republican lawmakers unfurled a giant yellow flag from a balcony in the Capitol. It featured the image of a coiled rattlesnake and was emblazoned with the words, “Don’t Tread on Me.” Already a familiar sight at Tea Party rallies across the country, the flag was informally adopted that day as the emblem of a powerful movement that would change American politics and sweep into the House of Representatives in the months to come. But Tea Partiers are drawing a line between their love of the iconography and the reptile on the flag.
Last week federal officials announced that the government was considering putting the diamondback rattlesnake on an endangered species list. The reptile’s population is in steep decline, mainly due to the loss of its longleaf pine habitat and also to human hunting. “Eastern diamondbacks are rapidly disappearing all across the southeastern United States and in some states, they’ve more or less vanished,” Collette Adkins Giese, a reptile and amphibian specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, Ariz., told the Miami Herald.
Don’t expect Tea Party lawmakers to run to the rescue of their favorite reptile. The movement has crusaded against the Endangered Species Act, which it considers unconstitutional. In the Montana House, Tea Party-backed legislators voted to nullify the environmental law last year. Referring to the plight of the rattlesnake, prominent Tea Party blogger Alan Caruba told Mother Jones he wasn’t concerned.
“The very thought that the diamondback rattlesnake is endangered is absurd,” Caruba said. “There are a lot of mice and voles—so you know, we are not going to run out of rattlesnakes, either.”