The press began to fill the area shortly after three, and moments after the clock struck four, a man entered the scene holding an American flag. He was instantly swarmed as reporters stumbled over one another to get a good shot. Firefighters armed with extinguishers rushed to his side, and police quickly surrounded him. The man looked confused and bewildered, and eventually clarified that he loved the flag and was not the protester they were looking for.
Not long after things had settled down, a protest group arrived along with Gregory Lee "Joey" Johnson — a man who made history after being arrested for burning a flag outside the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas in protest of the policies of the Reagan Administration. He was charged with desecration of a venerated object, convicted, and sentenced to one year in prison as well as handed a $2,000 fine.
Determined to fight the ruling, Johnson took the case to the Fifth Court of Appeals, but lost. Undeterred, he continued his fight in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals where his conviction was overturned on the grounds that his burning of the flag was constitutionally protected under the First Amendment as political speech.
"Recognizing that the right to differ is the centerpiece of our First Amendment freedoms, a government cannot mandate by fiat a feeling of unity in its citizens. Therefore that very same government cannot carve out a symbol of unity and prescribe a set of approved messages to be associated with that symbol," the court stated.
The state of Texas then took the issue to the Supreme Court, who agreed that it was an act of protected symbolic speech, legalizing it in the 48 states which had previously prohibited it.
As Johnson lit the flag ablaze outside a Republican convention once again, infuriated onlookers and police attempted to stop him.
As soon as the clash began, police from the nearby town square began to rush in that direction, prompting press and onlookers to also begin running towards the incident.
— Cassandra Fairbanks (@CassandraRules) July 20, 2016
Infowars reporter and veteran Joe Biggs was burnt while trying to snatch the flag away, and a video by Luke Rudkowski of We Are Change captured the tense scene. Many outlets originally reported that pepper spray was deployed, but the Cleveland Police Department has confirmed it was a fire extinguisher.
A voice can also be heard in the footage yelling, "you're on fire, stupid!"
— Cleveland Police (@CLEpolice) July 20, 2016
The Cleveland PD has also reported that two officers sustained minor injuries during the altercation.
Shortly after Johnson’s arrest, a woman who was with the group that he arrived with was also arrested for attempting to burn a flag.
A total of 23 people have been arrested for protest activities since the convention began on Monday, 18 of them in relation to Wednesday afternoon’s flag burning demonstration.
— Mike Hayes (@michaelhayes) July 20, 2016
While police have not released the names of protesters or charges they face, Cleveland defense attorney Terry Gilbert confirmed to ABC News that Johnson’s charges include failure to disperse and assaulting a police officer.