The Gadsden Flag is an iconic historical American flag that consists of a drawing of a coiled rattlesnake on a patch of grass with the phrase "DON'T TREAD ON ME" displayed below, all on a yellow background. Originally introduced during the American Revolution, the flag has since become associated with libertarianism and the Tea Party movement in the 21st century.
The design originated in 1775 as one of the flags used by the American navy during its revolutionary war against the British Empire. The use of the snake as a symbol and metaphor was already popular at the time; an early example was a political cartoon, "Join, or Die", created in the 1750s by Benjamin Franklin during the Seven Years' War (shown below). The cartoon featured the various states of the American colonies represented by the dismembered sections of a snake.
The original design was likely first used by the Marines of the newly formed American navy, though the precise origin is unknown. Colonel Christopher Gadsden, after whom the flag is named, saw the design and was so impressed by it that he ordered an official flag to be created with it.
Due to its historical significance as one of the first flags of the United States, the Gadsden flag has long been used as a symbol of American patriotism by members of the military service, and more recently, by the supporters of the U.S. national soccer teams including Sam's Army and The American Outlaws since the late 1980s. However, the flag saw its most notable modern resurgence in 2009, when it became unofficially adopted as a symbol of the American Tea Party movement. As a result of its prominent display during Tea Party rallies and protests, both the design of the Gadsden flag and the phrase "Don't Tread on Me" became a popular subject of parodies and mockeries online.
"No Step on Snek"
Around mid-to-late 2015, as "snek" (meaning "snake") and "this is snek", intentionally misspelled slang terms for "snake," gained widespread usage online, several parody images of the Gadsden Flag featuring the phrase "No Step on Snek" (in lieu of "Don't Tread on Me") began to surface on 4chan, Tumblr and Reddit, as well as a number of firearm accessories and other merchandises bearing the catchphrase (shown below).
On January 20th, 2016, Redditor Pazda submitted an image compilation featuring photoshopped parodies of the Gadsden flag from a thread on 4chan's /pol/ (politically incorrect) board, which included a minimalist rendition accompanied by the phrase "pls no step" in Comic Sans typeface. The post garnered more than 4,500 points (90% upvoted) prior to its archival.
In July 2016, "No Step on Snek" saw a noticeable surge in search interest after anti-fans of American pop singer-songwriter Taylor Swift began calling her a snake. On July 19th, 2016, Redditor DottyWine submitted an /r/outoftheloop post asking for the meaning of the phrase. On September 5th, Drawception user Rare Rarity started a thread titled "don't tread on me = no step on snek" with a crudely drawn version of the Gadsden flag. On October 21st, Redditor DeltaHDot submitted a photograph of U.S. military personnel holding up a hand-drawn version of the "no step on snek" flag to /r/funny, where it racked up over 6,340 points (83% upvoted) within a week.