During the bloody storming of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, one man was photographed brandishing an item that raised eyebrows and hackles in a country far away: “walis tambo,” a soft broom from the Philippines.
Standing in the middle of the majestic rotunda of the Capitol building in Washington D.C., the masked man wore a U.S. flag as a cape and proudly held up the broomstick attached to a shield that read “False media = coup. Pandemic hoax = coup. Extremist groups = coup. Mail-in fraud = coup. Coup Flu Fighter.”
“Walis tambo” is an iconic Filipino item that sometimes displays the place where it was made on the handle. Netizens from the Southeast Asian country picked up on the unexpected pairing of a typical household broom sold across the country with one of the darkest days in modern American politics. They also poked fun at the man, whose identity is unknown, even as some social media sleuths claimed to have located his hometown in a northern Philippine province.
The mob was trying to prevent lawmakers from certifying the election results that declared Democratic challenger and President-elect Joe Biden the winner following President Donald Trump’s false claims of election fraud and inflammatory rhetoric on social media. Facebook has suspended his account and Twitter briefly did the same.
The world is still absorbing the shocking scenes from a country fiercely proud of its democratic traditions, as Trump supporters rampaged through the halls and clashed with police, sending lawmakers running for cover in barricaded rooms and leading to five deaths, including an officer.
But repeated examples of symbols linked to countries around Southeast Asia used by some members of the pro-Trump riot were a source of shame and anger, and not a little confusion, among observers.
In addition to the broom from the Philippines, there was the yellow and red-striped flag of the defeated South Vietnamese regime. The U.S. is home to large communities of Vietnamese-Americans whose relatives fled the south at the end of Vietnam War as refugees, and many of the older generation have traditionally voted Republican. Social media users in Cambodia also spotted their national flag right in the middle of the melee.
The sightings may have been understood by members of the community but were lost on some outside observers.
“As protesters gathered outside before swarming the #Capitol building, you can see the yellow flags of the old Saigon regime,” Vietnamese BBC journalist Nga Pham wrote on Twitter. “Many Vietnamese Americans, mainly of the older generation, are ardent Trump supporters.”
While Asian-American voters delivered for Biden in battleground states, one in three Asian-Americans across the country supported Trump, an analysis by the New York Times showed.
The 2020 Asian American Voter Survey, conducted before the November election, showed that about 48 percent of Vietnamese-Americans polled said they would vote for Trump.
Experts believe this is partially due to his anti-China rhetoric at the height of the pandemic.
The Philippine connection is more complicated, drawing in culture, history and religion. Having colonized the Philippines for decades, the U.S. is now a longtime political and economic ally of the country, and Filipinos consistently seek work and opportunity in America.
Philippine Ambassador to the U.S. Jose Manuel Romualdez confirmed in a TV interview that an unknown number of Filipino-Americans came to Washington all the way from different states to participate in the siege.
Many support Trump because his policies align with Catholic religious views on abortion and their economic position on immigration, which some see as possible competition for jobs.
While others laughed, the broom man was generally slammed on social media in the Philippines, as people expressed disgust at the support for Trump and the mob.
“You are a shame to us, you drop that prideful instrument of [Philippines] identity down,” one Twitter user wrote.
There were also more tongue-in-cheek responses, like this one purportedly from the broom itself: “For the record, we don't support pathetic despots.”