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Prosecutors drop case against man arrested for burning American flags outside White House

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Local prosecutors Tuesday dismissed remaining charges against a California man whose burning of two American flags outside the White House on the Fourth of July sparked a melee between ideologically opposed groups.

Gregory Lee “Joey” Johnson, 62, of San Francisco, had faced a felony charge of assault on a police officer after two officers said they were doused with an accelerant from a burning flag that made them ill and sent them to a hospital for treatment. That charge was dismissed a day after the burning incident.

Late Monday, prosecutors within the District’s Office of the Attorney General dismissed the remaining misdemeanor charges of inciting violence and disorderly conduct.

Activist at center of landmark case allowing flag burning faces charges after melee in front of White House

Johnson is a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party who espouses the slogan “imagine a world without America,” and he has made burning flags an integral part of his protest. It was Johnson’s burning of an American flag during a march against nuclear war in Dallas in 1984 that led to a landmark 1989 Supreme Court decision overturning his conviction for “desecration of a venerated object” and making flag-burning a constitutionally protected right.

“The First Amendment right to burn a flag survives,” Johnson’s attorney Mark Goldstone said. “Texas versus Johnson lives, for now.”

In a statement, a spokesman for Karl A. Racine, the District’s attorney general, said the office “evaluated all the evidence, including evidence that was not available at the time the original charging decision was made, and determined that it is appropriate to dismiss the charges against Mr. Johnson. While our office does not condone Mr. Johnson’s behavior, we will not proceed in the prosecution of this matter.”

Last week, in a two-page letter to Racine, Goldstone and Arthur B. Spitzer, co-legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia, encouraged prosecutors to dismiss the charges against Johnson. They argued there was no evidence Johnson tried to incite violence.

“As far as we can tell, there is no federal or District of Columbia criminal law that makes it an offense to burn something on Pennsylvania Avenue during daylight hours,” the men wrote. They added Johnson’s conduct was “entirely peaceful and non-threatening and therefore protected by the First Amendment.”

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