For his latest bizarre un-presidential decree, President-elect Donald Trump tweeted early Tuesday morning that he would imprison or strip away the citizenship of anyone who burns the American flag in protest, an act of intimidation that anyone with reasonable knowledge of the laws of this land has already recognized as blatantly unconstitutional. While it may be easy to laugh off such a proposal for being just that, Trump’s ideas about how he’d treat political dissidents as president has unearthed painful memories for those who’ve seen such dangerous rhetoric put into practice before. In response to Trump’s tweet, George Takei passionately defended freedom of speech, saying he “pledged allegiance to the flag every morning inside an internment camp” and, while he would never burn the flag now, he’d rather “die to protect the right to do so” than see Trump take it away.
In 1942, when Takei was 5 years old, he and his family were forced at gunpoint out of their Los Angeles home and into a tiny horse stable that had been converted into a Japanese-American internment camp. They were later transferred to a camp in Arkansas, where the Takei family lived throughout most of World War II until they were permitted back into Los Angeles. “As I looked past the U.S. flag out the window, the barbed wire of the camp [was] just visible behind it,” Takei once wrote of the cruel irony of pledging allegiance to a country that had imprisoned him. Takei, a longtime activist, has previously spoken out against Trump’s plan to register Muslims and, specifically, a Trump surrogate’s frightful suggestion that Japanese internment camps were precedent for having such a registry.