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The neighbor at the center of the Justice Alito flag controversy speaks out

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It's not every day that a spat between neighbors becomes national news - unless one of the neighbors sits on the Supreme Court.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Recently, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito was forced to explain why an upside-down flag was raised in front of his house just after the January 6 attack on the Capitol. The flag is one of the totems embraced by election deniers, far-right groups and some supporters of former President Donald Trump. Alito said his wife put up the flag because of a fight with their neighbors.

MARTIN: The neighbor at the center of the dispute spoke with NPR's Tom Dreisbach, and he's with us now. Good morning, Tom.

TOM DREISBACH, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So tell us what the spat was about. Like, how did it get started?

DREISBACH: So it all starts on a street in Northern Virginia. On the one hand, you have the Alitos - Justice Samuel Alito and his wife, Martha-Ann. He's on the political right, of course. Down the block, you have Emily Baden and her family. She calls herself a leftist, and after Trump lost the 2020 election, Baden and her husband put up a sign in front of their house. On the one side, it said - paraphrasing for the radio here - F Trump. Then, after the January 6 attack on the Capitol, Baden put up another sign that said, Trump is a fascist, and, quote, "you are complicit" - and from what we understand, Martha-Ann Alito was not a fan of either sign. According to the New York Times, which broke the story, the upside-down flag started hanging in front of the Alitos' house around that time - and we should say, some Trump supporters were doing this at the time to show their opposition to Joe Biden taking office - but all of this was just a prelude to two more incidents on the block.

MARTIN: OK, so what happened next?

DREISBACH: First, Inauguration Day 2021, Emily Baden and her now-husband drive by the Alitos' house; Martha-Ann Alito is standing outside, and in Baden's version of events, Martha-Ann Alito yells something at them, and looks like she spits in the direction of the car. And then, a few weeks later, Emily Baden and her husband are in front of their house; Justice Alito and Martha-Ann Alito walk up, and here is what Emily Baden told us happened next. And a warning - there's some rough language here that we've bleeped.

EMILY BADEN: And then Mrs. Alito says something like, well, well, well, if it isn't the [expletive] fascists, and that was when I spoke back, and I said - I did obviously use an expletive, but I also said a lot of other things, like, how dare you behave this way?

DREISBACH: The expletive she used was the C word; she said she now regrets saying that. In any case, Baden says Justice Alito stayed quiet the whole time, and then he and Martha-Ann Alito both walked away.

MARTIN: So was that it? Was there anything else?

DREISBACH: Well, Baden and her husband were a little freaked out, because Martha-Ann Alito used their full names when she walked up, and they had never actually met. Here's Baden again.

BADEN: The power imbalance between these people and myself is huge. They're choosing to harass and intimidate us when we are nothing to them.

DREISBACH: Her husband actually called the cops. They said they would contact the Alitos' protective detail; not much else they could do, and that was the last interaction they had.

MARTIN: So what do the Alitos say about this?

DREISBACH: Well, Justice Alito sent a letter to Congress about all this, because Democrats were calling on him to recuse himself from two Trump-related cases involving January 6. Now, Alito claimed that his wife was solely responsible for putting up a flag upside down; she refused to take them down, in his version of events. He said her reasons for flying it are, quote, "not relevant for present purposes," but did note the argument with the Badens and the C word - but we know that argument on the street happened weeks after the Alitos had flown the upside down flag. We asked the Supreme Court about that discrepancy, and they did not respond.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Tom Dreisbach. Tom, thank you.

DREISBACH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tom Dreisbach is a correspondent on NPR's Investigations team focusing on breaking news stories.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
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