Remember When Rage Against the Machine Gave a Fiery Protest at Woodstock ’99?

Woodstock ’99 was full of controversial moments. Despite the event being created in an effort to rekindle the spirit of the original Woodstock, the bands booked to perform at the revamped festival infused more hatred into their sets than love.

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One of the most politically charged moments from the festival came during Rage Against the Machine’s set. The band has never shied away from making potentially controversial comments, but their stunt at Woodstock is perhaps their most polarizing.

Of all the protests one could engage in, burning the American flag is arguably the most ballsy. To many, burning the flag is akin to sacrilege and flag burners have secured their one-way ticket to the bad place. However, no one can deny it’s a clear and succinct way to get your point across.

[RELATED: Behind the Meaning of Rage Against the Machine’s 1992 Hit “Killing in the Name”]

While performing their anti-establishment anthem, “Killing in the Name,” RATM got the crowd riled up. As every performance of the song goes, the crowd used all their might to sing the chorus back to the band: Those who died are justified / For wearing the badge, they’re the chosen whites.

Toward the end of the song, bassist Tim Commerford lit the American flag placed on top of their amps on fire. The fire and the crowd’s riotous energy quickly spread. It was a true, devil-may-care rock n’ roll moment.

The stunt falls right in line with the message behind “Killing in the Name.” The lyrics are intended to incite a conversation about abuse of power. Though it has been used as a protest song in a number of scenarios, the lyrics were originally inspired by the Rodney King beating in 1991. The incident resulted in riots breaking out across Los Angeles after the police officers responsible were acquitted.

While the energy of the original Woodstock was overwhelmingly peaceful and focused on anti-war efforts, the nu-metal crowd in ’99 was not as forgiving. The crowd at Rage Against the Machine’s set was not merely hoping for change, they were demanding it. Though RATM’s stunt might seem a little harsh to some, it was the message those in the crowd hoped to hear from their favorite band.

While any other band may not have survived that stunt, it was all in a day’s work for RATM. They previously came under fire for hanging the flag upside down during their SNL performance. It ultimately got them banned from the program.

Revisit their Woodstock ’99 performance below.

(Photo by Astrida Valigorsky/Getty Images)

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