A Utah flag manufacturer is promoting its new Betsy Ross designs and bumper stickers — made in response to Nike pulling its shoes with the same symbol, which some consider tied to white supremacy.
Colonial Flag owner Paul Swenson, a well-known conservative who runs the Sandy business, said he believes the flag is historic and “not a symbol of racism.” It was created during the Revolutionary War and features 13 white stars in a circle to represent the colonies. Swenson called it “the first real flag of our country."
“We’re going to have more people get it than the few losers that don’t,” he said Wednesday.
The company sent out an advertisement to sell its Betsy Ross flags and stickers “available online and in our showroom,” the email blast says. The merchandise is branded with the phrase “JUST FLY IT.” That’s a play, Swenson added, on Nike’s “Just do it.”
Nike announced it was yanking a sneaker line with the flags on Monday, according to The Wall Street Journal, which broke the news. Former NFL star Colin Kaepernick had told the company that it shouldn’t sell the July Fourth holiday shoes because of the negative associations with the early American flag.
Kaepernick, a Nike endorser and prominent activist since his ejection from the NFL for kneeling during the national anthem, said it’s connected to an era of slavery. Others have pointed out that the design was used by the American Nazi Party and has come to symbolize white supremacy movements.
Jeanetta Williams, president of the Salt Lake City branch of the NAACP, said she supports Nike’s decision to pull the line. “It takes courage to speak up," she said, "when you see injustices happening.”
Lex Scott, the founder of Black Lives Matter Utah, said using the flag is “not patriotic in any way.” And she believes Colonial Flag should be shamed for promoting it.
“It sounds to me like they want us to protest them," Scott said. “It’s basically them flaunting how racist they are. Racism is not always someone running down the street screaming the N-word.”
Swenson doesn’t think those are “rational” connections. And, he said, Kaepernick has “twisted and distorted it.”
“I could say basically that peanut butter is communist because somebody grinds up peanuts,” Swenson added. “It’s ridiculous.”
He continued: “I love the flag. Everybody loves the Betsy Ross flag. And if somebody wants to push back, then push back. We love capitalism, too.”
To that, Scott replied, “If they want to sell their souls for a profit, then I congratulate them.”
Swenson referred The Salt Lake Tribune to a statement from his company’s vexillologist, or flag expert, John M. Hartvigsen. It was titled “Keeping Old Glory above politics.”
“Those who do not choose to wear Nike Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July shoes, for whatever reason, have the freedom to not purchase or wear them; that is part of the freedoms that the U.S. flag represents,” Hartvigsen wrote. “However, others resent Nike’s decision based on a protest that may fail to represent America’s peoples on the whole.”
Swenson also said his company has been selling the Betsy Ross flags for some time now. Options on its website for those go up to $76.80. The stickers and the “JUST FLY IT” campaign are new.
The owner has previously hosted Tom Price, the former secretary of Health and Human Services for President Donald Trump, at his factory. And he showcased his flags at a White House event in July 2017.
Swenson was also applauded in 2015 for removing the Confederate flags from his business in the wake of the shooting at a historic black church in South Carolina.