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Confederate flags won't be sold by New Stanton company and others

Matthew Santoni
| Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017, 10:40 p.m.
Jeanette Lidey, from Scottdale, works to cut flags at Online Stores LLC's warehouse in New Stanton on Aug. 16, 2017.
Kyle Hodges
Jeanette Lidey, from Scottdale, works to cut flags at Online Stores LLC's warehouse in New Stanton on Aug. 16, 2017.
Vicki Kern works to staple flags to poles at Online Stores LLC's warehouse in New Stanton on Aug. 16, 2017.
Kyle Hodges
Vicki Kern works to staple flags to poles at Online Stores LLC's warehouse in New Stanton on Aug. 16, 2017.

The flags of the Confederacy flew again over Charlottesville, Va., at last weekend's violent white-supremacist rallies, alongside the banners of neo-Nazis, pro-fascists and other organizations.

Confederate battle flags are a little harder to come by now than they were before 2015, when Dylann Roof killed nine black worshippers at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C., and started a backlash against symbols of the Confederacy and the Civil War he reportedly wanted to reignite.

New Stanton-based Online Stores LLC is now removing Confederate flag merchandise from its offerings in response to the Charlottesville violence, its CEO said.

“We don't want to be associated in any way with white supremacists,” said co-founder and CEO Kevin Hickey.

The company, which bills itself as the second-largest flag retailer in the U nited States, resumed selling the Confederate battle flag after a brief pause post-Charleston, when Hickey said he had gotten 10 times as many complaints that they had stopped selling the flag than those calling for its removal from the online store.

Confederate flags were a small fraction of overall flag sales, Hickey said. There had been no apparent change in the sales of the flags lately with no jump or decline he was aware of, although other retailers, including Amazon, eBay and Wal-Mart, stopped selling them after the Charleston massacre.

A man answering the phone at the Flag Factory in Castle Shannon said the store no longer carries the Confederate battle flag. He declined to give his name or elaborate.

Their supplier, New Jersey-based Annin Flagmakers, stopped making the flags in July 2015, spokeswoman Mary Repke said.

“We only made a few a year and sold them to Civil War re-enactors,” Repke said. “Annin, Valley Forge, Flag Zone and Flag Source — none of us make them anymore.”

They still make and sell some flags historically used by the Confederacy and state flags that incorporate the former Confederate flag.

The U.S. Flag Depot Inc. in Waukegan, Ill., states on its website that Confederate flags are currently unavailable.

Owner Duane Streufert said his vendor also stopped supplying them after the Charleston shooting.

“It was a decision made by a whole group of flag producers ... that went on to include all the Civil War-era battle flags, including the Bonnie Blue flag,” he said. “I understand why they made that decision.

“I didn't sell them with the idea of promoting a viewpoint. My interest was more historical,” Streufert said.

Confederate flags can still enter the market through smaller manufacturers, custom-print vendors or importers, Repke said.

AmericanFlags.com was one of a few retailers that still had a page for the Confederate flag as of Wednesday afternoon, with the declaration that they were “recognizing that the Confederate flag, the rebel flag, the stars and bars and other civil war flags mean different things to different people.”

But by Wednesday night, that page had disappeared and redirected to a search page.

“Like other manufacturers and retailers, we have discontinued sales of the Confederate flag,” said Marketing Coordinator Susan Rogers in an email.

Other flags at Charlottesville bore Nazi swastikas and symbols of white-nationalist or white-supremacist groups that are less likely to be found at a neighborhood flag shop.

Repke said Annin's policy is to not print custom flags with symbols of hate groups, and the company occasionally sends its representatives and retailers information about which symbols to reject.

“Our departments are well-trained; we will not make flags with signs of hatred,” she said. “We can say, ‘If you see something like this, we'll not make it.' ... If (retailers) want to sell it, they'll have to go through someone else.”

In New Stanton, Hickey said custom-flag orders from his company are vetted by customer-service representatives to filter out copyrighted or trademarked images. The company prints Nazi flags only if given a compelling reason, like one they made for a production of “The Sound of Music,” and rejected an order for a flag of the Islamic State.

But he admitted some of the more esoteric symbols associated with hate groups might slip through if staff members aren't familiar with them.

“We sell every different type of flag there is. ... We make no real judgments,” Hickey said.

Staff writer Stephen Huba contributed. Matthew Santoni is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724 836 6660, msantoni@tribweb.com or via Twitter @msantoni.

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