Veteran, CEO of company that makes 'Don't Tread on Me' shirts: Gadsden flag will not be 'hijacked' by racists

A military veteran and the CEO of Nine Line Apparel responded to the criticism of actor Chris Pratt for sporting an American flag shirt with the "Don't Tread on Me" symbol on the front.

Earlier this week, a Yahoo Movies UK article - which was later amended after being heavily criticized - was titled "Chris Pratt criticized for 'white supremacist' T-shirt." The article referenced a small number of people who criticized Pratt's shirt, which displayed the Gadsden flag, a symbol used by the U.S. military dating back to the American Revolution.

Tyler Merritt, CEO of Nine Line Apparel, one of the veteran-owned companies that sell the shirt, joined “Fox and Friends” Friday to offer his response. Merritt said his company, as well as others, have been making the shirt since 2005, and that he feels “patriotism has somehow become racism.”

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Asked what the symbol means to him, Merritt said it represents “the right to bear arms, and freedom of speech.”

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“‘Don’t tread on me’ means standing up for what it means to be an American. You can’t hijack my symbol. This is an American symbol for freedom.”

Forged Apparel, a veteran-owned company that produced the shirt quickly fired back at critics on Twitter, saying they were proud of the symbol, and that they would not recall the design.

“As we fought for our country, many of us wore the first Navy Jack flag on our sleeves of our uniforms. We are not Nike. We will not back down and recall out Gadsden flag shirts. Instead, we are going to re-release this design.”

The company referred to an incident that happened earlier this month, when Nike recalled a sneaker which was set to feature the Betsy Ross flag, after spokesperson Colin Kaepernick argued the flag was used during the era of slavery. Merritt said he encourages Nike to find a new spokesperson, saying Kaepernick should not serve as the organization's “moral guide.”

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Commenting on a string of similar incidents disrespecting the American flag and pledge of allegiance, Merritt said he worries for the future.

“These things have made the hair on my arm stand up because we fought for our freedoms and I want to bring my children up in a country that I’m proud of - and right now those actions are disgraceful.”