This is Part 2 of a fascinating two-part interview Linda did with James Staake, Owner and COO of Your American Flag Store. James experienced the full force attack of big tech cancel culture, all because he produced various patriotic, custom ordered...
This is Part 2 of a fascinating two-part interview Linda did with James Staake, Owner and COO of Your American Flag Store. James experienced the full force attack of big tech cancel culture, all because he produced various patriotic, custom ordered flags. His social media ads were blocked, his email marketing was paused, his income was frozen, and the reputation of his company was at risk. Learn how he stood firm against the assaults and the steps he is taking to prevent this from happening to anyone again. If you are concerned about cancel culture affecting you or your business, be sure to listen to this educational and inspirational episode.
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Linda J. Hansen: Welcome. Thank you for tuning in to this episode of the Prosperity 101 - Breakroom Economics Podcast. My name is Linda J. Hansen, your host, and the author of Prosperity 101 - Job Security Through Business Prosperity: The Essential Guide to Understanding How Policy Affects Your Paycheck, and the creator of the Breakroom Economics Online Course. The book, the course and the entire podcast library can be found on prosperity101.com.
I seek to connect boardroom to breakroom and policy to paycheck, by empowering and encouraging employers to educate employees about the public policy issues that affect their jobs. My goal is to help people understand the foundations of prosperity, the policies of prosperity, and how to protect their prosperity by becoming informed, involved, and impactful. I believe this will lead to greater employee loyalty, engagement and retention, and to an increased awareness of the blessings and responsibilities of living in a free society.
Listen each week to hear from exciting guests and be sure to visit prosperity101.com. Thank you for tuning in today. If you are tired of the assaults upon small business owners, especially those who may have a business supportive of America and the values of God, family, and country, then you will be inspired as you listen to my discussion with James Staake, owner and COO of Your American Flag Store in Harriman, Tennessee. This is part two of a two part interview. And in the first interview, which is episode 121, James shared how his business was targeted by cancel culture overlords who sought to silence his pro-American speech and stifle his commerce.
In this episode, we will hear how James and his family decided to push back against the ruthless assaults to their freedoms of commerce and speech and how they hope to use their experience to help other cancel culture victims and to prevent this from happening to businesses and individuals in the future. Thank you for joining with me again today, James. Welcome.
James Staake: Thanks for having me back.
Linda J. Hansen: Okay. Well, to just summarize for the listeners who may not have heard our first episode, your company, Your American Flag Store, was originally thought of or conceived in the minds of your young son, who decided that you should be making wooden flags and have your wife painting them. You were a carpenter, she was an artist, and he thought this would be a great business that, out of respect and deference to him, you actually started your first flags. And they became very popular, you went to craft fairs in other places and they became quite well received and you received lots of orders. Your business was growing. Soon, it became not just a side business, but it became the focus business, the main business, for your family. And things were going along quite well until cancel culture hit. And just a brief synopsis for our listeners, you were basically canceled through Facebook and also PayPal. So let's just give a quick synopsis of what happened with Facebook first and then we'll discuss the PayPal issue.
James Staake: Okay. So we had started, we had learned the Facebook platform on how to market a business from there, which is crucial during the pandemic and during lockdowns. If you weren't online, business was closed. So we were scrambling to really understand that platform and get everything we could out of it, and we were. And then they just basically turned it off. They canceled us. So after we'd learned that we were canceled, we kind of scrambled to try to find other things to do. In doing that, we found one solution, and another big tech company came in, PayPal. They hit us by holding our money. Shopify was pulling our best selling products off of our website and Google was deleting all of our five star reviews. So the four companies all kind of coming in at one time, or really over what was 11 months of a pretty brutal fight.
We slowly moved away from all of those platforms, doing everything we could. So we met a guy, his name is Alex Avetoom, from Para Bellum PR. He heard about our story and he has a lot of experience with hardening business. He's an advisor to politicians, so he knows very well on how social media and these kinds of things can make it very harder for the messages that he's trying to deliver to knock it out. So he taught us what he learned on how to do it. And the first thing is that you have to get your advertising away from big tech. You can't trust them to do your advertising because they're just not going to do it, or they'll end it whenever they want.
Linda J. Hansen: Now you mentioned big tech and that advertising with big tech. In the first episode and listeners, again, I encourage you to go back and pick up more pieces of his story, listen to that. But you mentioned how Facebook had basically canceled all your advertising, only they didn't tell you. You did not know. You found out because orders had dropped drastically. In the first episode, we didn't mention the Shopify and Google aspects as well. So in this episode, I really want to talk about how it went from Facebook basically taking down all your ads, without telling you, and silencing your free speech, to PayPal holding up your money. After you got some PR and media about the Facebook issue, you got more orders and things were growing rapidly. And then PayPal came in and did their nefarious cancellations. But I'd like to have you share that.
But also, the Shopify and Google piece, let's go into that a little more in this episode so people can really get the full picture as they listen to this interview. I'm just so grateful for you being able to tell this story and thankful for you and other business owners who decided to stand up. You mentioned in the first episode that we did, which is, as I mentioned before, episode 121. That first interview, we talked about how people came in your path. And so these people who were helping you to basically fight back or know how to respond to proactively and not just reactively, how did that help make a difference, and at what point did they start entering into your life?
James Staake: Well, it was the difference between survival and bankruptcy. That's how important these people were in coming in. So it really started with Alex who had the PR firm, Para Bellum PR. And he just reached out. There's nothing for him. His business, there's no angle where we can work together. He could buy a flag and whatever, but he had no reason to help us. He just saw a family getting kicked around. He thought, "I know how to fix this. I'm going to share it with them." So he reached out and taught us how to harden our business. What that entails is finding a web host, a website host that is fair. Crazy idea, but just someone that will host your website that is going to be fair, that isn't going to discriminate it for any reason at all.
And there are WooCommerce is who we found. They're a great company. As long as we're not being destructive to anybody, they don't care. So they're very supportive. And then you have to find eCommerce companies, and there's dozens, dozens of eCommerce. The eCommerce, it's important for people to know that eCommerce comes into the picture because that's where PayPal was a part of our story. The eCommerce is who does the transaction, the actual money transaction on a website. The website has to have an eCommerce solution, when they transfer the money from a credit card to our bank account. So if that company decides for whatever reason that we're going to hold that money, that money is very briefly held in an escrow account. It goes from the consumer's account to this escrow, where they're holding it briefly and then over to your account. And that happens, in a normal transaction, that's a lightning fast type of thing. But in our case, what happened was that it came from the customer, but it never got to us and it was held in PayPal for almost 11 months.
Linda J. Hansen: So PayPal held your funds that you got from customers, especially at a time when sales had greatly increased due to different news stories that were done about your plight with Facebook.
James Staake: Correct.
Linda J. Hansen: So these sales came in record numbers, and I understand that you went to order lumber in a larger amount than usual. You were excited, your business was growing. And you found out this issue with PayPal had occurred because your card was not honored at the lumber company, in which you always do business. So can you explain how that came about?
James Staake: That's how we found out that PayPal had joined the fight. What's really important to know is that when cancel culture attacks, my experience is that it's very seldom that one of these companies can deliver a death blow. One of them can really hurt you and slow you down, but they know that it probably isn't going to take you down. But when you have a Facebook do something that can really hurt you, and then you have a Google do something that really hurts you and then you have these other companies. So let me briefly, if I can, explain. So Facebook comes in, they eliminate your advertising. That cuts off future sales. So you're cut off there. You don't have any revenue coming in. Then Shopify comes in and takes down your best selling products from your website.
So even if someone doesn't find you from Facebook, they find you from somewhere else, word of mouth say. They go to your website and say, "Hey, my friend said that you had a don't tread on me, flag. They get to the website, they can't find the don't tread on me flag because Shopify has taken it down. So now that sale's gone. Then PayPal comes in and holds all your money. So now, the customers that you do have, any business owner knows that the best advertising is repeat business. You treat a customer good, they're going to come back, they're going to tell their friends. So when they hold your money and you cannot give them the product that they've ordered and they're waiting months, and keep in mind, we're making art so people understand it takes a while to make what we make. It's not a Amazon purchase, you don't get it tomorrow. So they're willing to wait, months sometimes, for a very custom piece.
But what PayPal did was make our customers wait past 11 months. That's a long time to wait for any consumer. The good thing is that most of the people bought the flag, knowing. They bought it to support us because we were being attacked by big tech. So then we just have to communicate this to our customers. That's where Google comes in. They hit us in two different ways. The first way was that we sent out emails to people saying, "Hey, this is what's going on. Please give us time to sort it out." And we're thinking we're staying in communication with our customers. Well, we think we're doing a good job. Then we start getting phone calls saying we haven't gotten any communication. We haven't heard from you in weeks or months. What's going on? We sent them in another email saying, "We're very sorry. We're trying to stay in touch." We think that we communicate with them. Two weeks later, we get another email from the same customer, "Why haven't you guys responded?"
So I call this one customer, his name's Steve Fontez. He's out of California. Great guy, politically connected. He's a really nice guy. He says, "James, what is going on? I'm not hearing any communication from you." I said, "Steve, I've sent you, I think 10 or 11 emails now. James, I haven't gotten anything, I don't know what you're talking about." I said, "I'm going to get on my phone. I'm going to take a screenshot showing you," I think it was actually 13 emails that I had sent to him in two or three days and he didn't get any of them. I took a screenshot saying, "Steve, look, it says on my end, it's been delivered." So he's a tech person too. He starts looking into it and Google had opened up a cache that had all my emails in it. He never even got any of them. So there's no way for us to even know how many of our customers experienced that.
So the other way that Google hit us. So what's happened now, is that they've taken our current advertising so we don't get any new sales. They're limiting sales that we might get from residual customers being happy, by taking products off of our website. They're holding our money to where even if we have solutions to solve these things, we don't have the money to pay for it. So we don't have any solution. Even if we do have a solution, we can't pay for it.
Then lastly, we spent three years working our butts off, not one day off, not even Christmas. We did our Christmas morning, by evening, my wife and I are working again. We worked our butts off to get four star reviews from all the platforms so that you rank high. If you get a four or five star review, that means that Google starts showing you at the top of their searches because you're showing that you're a good customer and you're responsible, and so they'll push you more. After months, we kind of fixed everything. We got away from Shopify, we went to WooCommerce. That problem solved. We got away from PayPal, we chose our new eCommerce. Solved that problem. We got away from Facebook, we have advertising and we're working with relationships with podcasts and Newsmax and Fox News. So we don't need their advertising anymore.
Now let's say that someone on the new website comes in and wants to buy a purchase, right before they buy that purchase, they go over to Google to check our reviews, just to make sure. And all they see ,rather than having the 58 reviews that we've had, that were all five star except for two, which we have 4,500 customers... And I mean, geez, I got to be honest, with two customers, we dropped the ball. We dropped the ball and they gave us a one star review and we deserved it. So we tried to do our best to make up with them, send them whatever they ordered, give them a little bit extra. We have those two reviews.
But when we went over to Google, we found out that all the five star reviews are gone. The only two reviews that were left were two, one star reviews. The 48 or something that were five star reviews, they're all gone. So now we have someone with a new website, new eCommerce, new marketing, we're ready to go. The customer's about to make a purchase on our website. They go just to check on Google, to see our reviews and see a one star review, and that's it. So then they don't buy. There's no way we will ever know how many of those customers were about to make a purchase that didn't.
Linda J. Hansen: That is such a horrific story. And I'm guessing that some of our listeners are experiencing the same things and they may not even realize it because it took you a while to kind of peel back the layers of this as it all unfolded. And this obviously hurt your bottom line. I'm sure it put a lot of stress on your family and really just probably caused you to be discouraged and want to quit. But at the same time, there was something in you that said let's keep fighting. And you mentioned someone who came alongside of you to help with their PR firm. And you mentioned Harmeet Dhillon came along. And so what exactly were you able to do to correct the situations with Facebook and PayPal, and then, you really have some ideas for how to protect yourself and other entrepreneurs and business leaders in the future so cancel culture can't do this to them?
James Staake: Okay, so as briefly as I can, Facebook, the workaround with Facebook is to... I really found LinkedIn was the way to go. I really did. You can get in touch with so many people directly and start networking with the people there, find podcasts, find other resources that are Christian and conservative friendly, like Mammoth Nation, they're great. PublicSquare is a new up and comer that I think is going to be awesome. The good thing about free market is that PayPal, they took all of these services away from conservatives and other businesses that said, "Hey, look, that leaves a void." And they're coming into that marketplace fulfilling those voids, doing marketing and helping Christian companies and conservative companies get the fair exposure.
Linda J. Hansen: Right. And you mentioned LinkedIn being able to connect with people on LinkedIn, that's exactly how we connected. But there's also now different platforms have emerged. There's Parler, which actually had its own bout with cancel culture, as they were taken off the internet and out of app stores back around the same time you were canceled. And so they were taken down. But they're back up, they're back up and stronger, I think, than before. And Gettr, is another platform that's emerged. And then of course, Truth Social, which has just really taken off by storm and people are turning there. So there's new forms of social media and new platforms. There's many other website platforms, chat things, there's Substack. There's ways to get our messages out when cancel culture comes after us.
And like you said, this is also an opportunity for entrepreneurs, and iron sharpens iron. So a lot of times when you're together with others who have gone through similar hardships, you're stronger together and you're able to have a stronger message, a stronger strategy, and we don't have to take this sitting down. This is not what America is about. America is about free enterprise, the ability for people to thrive and flourish and to create businesses and care for their families and live in freedom. That's what America's about. And you've exhibited that, but you also have suffered under the hands of those who see a different agenda for America. Did you file suit or did you fight this in the courts? How did you rectify the situations with these entities?
James Staake: We're doing it two ways. Right now, we're still in the process of really defining the damages that were caused by each one. It's hard to put a number on it. So we're working with Center for American Liberty on really being able to prove the damages. And again, like I said earlier, how one company does a little thing, so it's very hard to really the puts them at the responsibility of it. They've got a very clever way of all working together that when one of them does something, doesn't do a whole lot. When all of them do it, it cripples a company. So that's what happened to us. We're in the process of working with that. I think the more important thing right now, the good thing is that Harmeet Dhillon and the Center for American Liberty are worrying about that fight for me.
They made it clear, make the flags, do your job, we'll do ours and they've got my back. So the more important thing that people can do is we have to start understanding that all people in their political views need to become a protected class, just like any other group of people out there. Unfortunately, we've gotten to the point where people are being excluded from services because of their political views. That's what happened to us. When you really look at all the details in, and by that, which exact flags we have had canceled. There's some flags that never been touched. There's certain flags with certain-
Linda J. Hansen: Images.
James Staake: Yeah.
Linda J. Hansen: And we talked about this-
James Staake: That they're associated with conservatism. Those are the ones, and only those ones were attacked.
Linda J. Hansen: We talked about that in part one of our discussion, and that you had flags that were honoring the military. Many of those were attacked. You had a flag that was custom made, custom ordered, with an image of Donald Trump on it. And you think that, that may have been the flag that sparked all the controversy with big tech and things, because there was a picture of Donald Trump on the flag. And you've even said, you would make a flag for every president, with the image of every president, if it was custom ordered. So it wasn't that you were choosing to promote or push out these flags of Donald Trump. They were custom ordered and it was a beautiful thing that they posted and they loved it. And that was when you started to be attacked, after that flag.
And that all happened around the time that Donald Trump was taken off Twitter, Parler was taken off the internet. You were canceled in many ways. I know that some email platforms, you mentioned your situation with Google, but I know that even MailChimp. And not sure about some of the others, but I know that male Chimp canceled conservative groups at that time. We just know that it was an all out effort to silence the conservative voice and to silence any form of patriotism or American pride. And heaven forbid, you might support the 45th president of the United States of America. You represent so many people.
Anyway, so you have this legal front, but then you're looking at moving forward and how to protect. And I know you are involved in and would like to help people do this in their states, drafting legislation to protect business owners and individuals who desire free speech. Basically, the ability to speak freely in your commerce, in your private speech, in your communication with people, we need to protect that. It is protected by our constitution. It is legally protected by our constitution, but clarifying it in legislation can be really helpful as we challenge the cancel culture of our times.
James Staake: It's really getting the politics of it. The two groups, conservatives and liberals, of course, both. The pendulum always swings back the other way. At some point, there's going to be a conservative that's being prejudicial towards a liberal and may have a business that they don't want them to use. I'm not really talking about a cake baker. It's similar to us, but it's different. We were in need of a service that was offered to everybody. And because we were conservative, we were not allowed to use, it's kind of a utility. It's Facebook and during a pandemic, everyone's in their house. The only way you could reach people is through social media and they said, "No, you can't come here." And they said that you can't come here because you made a Trump flag.
And I know that's that way, because it was our Trump flag that was canceled at that time. It wasn't any of the others. It wasn't until we started fighting back that all of a sudden, all the others started getting canceled. So we know what the motivation was, and maybe it was just caught up in some kind of algorithm. I think it's completely possible. I really don't think that there was an actual person that saw me and my wife and said, "Oh, I don't want them." I really think it was just, we're a flag company, and we had a lot of traction with the conservative people, particularly people that were Trump supporters. And I think that they saw it and they saw the momentum that we had and tried to take it from us. The good thing is that we got all of our momentum back plus way more, and we're going to try to use that momentum to get the legislation.
That's the perfect ending to our story. I believe the perfect ending to our story is not so much that we, our family, beat big tech. The perfect ending of this story is that we at least contributed to beating it for everybody, for all of us. Big tech tried to take down this little itty bitty flag company that was founded by a six year old boy, and that little company ended up taking down big tech. That's the story I want my kids, like when my son's a grandpa one day, I want him to say, "Let me tell you about a story about your great grandpa, and that we took on big tech and that we went to Congress." That would be the best thing, just to make sure that our kids know and my grandkids know that when push came to shove, we were right. We hadn't done anything wrong, we stood up.
And greats thing happen when you're right, when you really are right, people feel it and they come to you, they take your back and all of their collective energy turns into a momentum that I'm hoping that big tech really regrets having ever created with us.
Linda J. Hansen: Well, your ending of your story, or what you said would be the hopeful end of your story, that this is a legacy created for your children and grandchildren and for all of our descendants, really, that we can fight back. Our forefathers, the ones who founded our nation, they fought back against tyranny. We think of those in the greatest generation. My parents, grandparents, that generation that really fought back against tyranny and we're really fighting back against a different type of tyranny now. It may be different than it's been seen in the past, but we are definitely fighting tyranny and lack of freedom here. And so if we truly want this country to be the land of opportunity, the land of freedom, the land of prosperity for not only us and our children, but to really be that beacon light of freedom for the world, as we have been in the past. We have to stand up to this.
And so I really do appreciate you and your wife, your family, your little boy who had the vision for this company. Little did he know how God would use this company. And I think of you guys as David against Goliath, the biblical story of David. He only had five smooth stones, but he had a heart full of love for God and he knew he was called to that moment. And you were called to this moment. So we just hope the very best for you, for your family, for your company. And if people want to get a hold of you, what is the website?
James Staake: It's YourAmericanFlagStore.com.
Linda J. Hansen: Okay, YourAmericanFlagStore.com. And employers, employees, individuals, whoever's listening now, if you want to help, please go to the website, order a flag. But also, look at what legislation is in your state. Talk to your elected officials about making sure that we are protecting speech and commerce for all of our citizens, whatever side of the fence they're on politically. So if they'd like to get in touch with you regarding that, they can go to the website and just reach out to you from there. YourAmericanFlagStore.com. Do you have any other closing comments here before we close this?
James Staake: No, just thank you. This is the format that I really needed to tell... There's a lot of parts to the story and it's very hard for people to really understand all the complexities of it and how all of these things kind of tie in. And I'm hoping that people will have maybe a little bit more understanding of what the small business guy is doing and go out there and support those small businesses in your area or on the internet or wherever. If there's a small business that has something you need go to them. Home Depot can afford a few less buckets of paint. But the small little hardware store, that guy, he needs to sell them. So go to the small businesses.
Linda J. Hansen: Well, exactly. And even the products at the larger big box store, look to see where they came from. I am a big supporter of made in America products and I get so incensed when I go shopping and I cannot find clothing or items for my home or anything that are not made in China. Why are we supporting basically an enemy of the US, an enemy of freedom with our dollars? So even if we do go to order something off of Amazon or go to a big box store of some sort, we can look and see who's providing that product, where is that product manufactured, what type of company, where is the company base. There are ways to support your small business owners, even if you are shopping in these big things, but it takes a little more time, a little more effort. And just remember that a strong America makes for a stronger world.
So thank you, James.
James Staake: Thank you.
Linda J. Hansen: Hopefully, we'll have you back and we'll follow up and see where these attempts at legislation and things go, and we'll see how your company's doing in a few months. And it'd be great to follow up. So thank you so much.
James Staake: Thank you for having me.
Linda J. Hansen: My pleasure. Thank you again for listening to the Prosperity 101 podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, share, and leave a great review. Don't forget to visit prosperity101.com to access the entire podcast library. To order my newest book, Job Security Through Business Prosperity: The Essential Guide to Understanding How Policy Affects Your Paycheck, or to enroll you or your employees in the Breakroom Economics Online Course, you can also receive the free ebook, 10 Tips for Helping Employees Understand How Public Policy Affects Their Paychecks. Freedom is never free. Understanding the foundations of prosperity and the policies of prosperity will help you to protect prosperity as you become informed, involved, and impactful. I give special thanks to our sponsors, Mathews Archery, Inc. and Wisconsin Stamping & Manufacturing. Please contact us today, at prosperity101.com, to let us know how we can serve you. Thank you.