Featured image is from the Antifascist Network and depicts several protesters with a stolen fascist flag (the modified British flag). This flag is one example of merchandise produced that fuels the economic advancement and actions of fascists.
On today’s internet is is easier than ever for an individual to create, sell, and generate substantial profits from their own merchandise that they sell online through virtual storefronts and third-party manufacturers. Any layperson can create a shirt, a bumper sticker, or a pin without owning the means of production of these products. Although copyright law and the rights of individual artists and designers are still a concern for those who want to advocate for a particular cause (such as political campaigns), the right to modification of designs still exists. Many websites, such as Teespring, allow for individuals to raise money for 501c3 registered organizations without directly contacting those organizations at all. The real factor behind generating a profit is the ability of the individual creating the design to spread the link to their product and generate sales through marketing.
As the ability to propegate and sell designs has been extended, a new concern has arisen. It is far easier for those who want to raise money to support racism, misogyny, and other forms of systemic oppression of marginalized groups, to fundraise. I have written articles previously about Roosh V, who has written and published handbooks on Amazon that are guides on how to sexually assault and date-rape women. Although it would be difficult if not impossible for Roosh V to find a publisher willing to be associated with his content (more precisely, willing to assume the risk of public backlash from publication), Amazon’s publishing guidelines are far less strict. Roosh V’s books are lost in a sea of self-published works, spread only among those who follow his particular philosophy (and those who oppose him, who downvote and comment on his product pages).
Some websites do have guidelines for what they will and will not make available for purchase. For example, Spreadshirt, a manufacturer that I personally use for my designs, has an ethical guideline for the designs that they will and will not print. However, these guidelines are dependent on reporting violations of those designs. Therefore, it is still entirely possible for someone to use Spreadshirt to fundraise for particularly nasty organizations (such as those promoting fascism and white supremacy, for example). When the responsibility for reporting designs is placed in the hands of consumers, we end up with a far more liberal corporate atmosphere while sacrificing overall integrity. If there was a censorship board that was held accountable by the public, similar to how Facebook has a team that removes offensive posts, perhaps moderation of content would be easier.
In the United States it is generally held to be true that some forms of hateful speech are permissible due to free speech rights. However, when viewed through an economic lens, free speech does not exist in a vacuum. If I produce a Nazi flag and make it available for purchase, and someone purchases that flag, they are contributing to the funding of someone who holds racist beliefs strong enough that they would consider publicly selling a Nazi flag. While they personally may not care and in fact view this as a positive characteristic, those who oppose those beliefs should not use the excuse that hanging a manufactured flag is free speech and free speech alone.
Ultimately corporations, artists, and distributors are responsible for funding individual groups. We also need to change our mindset – when someone displays hateful memorabilia or products, they are not only displaying their own disgusting beliefs but continuing to the propagation of the system that encourages and supports these hateful beliefs.