SALT LAKE CITY – Days after the Black Lives Matter Utah Chapter called the American flag a "symbol of hatred" and anyone who flies it "a racist" in a Fourth of July social media post that went viral, backlash from across the nation remains swift and relentless.
"When we Black Americans see this flag we know the person flying it is not safe to be around," the Black Lives Matter Utah Chapter wrote in the post on its webpage Sunday. "When we see this flag we know the person flying it is a racist. When we see this flag we know that the person flying it lives in a different America than we do. When we see this flag, we question your intelligence. We know to avoid you. It is a symbol of hatred."
Utah's own Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, issued a statement to the Deseret News on Thursday pushing back on the post as it continued to bring eyes across the nation on Utah.
"Our flag represents the greatest country in the history of the world. It stands for freedom and opportunity for all," Cox said. "It has stood the test of time as a beacon to the free and oppressed and too many lives have been lost to preserve that symbol and all its stands for. I refuse to let any white supremacy or Black Lives Matter groups change that."
Why would Black Lives Matter Utah make this extreme statement, when so many who fly the American flag are veterans, or other patriotic Americans honoring the sacrifices of those who have gone before?
Lex Scott, founder of the Black Lives Matter Utah Chapter, in an interview with the Deseret News doubled down on the post, saying it stirred a needed national conversation about how racist groups have flown the American flag without enough backlash from the general public.
"We see the Ku Klux Klan carrying the flag. We see the Proud Boys carrying the flag. ... We see the insurrectionists carrying the flag," Scott said. "We see all of these people carrying the flag during their hate protests, and the world never erupts in anger. They never show outrage when these groups do this."
If patriotic Americans have so much pride in their flag, Scott said they should do more to take it back from racist groups.
"When you use the flag as a hate symbol, we are going to tell you it's a hate symbol," Scott said. "I don't know how someone can watch the Ku Klux Klan fly a flag and then fly the same flag and not believe the same things unless we see outrage. And we don't see outrage."
The national backlash comes after the National Review published a story Wednesday with the headline "Black Lives Matter Utah Chapter Declares American Flag a 'Symbol of Hatred.'" The story was soon picked up by national outlets including Fox News.
Former Utah congressman and Fox News contributor Jason Chaffetz in a Thursday morning Twitter post called the comments "disgusting, more divisive, and flat out wrong," comments echoed throughout the days following the post.
Scott said she'd received hundreds of "hateful" phone calls and online comments — some of which she said included racist profanities and death threats.
"Literally, these people are proving our point," Scott said.
As angry commenters flooded the page, Scott placed controls on who could comment on the Facebook page's posts, and she said she considered shutting down all of Black Lives Matter Utah Chapter's Facebook pages. She said she's never liked the social media platform anyway, but continued to post throughout the day as criticism raged on.
Earlier Wednesday, Scott wrote in a now-deleted post "we will be taking all of our Facebook pages down" and urged supporters to sign up for Black Lives Matter Utah Chapter's newsletter on the group's website. But in the following hours, Scott continued to churn out posts — condemning and in some cases taunting the "hateful" commenters.
"These people are showing so much love," one Black Lives Matter Utah Chapter post read Wednesday evening. "I just don't know if I can take the pages down. I'm going to need 100 more hate messages to keep the page up. ... Just because you failed at the insurrection doesn't mean that you will fail at this."
Black Lives Matter Utah Chapter also added a page on its website titled "The American Flag," in which Scott detailed her position while acknowledging "I have started a huge controversy."
"I stand by my words," she wrote.
Some critics complained the message proved the narrative that Black Lives Matter was a "radical" group, Scott said. Utah's Black Lives Matter group is not affiliated with the national organization.
Criticism also came from some of the group's own members upset about the post, worried it went too far and "alienated" people.
Scott again defended the post, which she said she knew would be controversial.
"We don't hate America," she said. "This post and this conversation makes people extremely uncomfortable. It is extremely inflammatory. ... I'm very aware of that, and I just want to say to our allies out there, you're not growing unless you're uncomfortable."
Scott said it's "easy to throw on a Black Lives Matter T-shirt and a Black Lives Matter yard sign and call yourself an ally," but that support should go further.
"When the nation's symbol is being used for hate and I haven't heard anyone talk about it, I'm going to talk about it whether it's popular or not," Scott said. "I'm glad that I made the United States of America uncomfortable. Because we are extremely uncomfortable with how the American flag is being used for hate."