Prior to the holidays, a vendor who had set up shop at a Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson mall was selling action figures with an overt political message mocking the commander-in-chief.
The incident prompted officials to update their advice to sellers on what is – and isn’t – appropriate to sell on the base.
The wooden figures of a bear stylized to look like former President Donald Trump, with a tuft of yellow hair and a long red tie, stood about a foot tall and carried small signs that read “Let’s Go Brandon.”
The phrase emerged this fall as a coded way to say “F—Joe Biden,” spreading from a viral NASCAR clip to a conservative meme. “Let’s Go Brandon” has become “fashionable” among Republican politicians seeking to establish conservative good faith; a rallying cry among protesters at President Biden’s public appearances; and a motto stamped on anti-Biden merchandise sold across the country, the Associated Press reported in October.
“Let’s Go Brandon” bears were sold at Commercial facility officially operated by JBER and were offered by an independent vendor, according to Chris Ward, senior director of public affairs for the Army and Air Force Exchange Service.
the Army and Air Force Exchange Service is a sort of commercial broker within the Department of Defense, overseeing the goods and services sold at US military installations. At bases around the world, exchanges are home to everything from fast-food chains to hair salons to small merchants running concession stands selling goods to soldiers, civilians, and their families.
On JBER, the bear figurine seller had a short-term contract with the venue, and by the time officials reviewed the item, the dealer had already gone out of business, according to Ward.
“The ornament is no longer sold in the mall,” Ward said, adding that it was an isolated incident.
Political discourse on military bases and among service members is not a black-and-white matter, and the guidelines include a series of caveats and exclusions that depend on factors such as active duty status, the type of support given to a cause and whether a person is making statements in a personal or professional capacity.
In general, within the framework of the 2020 program of the Ministry of Defense advice on political activity, active duty military personnel are not permitted to openly support politicians, causes, and campaigns that might make the military appear partisan. Civil Defense employees have greater latitude but cannot engage in political activities on federal installations.
“The Exchange regularly reviews products to determine compliance with the Exchange’s prohibition against selling illegal items, promoting the use of drugs or alcohol, containing racial/ethnic slurs, condoning racial/ethnic supremacy or to include obscene, profane and vulgar words, symbols or scenes,” Ward said.
So, does a figure featuring a cheeky, albeit insulting, political joke count as inappropriate political speech on a military base?
According to Ward, yes.
“Once this product was identified, it was determined to be outside of the established parameters for resale,” Ward said.
The exchange has not received any complaints about the objects, according to Ward, who did not respond to multiple requests for the company’s name, but he said the exchange would change its policies to prevent the appearance of similar items.
“Communication to incoming suppliers will reflect the need to exclude products of this nature in the future,” Ward said.