Online retailer Amazon will pull Confederate flag items from its Web store, a person with knowledge of the matter said.

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Online retailer Amazon will pull Confederate flag items from its Web store, a person with knowledge of the matter said. That would make the Seattle company the latest retailer to ban such merchandise after racially charged shootings in a South Carolina church last week.

Amazon will soon begin removing the merchandise, said the person, who asked not to be identified as the plans haven’t been announced yet.

Amazon’s Facebook page lit up with demands from customers to cease selling items with the Southern rebel image or risk losing business. Controversy surrounding the Confederate flag intensified after Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old charged in the massacre of nine black worshippers in a historic church in Charleston, South Carolina, last week, was shown posing for pictures with it.

 

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Retailers have come under increasing scrutiny for selling objectionable items and have been forced to capitulate to social pressure. Last year Sears apologized after a ring with a swastika symbol appeared on the company’s online Marketplace site. Amazon also offered the ring for sale at the time, though that page was subsequently taken down.

A 3-foot by 5-foot Confederate battle flag for $4.85 is the fifth-most popular item in Amazon’s outdoor flags and banners collection, outselling the California state flag, No. 14, and the rainbow Gay Pride, No. 16. The only items more popular in the category are variations of the U.S. flag and a set of rings for mounting it on a pole.

EBay will ban the sale of the Confederate flag and many items containing the image “because we believe it has become a contemporary symbol of divisiveness and racism,” according to Johnna Hoff, director of communications for EBay. The company will block new listings as of Tuesday and begin to notify sellers who have current listings that are affected, and then will start to remove current listings, Hoff said.

Wal-Mart Stores said it would yank Confederate products, such as pocket knives and T-shirts, from its shops and Sears said it would eliminate merchandise from stores and its e-commerce site.

There’s no upside for any retail brand associated with sales of the Confederate flag,” said Allen Adamson, managing director at brand research firm Landor Associates. “This is a potato that’s too hot to handle.”

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While smaller retailers may be able to charge more for the paraphernalia, the Confederate flag is like Kryptonite for big retailers, who face far more downside from carrying the items than upside from revenue, Adamson said.

The flag, featuring a blue X filled with 13 stars on a red background, at the center of the controversy now was originally upheld as a sign of Southern pride and heritage and an homage to Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. In the following years, especially during the Civil Rights era, the banner became a divisive emblem of white supremacist groups.

In one photograph of Roof, he’s holding the Confederate flag in one hand and a pistol in the other. Another image shows him burning the American flag.

As with guns, any whiff of controversy may be good for business. “Ironically, it will make these items incredibly hot,” Adamson said. “For those folks who want it, they’ll pay more for it.”

Civil rights advocates hope the controversy will end the debate once and for all.

“It’s kind of an incredible thing to think that it’s been 150 years since the end of the Civil War and this racist imagery is that much part of the culture,” said Heidi Beirich, who tracks hate groups for the civil rights organization Southern Poverty Law Center. “You couldn’t image the same thing happening in Germany with the swastika.”