STATESVILLE, N.C. — The reality television star who has said he would go to jail before removing a huge American flag from his recreational vehicle store in North Carolina told cheering employees on Thursday that he would not take the banner down "under any circumstance."
Standing in the parking lot of Gander RV late Thursday afternoon, Marcus Lemonis declared to a group of workers and a gaggle of news media that he was not interested in the city of Statesville's offer to change a local ordinance regulating banner sizes to allow the giant flag to continue flying. What he wants, he said, is for them to eliminate all size restrictions on the American flag.
"This is about a city and a flag that does not belong to us, it doesn't belong to you; it belongs to all of us," said Lemonis, chief executive officer of Camping World, which owns Gander, and star of CNBC's reality television show "The Profit".
In announcing his visit to the site, Lemonis had said Wednesday that he wanted to show his support for workers "frustrated by the distraction" of the flag controversy.
Officials from the city about 40 miles (64 kilometers) north of Charlotte sued the company earlier this month over the flag, which measures 40 feet by 80 feet (12 meters by 24 meters) and hangs on a 130-foot-high (40-meter-high) flagpole next to I-77. The code limits flags to 25 feet by 40 feet (7.6 meters by 12 meters).
But Lemonis declared on Wednesday that he would go to jail before he'd take the banner down. Not long after that, Statesville Mayor Costi Kutteh issued a statement saying he had asked the city's planning department to change the dimensions allowed for flags displayed in a highway business zone.
"If passed, this amendment will permit the flag currently displayed ... to continue flying," the release said. Kutteh said the matter should be resolved at the department's meeting on July 15.
That's not good enough, Lemonis said Thursday.
"What we're asking for and what we're not going to back down on is ... for the city to modify the ordinance to eliminate the size of flag regulation and the size of pole regulation unless it interferes with the FAA, it interferes with people's health, wellness or safety, or it blocks the visibility of a consumer to another person's business," he said.
Employees cheered when he once again proclaimed, "The flag is not coming down under any circumstance."
Lemonis' attorneys were planning to file a response to the city's lawsuit. Lemonis said Wednesday that the response would cite First Amendment free-speech protections as well as a North Carolina law that prohibits size restrictions on official governmental flags except when necessary to protect public health, safety and welfare.
Daquane Messier, who's opening a new hookah lounge in Statesville, said he was rooting for Lemonis "because a win for him" as a business owner "is a win for me."
"Let them fly the flag," he said. "It can be a Confederate flag. It can be a neo-Nazi flag for all I care. You fly it. Because everyone has the freedom to express ourselves."
Treva Miller, who works for a school system near Gander RV, said she doesn't understand why the flag's size is such a big deal.
"It's a flag," Miller said. "It's not hurting anyone. It's not doing any damage. I'm not really sure what the controversy is."