ERHARD, Minn. – A Confederate flag made a surprise visit to this town's Fourth of July parade Saturday, astonishing some paradegoers and prompting an investigation into a person who flaunted the controversial flag while promoting an auto parts company.
An employee of NAPA Auto Parts in nearby Pelican Rapids acted alone when he attached a Confederate flag to a vehicle featuring the NAPA logo and drove in the Erhard parade, said the employee's boss, Mark Farnam.
"That was his personal vehicle and his doing," Farnam said of the employee. "I'm disappointed that he chose to do that."
Farnam said he was "looking into the incident."
A photo from the parade in Erhard, a town of about 150 people in Otter Tail County, shows someone driving a vehicle with the NAPA logo on the side and three flags-the U.S. flag, the Confederate flag and a flag with the NAPA logo-attached to the back of the vehicle.
Farnam said the employee's decision was not "a NAPA-sponsored deal" and did not reflect the values of the company.
Garry Bowhall, a resident of rural Erhard who attended the parade, said it was going smoothly until the vehicle with the Confederate flag showed up.
In the 15 years he has attended the parade, it was the first time he saw the Confederate flag make an appearance, he said. He said it was particularly "stupid" to fly the Confederate flag in light of the debate that has recently exploded over it.
The killings of black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., on June 17 prompted debates about removing the Confederate flag from public places. Photos of the alleged shooter, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, who is white, show him posing with the Confederate flag.
"I just found it so appalling," said Bowhall, 64. Others around him were "livid," he added.
Another paradegoer, 29-year-old Ryan Ruud, was surprised to see the flag and took a picture, which he posted on social media.
"I was just disappointed because regardless of current events, it seems like it's not the most logical thing to fly on Independence Day," he said. "You would really fly the flag of a group that was trying to split" the nation?
Ruud, who runs a small marketing firm, likes to take pictures of good and bad examples of marketing. In this case, he said, the incident is "not the best representation of a brand" for NAPA. He said he will keep the photo as an "example of what not to do."
NAPA has lost at least one customer. Bowhall said he used to shop at the NAPA in Pelican Rapids, but he will "not go back there after this."
Apart from damaging NAPA's reputation, Bowhall said the incident sullied the city of Erhard and the region.
"It's not the kind of publicity we need in northern Minnesota," he said. "Frankly, it is an embarrassment for our community."
A person who answered the phone at the NAPA store in Pelican Rapids said the employee who flew the Confederate flag was not in, adding that "somebody said he's on vacation."
The Confederate flag also flew from a firetruck during a parade in Albert Lea, in southern Minnesota, during a parade Friday, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported. A firefighter, Brian Nielson, told the Star-Tribune he decided to fly the flag alone because he was frustrated with "political correctness." He was suspended from his job as a result.