A Cave Creek critic of #RedForEd registered the name "Arizona Educators United" with the state last week, then forced a local firm to quit selling T-shirts bearing the name to help teachers.
Phoenix printing company Acme Prints and owner Dan Hargest were printing T-shirts with the highly recognizable logo of Arizona Educators United at cost, charging teachers just $6 per shirt in an effort to support their fight for increased pay and school funding.
But on April 23, Jasper Nichols contacted the printing shop. In a series of messages over Facebook and email, Nichols claimed that he was the president of an organization called "Arizona Educators United."
He sent them a link to the Arizona Corporation Commission's database, which shows Nichols reserved that name for a nonprofit entity on April 20.
"As of right now I have no intentions of pursuing any recourse," Nichols wrote in an email to Acme. "I understand your company had no ill intentions. Moving forward do not sell or manufacture anything with my organizations [sic] name on it."
Nichols misspelled the email address, so the email was never sent, but later he sent a screenshot of the same message to Acme Prints via Facebook.
At first, Hargest thought that Nichols was running a legitimate organization that happened to have the same name as the grassroots band of teachers fighting for increased pay. After realizing that Nicholas had indeed registered the name "Arizona Educators United" with the Secretary of State, Hargest stopped printing the T-shirt with those words and canceled the order form on his website out of an abundance of caution.
They started printing a new design that only said #RedForEd over the outline of the state of Arizona. But Nichols contacted Hargest again, this time by phone. Nichols demanded that Acme Prints cease selling that shirt, too.
During their phone conversation, it became clear to Hargest that Nichols was a conspiracy-minded crank. Nichols tried to convince Hargest to reveal who was ordering the T-shirts — he wanted to find out if unions or out-of-state interests were bankrolling #RedForEd, as he put it.
Confused, Hargest asked Nichols about his intentions.
"We want to see where the money’s coming from to print the shirts," Nichols told Hargest in a recording of the phone call that Hargest provided to Phoenix New Times. "I know where the whole thing is going and the purpose of it — which I don’t want to discuss, but I don’t like it."
Hargest started to ask a question, but Nichols interrupted him: "You and I should run the state, not outsiders, and certainly not unions and the union money."
Hargest explained to Nichols that pretty much all of Acme's 20,000 #RedForEd shirt sales have been from small orders, not bulk purchases, and certainly not from shadowy interests outside of Arizona.
"They bought them from me individually," Hargest told him. "No organization has bought more than 20 shirts."
Nichols argued with him that the #RedForEd movement may not be about raising the pay of Arizona teachers, and instead could be an attempt to "disrupt the State Legislature."
Nichols' Facebook page shows that he opposes the movement and has posted tasteless and derogatory messages on the movement's social media outlets.
"Anyone else shitposting on the #redfored page?" he wrote on Facebook on Thursday afternoon.
He included several images with the post, like one that showed armed, red-shirted gang members with the caption, "South Phoenix standing strong!"
In an interview, Nichols told New Times that he is a Cave Creek resident and is "over 70" — he declined to give his exact age. He said that he is a registered Republican and that he runs a general contracting construction business, Fez Construction.
Nichols provided paperwork that shows he also attempted to register the hashtag #redfored as a trademark with the Arizona Secretary of State, but that hashtag does not appear on the database.
When asked whether he set out to screw over #RedForEd or T-shirt shops, Nichols grew irritated. "It isn’t that we tried to take anything away from anybody or harm anybody. That’s the last thing I want to do, because that starts trouble," he said. "People come after you when you do that. We didn’t do that."
Nichols posed a question: What if he started printing his own publication at home called New Times? "What would you guys do then?" Nichols asked.
His logic doesn't add up. Nichols grabbed the registration for Arizona Educators United weeks after the grassroots organization started using that name, then immediately turned around and started contacting printers like Acme in an attempt to interrogate them over their shirt sales. It worked, partially: Hargest pulled one T-shirt design from their website as a result.
Hargest said Nichols' stunt didn't cause a dramatic effect on his business or efforts to help #RedForEd. But some customers told Hargest they were disappointed the Arizona Educators United shirt design is no longer available.
Nichols denies that he might have negatively affected T-shirt sales.
"I’m not going to put up with that bullshit that says I affected his life," Nichols said.
He denied that he is a conspiracy theorist, but speculated about the rapid growth of the #RedForEd movement and questioned whether 50,000 loosely organized people could march through downtown Phoenix wearing red without some other entity backing them.
"Is there money outside of this state helping this to grow this big so that that enthusiasm, effort, whatever, can be used in our upcoming elections and primaries?" Nichols said. "I’ve got the feeling that this might be the main thing here."
Nichols is full of excuses as to why he registered the group name. He said that he merely wanted to investigate a movement which he finds suspicious. He registered the nonprofit name with the Secretary of State when he realized that the grassroots teachers had not claimed it, and said that he contacted other printing shops in addition to Acme Prints, but never heard back.
Nichols claims that he would turn over the name to the #RedForEd teachers for $45.
The attempt to undermine the #RedForEd T-shirt initiative resembles other recent attacks on the Arizona teachers who are fighting for increased wages.
Last week, a local nightly news anchor with Fox10 Phoenix argued that #RedForEd was actually an attempt to legalize recreational marijuana in Arizona. (The anchor, Kari Lake, later apologized.) And Republican allies of Governor Doug Ducey have sought to discredit the teachers leading the charge, referring to them as partisan operatives or even far-left extremists.
Nichols told Hargest that he would allow the company to fulfill orders that were already in the delivery pipeline if Hargest explained the source of the orders.
"He kept going into these vast conspiracy theories about where this money is coming from," Hargest said.
In their phone call on Friday, Nichols told Hargest, "My intent is to figure an avenue to force whatever organization it is to expose if there is some influence coming from other than Arizona teachers, voters, and things like that, because I don’t want outside influence deciding anything about our public schools."
Nichols told Phoenix New Times that he was satisfied with Hargest's explanation after their phone call, and emphasized that he does not intend to block them from printing shirts going forward.
In fact, he most likely does not have the legal grounds to stop someone from printing shirts with those words, much less the hashtag #RedForEd, which has been a rallying cry of the school walkouts.
Registering trademarks or trade names with the Arizona Secretary of State does not grant exclusive rights and only serves as a public record, according to a representative of the Secretary of State's office. If Nichols was serious about blocking someone from printing T-shirts, he would need to obtain a trademark for the Arizona Educators United name and logo from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
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Nichols would not say whether he has discussed his effort to nab the name with an attorney.
Before printing the "Arizona Educators United" T-shirt design, Hargest obtained permission from the artist who created the logo. T-shirt orders for the #RedForEd design are still online, and Hargest said he has been working around the clock to fulfill T-shirt orders. Other local printing shops have been printing T-shirts to meet the demand, too.
Hargest wasn't bothered that Nichols pressured him to cancel one iteration of the T-shirt under false pretenses. However, when Nichols contacted their company last week, it made for a tense couple of days.
"In the back of my head, it was this nagging, 'But what if?’" Hargest said. "What if this guy really comes down hard, and he’s not just some paranoid dude?”