The United States Space Force is now the country’s newest military branch, but that hasn’t stopped President Trump’s reelection campaign from continuing to raise money off it.
President Trump signed the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act on December 20. The $738 billion defense bill redesignated the preexisting Air Force Space Command as the U.S. Space Force, or USSF. It’s the first new military branch since 1947.
Although the Department of Defense prohibits its military service marks and branding from unauthorized use, the Trump campaign currently offers multiple Space Force-themed items in its online store.
Through an Air Force spokeswoman, the Space Force did not respond to a question about whether the branch had asked the Trump campaign to stop fundraising off the USSF. The Trump campaign did not respond to questions about whether it would now stop selling Space Force merchandise or if USSF had sent them a cease-and-desist notice.
The Trump campaign began selling Space Force hats and shirts around early 2019. Because the branch was merely proposed at the time, there was no military trademark for the campaign to infringe upon.
The campaign has recently expanded its Space Force offerings to include bumper stickers that are sold for $5 for a set of two.
While the campaign’s Space Force apparel does not appear to feature Trump branding, the bumper stickers include a Trump logo and his reelection slogan below an image of a space craft.
Will Goodwin, a U.S. Army veteran and director of government relations for the progressive group VoteVets, said in an interview with Yello the “gimmicky nature of this stuff, putting out these space camp-looking logos” and sending them out in fundraising emails, “trivializes military service” and is another example of Trump eroding norms as commander-in-chief.
“It’s not supposed to be some commercialized thing,” Goodwin said of military insignias and logos. “It’s not a schtick for political candidates.”
He said the Trump campaign “should be treated the same way as any campaign” and the USSF “should request that he stop and he should comply with that.”
Read more: [How Trump could use Space Force to rebrand for 2020]
Military branches are protective of their trademarks. A trademark infringement lawsuit was filed in 2017 against a New York liquor store due to the similarity of its name and the team nickname of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and a legal battle between the U.S. Army and the Vegas Golden Knights ended in 2018 with a “trademark coexistence agreement.” The military has also gone after political campaigns or groups.
In July, the Trademark Licensing Office for the U.S. Marine Corps sent a cease-and-desist notice to Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), a Marine veteran who used the Marine emblem in a mailer. Hunter announced in December he’s resigning from office after pleading guilty to misusing campaign funds.
In 2012, the director of the U.S. Marine Corps’ trademark office said a super PAC run by Trump’s future Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke didn’t have permission to use military branch insignias on its website and social media. Zinke resigned as secretary in 2018 amid multiple ethics investigations.
Brendan Fischer, federal reform program director at the Campaign Legal Center, said in an email there may be hesitancy to enforce Space Force trademark rights against the commander-in-chief’s campaign. He also said there also might be questions about whether the president can authorize this use of a military logo.
“Rules that limit the use of military logos or insignia in political campaigns are generally aimed at trying to prevent the politicization of the armed forces, and to avoid giving the impression that any military branch is endorsing or favoring any political candidate,” Fischer said.
“Although past candidates have touted their military service or foreign policy record, President Trump seems to be particularly blatant in using the military as a tool of partisan politics,” he said.
Fischer said the fact Space Force faced bipartisan opposition and Trump is now connecting the new branch to his campaign “raises questions about whether major government decisions are being made based on whether they offer a good branding opportunity for the president’s re-election campaign.”
The design of the Trump campaign’s Space Force merch is a far cry from the first-ever official USSF branding. A Space Force wordmark used on USSF social media accounts and in a splash image on its website appears to be custom and based on Contax Pro 665 or a similar typeface.
The wordmark is not an official Space Force logo, however, and was created for the announcement, Maj. Malinda Singleton told Yello in an email.
“The U.S. Space Force official seal and logos are being developed, and we are looking forward to unveiling them in the near future,” Singleton said.