Fans hold up an American flag during the playing of the national anthem before the USMNT's match against Germany in Connecticut in October. | Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

A new supporters group that opposed Pride flags at games and pledged to “change U.S. Soccer fandom forever” appears to have backtracked on its mission within days.

“States United” started up last week with a promise of “no politics, no bureaucracy” and vowed to bring all fans of the national team together in a “unified community.”

However, controversial social media posts on the group’s channels quickly drew criticism and none of those accounts were still active at the time of writing.

One post stated that Pride flags would be something that the group “don’t want to see” at sports events.

Meanwhile, a “States United” launch video that referred only to the U.S. men’s national team, with no mention of the women’s team, was roundly mocked.

One reason for that was because the fan speaking directly to camera in the video to promote the group was wearing an LAFC club jersey, not a national team shirt.

A “States United” website, blue-tick X account, other social media channels, sign-up form and a Venmo donation page were all launched online around 15 May. The website was offline in recent days but has since returned.

Largely in response to “States United” and its apparent aversion to Pride flags and the USWNT, a new group called “Rainbow Bandits” has also been set up.

Its first tweet read: “We are the loud, proud supporters of the U.S. women’s and men’s teams, championing LGBTQ+ rights and the ability to cheer on your team however you want! 

“Join us for a safe, welcoming environment for all — except intolerant dicks.”

The creator of “Rainbow Bandits” is Michael Schafer, the founder of Miami-based custom apparel brand Olive & York, longtime supporters of the U.S. national teams and community soccer clubs.

“The appetite for something truly inclusive here in the U.S. is enormous so I hope we can play a small part in making that a reality,” he told Outsports.

Michael Schafer feels it’s time for an LGBTQ and allies fans group for U.S. Soccer | Image supplied by Michael Schafer

He wasn’t hugely surprised to see “States United” launch as a group but says the way they pitched themselves was eyebrow-raising.

“I’d interacted with some of their people on Twitter before,” said Schafer, “and they were very upfront about their views, such as asking us ‘why in the world would we want to do Pride stuff with the U.S. team because it should be totally apolitical’ and blah, blah, blah.

“Back then, they were already talking about starting their own group but I was still a little shocked that they’d try to be so brazen as to start a group like that.

“In some of their replies, they talked about how they wouldn’t allow Pride flags while if someone wanted to bring a Trump flag, they would prefer they didn’t bring it, but that it wouldn’t be banned. 

“So you could quickly see where their values were aligned and that’s the total opposite of our values at Olive & York.”

The account of an X user who claimed in his bio that he was the founder of “States United” has also now been shut down.

As for why the group came and went so quickly on social media, Schafer added: “Their video left a lot to be desired and it clearly wasn’t very well thought out.

“They tried backtracking, of course, and saying, ‘yes, we support the women’s team too’ — but that wasn’t evident in any of their initial launch videos or responses. It seemed disingenuous.”

Meanwhile, the new “Rainbow Bandits” account amassed close to 500 followers on X in its first 48 hours.

Schafer says the idea, which began with a logo posted on Instagram, was “sort of a tongue-in-cheek response” to “States United” but he soon started getting DMs from people asking if the group was real.

Across the Atlantic, there are already dedicated LGBTQ and allies supporters groups in England (Three Lions Pride), Scotland (Proud Tartan Army), Wales (The Rainbow Wall) and France (Bleus and Fiers).

In recent years, when men’s World Cups have been held in countries with discriminatory laws such as Qatar and Russia, these groups have also been at the forefront of human rights campaigning. In 2022, there was even a group called “Proud Maroons” created for the Qatari national team to help raise awareness of the discrimination that LGBTQ people face in the Gulf state.

Schafer says: “I know some of these other countries have had strong groups that have been going for years now and that’s so important for supporter culture, to have a space in which everyone can truly feel welcome. 

“We’ve lacked that on a national level here in the U.S. and there’s clearly a want for it. If we can turn this into something real, with real supporters behind it, I will be so happy.”

His main aim now is to identify people suitable to take leadership positions and to form a first board to determine the future of “Rainbow Bandits.”

Schafer also hopes to establish a connection with The American Outlaws, the leading U.S. supporters group which has over 30,000 members.

On Friday, the Outlaws launched their annual Prideraiser with proceeds going to Common Goal’s Play Proud initiative.

There are over 200 local chapters in the Outlaws family, based in cities across the country. Schafer says some of his customers have spoken of having negative experiences in certain chapters and he feels this may be at the root of the “States United” project.

“The customers told me their experiences were not very welcoming or friendly to their views or anything that even brings Pride into sports at all.

“Then there’s the whole argument that sports should not be political at all. That’s just so insane, especially for a national team. If those people knew anything about soccer history, they would know that it is inherently political.”

This summer, the USMNT hosts the 48th edition of the Copa America in 14 venues in what will be seen as an important dry run for the 2026 World Cup.

Also, new USWNT head coach Emma Hayes has just picked her first roster as she begins preparations for the Paris Olympics tournament with four home friendlies in June and July.

Schafer says there is still enough time to get “Rainbow Bandits” up and running so that the group can proudly show its support for the teams in those fixtures.

“We have an important summer coming up for U.S. Soccer and I really hope this group comes to life,” he adds.

“I hope it becomes a place where fans can cheer on however they want and feel totally safe and welcome, and a true community can grow. That’s what we’re all about.”