The owner of a Maine vehicle with a vanity license plate that combines a four-letter expletive with “US” says the resulting word is a disparaging reference to his car and is not meant to be disrespectful to the United States or intimidating to other drivers.

But Dustin Shaw, 25, of Auburn said his employer told him Friday that he shouldn’t be driving his car to his job at Bath Iron Works because some people might think it’s an offensive reference to the country. The plate contains the F-word, followed by “US.”

Shaw’s car is a Ford Focus and some of the model’s owners use that phrase as a derogatory reference to their cars. That was his intent, Shaw said Friday, and he’s not going to back down.

“The plate’s not changing,” he said.

Shaw’s car appeared in a photo Friday in the Press Herald, accompanying a story based on a complaint from woman who works at BIW. The vehicle also features a prominent decal of an AR-15 on the back window under the words “Assault Life.” On a side window are decals of other guns, under the words “My family.”

The woman who complained about the license plate and the accompanying decals said they are intimidating and threatening. But Shaw said that’s not his point.

“The plate’s not changing,” says Dustin Shaw, 25, of Auburn. He said he served two years in the Army, has a large flag and eagle tattoo and considers himself a patriot. Staff photo by Michele McDonald

“It’s just to be obnoxious, really,” Shaw said of the decals.

On Thursday, the Secretary of State’s Office said it could not reveal the registered owner of the Focus. The next day, Shaw came to the Press Herald offices to, he said, set the record straight on the plate’s reference and meaning.

Shaw said he served two years in the Army, has a large flag and eagle tattooed up his right arm, stretching to his back, and considers himself a patriot. As such, he rejects any suggestions that the plate is anti-U.S. He said the BIW official he spoke with about the license plate said he shouldn’t drive it to work because the company is a government contractor. The official also handed him a printout of the Press Herald story, he said.

A BIW spokesman declined to confirm that an official spoke to Shaw, who said he didn’t get the name of the man he spoke with.

Shaw said he hasn’t decided what to do about the official’s comment, which he considers a directive. He said he plans to talk to supervisors to see if they are seeking to ban him from driving the car to work.

Shaw has other options for transportation, he said, noting he could drive one of his other three cars, like his 1993 Mustang that has a vanity plate with what he says is a derogatory reference to his ex-girlfriend, or his 1972 Ford LTD with a vanity plate, KAPOW. His 2012 Taurus, he said, doesn’t have a vanity license plate, but all the alternatives to the Focus get poor gas mileage, compared to the 28 miles a gallon he gets in that car.

In addition, the car’s tires only cost $37 a piece, he said, so he can peel out all he wants.

Shaw parks his car on the street, not in a company lot, although he said it’s normally near the entrance to the company property in Bath.

He said he bought the car, which has prominent dents on the front driver’s side, for $200. It’s equipped with racks of bright lights, attached to the front and back of the roof. He shines them at drivers who don’t dim their brights, he said.

The damage to the car was there when he brought the car, Shaw said.

Shaw added that his parents and friends, who have nicknamed the car Felicia, all think the license plate is funny.

“They think it’s a riot,” he said.

In 2015, Maine changed the law to allow virtually unfettered speech on vanity plates. There are other plates with variations of what Shaw’s Focus has, featuring the F-word with various add-ons, such as “IT” and “U.”

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said the state now issues almost any vanity plate a car owner requests and pays for unless it contains a racial slur or might incite violence. Until 2015, staffers in Dunlap’s office reviewed vanity plate requests and rejected those considered offensive.

Dunlap said that he believes other limits on what a license plate says might not survive a court challenge. New Hampshire’s Supreme Court found in 2014 that license restrictions violated First Amendment speech rights.

Other states, however, found differently after Maine changed its law.

“If someone is dumb enough to put (expletive) on their license plates, they live with the consequences,” Dunlap said Thursday. “Having poor taste is not a violation of Maine law.”

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]