Some Texas brands are spotted as apparel of choice in D.C. mob
SAN ANTONIO — Some of the rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 were decked out in apparel from two Texas companies — Black Rifle Coffee Co. and Grunt Style — that celebrate the military.
The products of these San Antonio companies appeared in pictures and video that flooded social media platforms and news coverage of the attack, alongside such brands as Carhartt, Nike and Under Armour — and a sea of President Donald Trump-inspired Tshirts and baseball caps.
The image of a masked man wearing a Black Rifle hat and carrying flex handcuffs in the Senate chamber went viral in the violence’s aftermath.
The FBI used the hat — with a rifle overlaid on a U.S. flag — along with other details to identify the man as Eric Gavelek Munchel of Nashville, Tenn., a Justice Department affidavit states. He was arrested Monday on charges of trespassing and disorderly conduct.
The hat remains on sale on the Black Rifle website for $26.99 plus shipping.
A veteran-owned business, Black Rifle sells premium coffee, but also does a thriving trade in Tshirts, hats and hoodies, as well as coffee mugs and tumblers.
Another photo from the riot shows a man wearing Grunt Style’s popular “F*** Your Feelings” shirt. He’d apparently climbed up scaffolding installed for Wednesday’s inauguration.
Black Rifle didn’t respond to requests for comment and hasn’t addressed the appearance of its apparel at the riot via social media.
On Friday, apparel maker Grunt Style released a statement to its customers condemning the violence.
“We have never, nor will we ever be a politically motivated brand, and we have zero tolerance for anyone that breaks our laws or infringes on our fellow Americans’ rights,” the company said. “We believe in equality for ALL and vehemently reject any person or group that does not support this fundamental right.
“The tragedy that occurred in our nation’s Capitol last week has produced images of individuals wearing our products. To be clear, we will not associate with anyone who threatens our Republic or promotes violence. These behaviors directly oppose all that Grunt Style stands for.”
Violent fringe groups appropriating brands is nothing new, according to Venky Shankar, research director at the Center for Retailing Studies at Texas A&M University in College Station. He called the phenomenon “brand jacking” or “brand hijacking.”
Examples include skinheads co-opting Fred Perry shirts and Doc Martens boots. More recently, the Proud Boys, an alt-right group, also adopted Fred Perry shirts.
“You may have a brand with a positioning or intended target, but then if it is adopted by a nontargeted group of people who can hijack the message, motto and positioning of the brand, then you have a case of ‘brand jacking,’ ” Shankar said. “And then what happens is that either the brand has to completely dissociate themselves with these unintended target users or they have to let it go.”
The danger of not responding to these unintended affiliations, Shankar said, is that they can damage the brand’s reputation and drive away customers.
“Your core users who did not subscribe to the idea of a fringe group hijacking (the brand) may stop adopting it,” he said.
Shankar said sticking to the middle ground may not work in grappling with this crisis communication challenge.
“The first step is address it head on and really issue a condemnation, and the second is do a very quick audit of where your brand is in your control — how many of these fringe groups have hijacked your brand?” he said.
“And then you have to develop a campaign,” he said, “using your focused target audience to really show your brand being used by them.”
Black Rifle’s headquarters is in San Antonio, and the firm has retail stores here and in Boerne.
In November, the company faced social media backlash from some conservative and gun rights activists after it distanced itself from a photo of Kyle Rittenhouse, the Kenosha, Wis., teenager accused of killing two Black Lives Matter protesters and wounding another on Aug. 25.
Rittenhouse wore a Black Coffee T-shirt in a photo after posting a $2 million bail. Actor Ricky Schroder, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell and other donors raised the money for Rittenhouse, who was 17 at the time of the shooting.
“We do not support legal advocacy efforts,” Black Rifle founder and CEO Evan Hafer said in a written statement at the time. “We do not sponsor nor do we have a relationship with the 17year-old facing charges in Kenosha.”
The attention stemming from the Capitol riot is the latest hit in what’s been a rough few months for Grunt Style following an online feud and lawsuit with its founder and former CEO, Daniel Alarik.
After moving the company to San Antonio in 2018, Alarik lost his controlling stake to investors in 2019. In August, he lost his employment contract with Grunt Style.
Accusations of a hostile work environment and gender discrimination followed the online spat between Alarik and the company. Alarik filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit against Grunt Style in October, seeking as much as $1 million in fees and damages.