Texas Monthly has a fascinating story about how the Proud Boys - classified by the FBI as an "extremist group," by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “hate group," and currently implicated in the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol, with seditious conspiracy charges for multiple members - are now appropriating Buc-ee’s brand merchandise at rallies and protests.
From the Texas Monthly story, a report from a recent protest at which proud Boys members made an appearance:
"Some of their garb - tactical vests, black and yellow Fred Perry polo shirts, and black baseball caps with laurel wreath emblems - were instantly recognizable symbols of the Proud Boys, the all-male neofascist group that is routinely linked to political violence, including during the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, which led to seditious conspiracy charges for multiple members … several members of the group had added another distinctive garment: a bright red Bucky the Beaver face covering, complete with the rodent’s signature buck-toothed grin, arguably the foremost symbol of the Buc-ee’s chain of huge gas station emporiums.
"The same iconic, goofy smile is emblazoned above the entrance of more than forty stores across the state, coaxing drivers off the road and into the chain’s warehouse-size travel centers, where, among other things, shoppers can experience restrooms that have been designated America’s finest, purchase a deer hunting blind, or select from one of 83 types of soda. For untold numbers of Texas travelers, the quirky mascot, whose face graces everything from pillows and swimsuits to glassware and beef jerky, is more than a symbol of convenience, it’s a source of state pride that inspires cultish devotion."
In recent months, Texas Monthly writes, Proud Boys "have been spotted wearing the mask in cities across the state. Last month, at the NRA convention in Houston, Proud Boys wearing Bucky masks were spotted among the demonstrators outside the George R. Brown Convention Center. This month, at a city council meeting in Frisco, twenty miles north of Dallas, in which local leaders issued a proclamation designating June as Pride month, Proud Boys wearing Bucky masks openly mocked the proceedings and derided members of the LGBTQ+ community who were on hand, referring to them as 'pedophiles,' according to one account.
"Weeks earlier, the same masks were spotted during a violent confrontation between Proud Boys and student protesters at an anti-transgender event at the University of North Texas in Denton. Afterward, as video of the incident circulated online, surprised Redditors slammed the Proud Boys decision to co-opt Bucky’s 'good name.' And in recent weeks, the masks were again spotted among anti-gay activists in Frisco and outside a drag queen brunch in Arlington, which is located between Dallas and Fort Worth."
And, the story goes on:
"Should the mask grow in popularity among far-right activists, Buc-ee’s and its many fans might not find it cute at all. Ever since the black polo with yellow stripes (which sells for $90 at some stores) became part of the Proud Boys uniform - a phenomenon known as 'hatejacking' - Fred Perry, the British streetwear brand, has struggled to disassociate itself from far-right toxicity. The company published a lengthy statement calling the appropriation 'incredibly frustrating' and noting that lawyers had been summoned to stop any 'unlawful use of the brand.' Two years later, the statement remains, and so does the association between the Proud Boys and their shirt of choice.
"Fred Perry’s struggle is hardly a new one. Though it been embraced by various strains of counterculture, Dr. Martens, the British footwear brand, has never fully shed its association with Nazi skinheads. More recently, New Balance raced to distance itself from white supremacists after a neo-Nazi blogger declared the brand the 'official shoes of white people,' according to the Washington Post.
"Reached by email, Buc-ee’s declined to reveal whether the company was previously aware that its face masks were being worn by members of the Proud Boys. 'We have never had contact with these people and do not know who they are,' Jeff Nadalo, the general counsel of Buc-ee’s, told Texas Monthly, adding: 'No third party is going to prevent us from providing clean bathrooms equally to all people'."
- KC's View:
One of the things that the story suggests is that in some ways, Texans seem more outraged by the "hatejacking" than Buc-ee's management: "Texans are famously loyal to their favorite brands, and thus unlikely to hand over a beloved symbol of spotless restrooms, fresh brisket tacos, and sixty-pump gas stations without a fight."
That's how I feel when I read the weak-tea response by Buc-ee's lawyer. Really? In 2022 America, you "do not know who they are"? (You sell newspapers at Buc-ee's? Maybe you ought to try reading one.)
I think when a hate group tries to appropriate your brand and equate a poisonous philosophy with your name, that is the moment for the founders/owners to stand up themselves and condemn it. Without equivocation.
Keep in mind, this could happen to any brand at any time. Be vigilant.