White Claw and order
Hard times for the Proud Boys' hard seltzer lover/seditious conspiracist
Editor’s note: I’m on the road this week covering the Brewers Association’s annual Craft Brewers Conference for VinePair in Nashville, Tennessee, where the retrograde and corrupt state legislature has yet to ban email newsletters (though I assume they’re trying.) No new boozeletter today, but in honor of former Proud Boys’ leader and “prolific” FBI snitch Enrique Tarrio getting his ass convicted of seditious conspiracy last week, I’m adapting a pair of Fingers Bangers™️ from the paywalled archives about his (and other right-wing operatives’) peculiar affinity for a particular hard seltzer brand. The piece below is based off this one from 10/9/2020, and this one from 1/11/2021. Read on, Fingers Fam, read on.—Dave.
In September 2020, members of the Proud Boys, a cohort of violent far-right trolls with white supremacist tendencies, infantilizing initiation rituals, and the tacit endorsement of the American president, held a rally in Portland, Oregon. The gathering was ostensibly held “in support President Donald Trump and the police,” and was supposed to draw tens of thousands, but reports from this paramilitary tailgate party in the Rose City indicate that only about 200 of these large adult sons showed up. Not a turnout of which to be proud, boys!
Your Fingers editor caught some headlines about the Proud Boys rally when it happened, but unfortunately our big dumb country is full of right-wing extremists these days, so it wasn’t until All Gas No Brakes host Andrew Callaghan released a video from the event a week later a that I realized that White Claw—yes, White Claw—had made a cameo in the proceedings. Skip to 0:36 of this dispatch:
That’s Proud Boys’ chairman Enrique Tarrio screaming “WHITE CLAW!!!” and “MANGO WHITE CLAW!!!” into the mic.
This was demonstrably weird behavior. But then again, Tarrio ran Latinos for Trump, has appeared in photos with noted Nixonite Mr. Peanut Roger Stone, and—though he identifies as Afro-Cuban—headed up an SPLC-designated extremist organization of self-avowed “Western chauvinists” who occasionally truck with skinheads. In other words, he has a knack for disorienting self-contradiction.
There’s a lot of chatter about who actually controls the Proud Boys, which in the intervening years have shifted their focus from general-purpose intimidation and peace-disturbing to showing up at libraries and breweries to assault young parents in the presence of their children. It was founded by notorious racist Canadian named Gavin McInnes, who supposedly quit the group late last decade. People have accused Tarrio and other non-white far-right leaders of tokenism designed to muddy the white supremacist waters, but I don’t really care to litigate the point. As the LA Times noted, “The absurdity is the point for the Proud Boys.” To wit, when President Trump was laid up with Covid at Walter Reed, McInnes showed up to pay fealty to our big, bed-ridden boy while drinking a Budweiser, and wearing a t-shirt covered with that brand’s logo plus a Trump 2020 flag for a cape. None of this has to make any sense to be bad for democracy!
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Anyway, back to Tarrio. If you hadn’t been following the extremely coveted and prestigious malt-beverage extremism beat during the Trump years, the fact that he was caught on camera shouting out his favorite hard seltzer brand (which still refuses to hire me for some reason) at a celebration of grassroots right-wing violence might not have seemed that significant too you. But here’s the thing: this wasn’t the first time the brand had turned up in extremist circles.
Back in May 2020, I reported for the now-doubly defunct MEL Magazine on White Claw’s popularity with gun-rights shitposters from the reddit forum /r/weekendgunnit. Many of the members of that subreddit proudly wore the cartoonish insignia and Hawaiian shirts of the boogaloo movement, and spent the summer roaming American streets heavily armed and trying to spark a second civil war. From the nut graf (emphasis added throughout):
In certain corners of the gun-owning internet, “ain’t no laws when you’re drinking Claws” functions as a Molon Labe for militant millennial males who are as taken with the hard seltzer’s effervescent low-carb wiles as they are with alt-right lingo and maybe-serious-maybe-not jokes about political violence.
To be fair, White Claw was then and mostly remains very popular across the board, so it stood to reason that some extremists enjoyed it. And it isn’t the only thing that Proud Boys drink in the AGNB video: you can see members near Tarrio drinking Budweiser. But the hard seltzer brand’s popularity with the American far-right doesn’t seem entirely chance, either. In the course of reporting the MEL story, I spoke with sociologist Helana Darwin, PhD, who mused about this a bit:
I don't think it's a coincidence that these are mainly white men jumping onto this [trend], and I don't think it's a coincidence that the brand that they've picked up on has the word 'white' in it. By enthusiastically consuming something with the word 'white' in it, it can become a little bit of a dog whistle for white nationalist men who are stockpiling ammunition and guns anyway.
She was reacting to redditor boog bois’ infatuation with White Claw when she made that observation, and that was six months prior to Tarrio’s full-throated public endorsement of the mango varietal. But her comment seemed eerily prescient. Maybe it was something, maybe it was nothing. After all, the absurdity is the point.
As for White Claw itself: I can’t imagine “becoming the preferred drink of the most high-profile far-right extremists in America” was in its marketing roadmap when the brand set out to sell boozy bubble water. White Claw declined several requests for an interview for the MEL piece, and declined my follow-ups for these items when they were originally published.
And yet, at no point since has White Claw taken the opportunity to publicly disavow the far-right groups that apparently love its titular flavored malt beverage. Even in 2020, there was precedent of consumer-facing brands doing exactly that sort of repudiation. In the wake of the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, when photos and videos of neo-Nazi chuds marching through the streets burning Tiki torches went viral, the purveyor that manufactures said torches issued a statement distancing itself from the march with the quickness. From a New York Times piece published August 2017:
Tiki, which is owned by the Wisconsin-based Lamplight Farms, denounced the white nationalists in a Facebook post on Aug. 12. “We do not support their message or the use of our products in this way,” it said. “Our products are designed to enhance backyard gatherings and to help family and friends connect with each other at home in their yard.”
Not the strongest disavowal, but hey—at least they gave it a shot! It’s not like this is the sort of press-release boilerplate kicking around on a homegoods brand’s marketing department share drive. Plus, this was early in the Trump administration, back when right-wing militias were just starting their ascent to the mainstream. But as Christopher Walken once sagely told Joe Dirt: The past is past, the future is now. In 2020, everybody knew who these paramilitary, anti-establishmentarian, white-supremacist groups were, what they wanted, and what they were willing to do to get it. By January 2021, when Cracker Barrel insurrectionists breached the U.S. Capitol after a month of increasingly violent rallies in Washington, D.C. over Trump’s electoral loss to Joe Brandon, no national brand could reasonably claim ignorance to this reality.
Some managed to hit this low bar. When a photo of Axe Body Spray in the detritus went viral, the cologne brand quickly issued a statement (via quote-tweet, lol) condemning the attempted coup. It made White Claw’s silence in October 2020—and again in December of that year when Trump supporters “knocked back White Claws [as they] stomped on a Black Lives Matter banner”—that much more deafening.