Protesters launch campaign against Shopify for selling far-right Breitbart merchandise

Maya Oppenheim
Breitbart News, the most widely-read Conservative site in the US, was founded by conservative commentator Andrew Breitbart in 2007 and was later expanded by senior Trump aide Steve Bannon: Generic photo of alt-right movement which is not from gallery

Breitbart’s merchandise reflects its style of journalism. From T-shirts telling migrants to “get in line” to hefty silver belt buckles which say “Unapologetically American” to beer holders which declare “Breitbart border control”, the far-right news site’s burgeoning merchandise collection is as inflammatory in tone as its headlines.

For this reason, Shopify, a Canadian e-commerce platform which hosts Breitbart News’ shop on their platform, is coming under strain from its employees and campaigners.

Roughly two dozen protesters gathered outside Shopify’s headquarters in Ottawa on Thursday to deliver a petition with almost 200,000 signatures. Presenting the tech company with an open letter, SumOfUs, a consumer-watchdog organisation leading the campaign, accused the tech company of “bankrolling hate speech”.

“Shopify is literally profiting off the merchandise sold in Breitbart's store, and thus profiting off Breitbart's message,” Emma Pullman, lead campaign strategist of SumOfUs, told The Independent.

“It has a simple choice to make: be complicit in white supremacy or hate, or not. Right now it's choosing to be complicit.”

Breitbart News, the most widely-read Conservative site in the US, was founded by conservative commentator Andrew Breitbart in 2007 and was later expanded by senior Trump aide Steve Bannon.

The chief strategist, who is a former executive chairman of the site, declared the publication "the platform for the alt-right” after taking the reins around four years ago and transforming the agenda from ultra-conservatism to anti-establishment, anti-immigrant, nationalist and overtly pro-Trump during the presidential election.

Breitbart is a platform for white nationalists who are trying to rebrand themselves as the ‘alt-right’, and has ambitions to export this hateful rhetoric around the world,” Ms Pullman said. “This rhetoric denigrates women, trans people, people of colour, refugees and immigrants.”

Shopify CEO, Tobias Lutke, has pushed back at pressure for the company to pull its links with Breitbart. Writing in a Medium post last month, Lutke said that while he does not support the opinions espoused by the site, he believes in protecting their right to free speech.

“We don’t like Breitbart, but products are speech and we are pro free speech,” he said. “This means protecting the right of organisations to use our platform even if they are unpopular or if we disagree with their premise, as long as they are within the law. That being said, if Breitbart calls us tomorrow and tells us that they are going to switch to another platform, we would be delighted.”

Lutke said he had received more than 10,000 emails, tweets and messages urging him to stop letting Breitbart sell merchandise via its platform. The “Delete Shopify” hashtag has gained increasing traction on Twitter in recent weeks as opposition to the partnership has mounted.

According to SumOfUs’ open letter, Breitbart is using its merchandise to fund its global expansion in the lead up to pivotal 2017 European elections. The controversial news site has been planning its European expansion for a while and hopes to set up outlets in France and Germany, where far-right parties are growing.

SumOfUs said 19,000 of the signatories on the petition were customers, while 790 were shareholders, and just over 100 were employees. However, the numbers are yet to be confirmed.

“I'm impressed that at a company of Shopify's size, 100 signed this petition. That's considerable and should be a big flag for the company,” Emma Pullman, lead campaign strategist of SumOfUs, told The Independent.

There have been reports of internal conflict within Shopify, which has over 1,900 employees, as some staff are said to be upset about the Breitbart partnership.

“I've actually spoken to two former Shopify employees who have painted a picture of quite significant internal struggle over Shopify's refusal to ditch Breitbart,” an unnamed source said.

Critics argue the company’s decision to host the news site is at odds with its ethos. Several of the company’s executives have proudly applauded their immigrant roots and its executives openly condemned President Donald Trump’s hard-line immigration ban.

“Shopify supports the rights of citizens to engage in free speech and peaceful protest,” a spokesperson for the company told The Independent.

“Shopify is a platform that provides software to help businesses sell their products. The use of our platform by merchants is not an endorsement. Shopify does not endorse, fund or advertise with Breitbart”.

Breitbart, which has mounting access to the White House, was dubbed “Trumpbart” before Mr Trump entered the White House. The President gave numerous interviews to the site in the build-up to the election, boosting its traffic to a 124 per cent spike in 2016.

Comment pieces published on the site include “Political Correctness Protects Muslim Rape Culture” and “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy”.

Donald Trump with Steve Bannon, former executive of Breitbart News and the President's chief strategist (Reuters)

Hundreds of advertisers have cut their links with the ultra-conservative site in recent weeks. According to Ms Pullman, in just a few months 1,300 companies and organisations have blacklisted Breitbart.

According to Sleeping Giants, the group behind the grassroots campaign, Audi, Visa, T-Mobile and Lufthansa have joined the growing list of companies to boycott the site. Campaigners have urged people on Twitter to oust the companies who advertise on the site by sharing screenshots of Breitbart ads.

Fox News reported the mounting boycott campaign is having a detrimental impact on Breitbart’s revenues, with “advertising dollars shrinking significantly".

A representative for Breitbart did not immediately respond to request for comment.

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