Mark Hastings, Florida-based CEO of BarProducts.com, is facing backlash for his participation in the Capitol riot. After posting a picture of himself in front of the Capitol building on Jan 6th wearing a Trump beanie, with the caption “Stop the steal!” many longtime customers have boycotted the company.
The backlash has caused some to criticize the boycott as cancel-culture-esque because Hastings did not enter the Capitol building and was expressing his right to free speech. The situation also speaks to the polarized nature of modern politics, a topic that bartenders try to avoid. Another participant in the Capitol riot who owned a flower shop in Texas and faced charges after bragging about entering Nancy Pelosi’s office, has seen her business plummet, with dozens of one-star reviews and comments calling her a domestic terrorist.
Hastings has removed the selfie from outside the Capitol, and asked the Wall Street Journal, which wrote about his predicament, to wait to publish the article until, “a time when conservative free speech is not under attack.” BarProducts.com, which boasts 60 employees and over 10,000 products for sale, wrote a now-deleted post stating that Mr. Hastings was expressing his personal views and not those of the company. Some believe that a CEO is a brand ambassador, and that there is little separation of identity. Over the past 5 years, there have been many firings and boycotts due to poor behavior in the private life of a businessperson or government official. Trump staffer Rob Porter resigned after multiple allegations of domestic abuse.
Many longtime customers have vowed to never spend another dime at BarProducts.com, instead turning to alternative outlets like Amazon to show the company that they are not safe from competition.
The Capitol riot seemed to be a turning point for many businesses, as a variety of large donors to the Republican Party vowed not to give campaign funds to any members of Congress that voted against certifying the Electoral College results, including Hallmark, American Express, MasterCard, Dow and Blue Cross Blue Shield.
Some call the boycott anti-free speech, an extension of cancel culture, while others call it voting with their dollar. Americans know how much their purchases and campaign contributions can make a difference, and the power of social media in rallying people into action has caused many business leaders to think twice about their posts and how they express their political views – with many learning the hard way, often having to step down from positions of power or watching their businesses lose significant profits.
It remains to be seen whether Mark Hastings’ post in front of the Capitol on January 6th will mean the end of BarProducts.com. The Wall Street Journal piece was the most high profile account of the incident, but many restaurant owners may not pay attention to the incident, preferring to use the convenient, moderately priced online outlet. Hastings did not take as high profile a stance in his support for Mr. Trump as the MyPillow CEO, who met with the former president on multiple occasions and whose products have now been taken off shelves in many popular home goods stores.