The Howard Schultz of the right takes his coffee company public
Black Rifle Coffee Company has capitalized on conservatives’ demand to spend money on products tied to politics and social causes
A veteran-owned coffee company known for its support of law enforcement and the Second Amendment will go public by combining with a special-purpose acquisition company, the two entities announced yesterday.
Black Rifle Coffee Company was created in 2014 by Evan Hafer, a Jewish veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Green Beret and a CIA contractor. The beverage company came to be seen as a conservative counterweight to Starbucks, offering firearm-themed roasts like the AK-47 Espresso Blend and the Murdered Out Coffee Roast.
“Starbucks has been so successful at creating a multibillion-dollar market for specialty coffee in the United States that there are now most likely millions of latte drinkers who are not latte liberals,” Jason Zengerle wrote in a July profile of the company in The New York Times.
As the company has grown in size and revenue — it has some 600 employees, and increased its revenue from $1 million in 2015 to $163 million in 2020 — it has also become a political lightning rod.
“I think everyone needs to relax a little bit, laugh a little more, and remember that we are joking. We aren’t the evil monsters that some are making us out to be,” Hafer told the website AmmoLand in 2018 when asked about criticism of the company’s perceived “misogyny and gay-bashing.”
Black Rifle Coffee has partnered with popular conservative media outlets and figures, and the brand became something of a fashion statement for conservatives during the Trump years. Its ads appeared on the Blaze Media and on Fox News’s “Sean Hannity Tonight.” During former President Donald Trump’s administration, the company earned endorsements from Donald Trump, Jr., and far-right figures like blogger Jack Posobiec.
Black Rifle Coffee also supported some of Trump’s more extreme policies, including his ban on refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries. When Starbucks promised in 2017 to hire 10,000 refugees in response to that policy, Black Rifle Coffee pledged to hire 10,000 veterans. (Half of the company’s employees are veterans, Hafer told The Wall Street Journal.)
Hafer has taken issue with criticism that the company’s logos are reminiscent of Nazi imagery.
“Considering the fact that my COO and I are both Jewish, I have a huge issue with people who compare us to or accuse us of being Nazis,” Hafer told AmmoLand. “It proves just how crazy some people are, and how far they are willing to reach in order to criticize a company they don’t like. They are literally willing to call a Jew a Nazi in order to get traffic to their blog article or gain more Twitter followers.”
Twice in the past year, the company received fresh waves of national attention after controversial figures were seen in Black Rifle Coffee gear. Kyle Rittenhouse — who is on trial this week for the fatal shootings of two people at a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, Wis., last summer — was photographed in a Black Rifle Coffee shirt when he posted bail in November 2020. Two months later, a rioter who breached the Capitol on Jan. 6 was photographed holding sets of zip-tie handcuffs while wearing a Black Rifle Coffee hat.
But after disavowing Rittenhouse’s actions, Black Rifle Coffee faced new critics — its fans on the right. “When push comes to shove they are [expletive] liberals,” said far-right activist Nick Fuentes at the time. Scores of antisemitic attacks were directed at Hafer online.
Hafer and his spokesperson did not respond to multiple requests for comment.