A Salt Lake City coffee company said it will end its sponsorship of a Blaze Media podcast after it drew vitriol online over a photo of Kyle Rittenhouse, who is accused of killing two people during protests in Wisconsin, wearing a company T-shirt.
Elijah Schaffer, a reporter at Blaze Media, tweeted a since-removed photo of the 17-year-old wearing a Black Rifle Coffee Company shirt with the caption, “Kyle Rittenhouse drinks the best coffee in America.” The teenager was released Friday after supporters raised his $2 million bail.
Online, commenters questioned whether the coffee company had a sponsorship deal with Rittenhouse and accused it of supporting murder and hate.
“We do not support legal advocacy efforts,” said co-founder Evan Hafer in a statement. “We do not sponsor nor do we have a relationship with the 17-year-old facing charges in Kenosha, WI.”
The same photo was posted by attorney Lin Wood, who represents Rittenhouse and is assisting President Donald Trump in challenging the presidential election outcome in Georgia. Wood identified the two men standing with Rittenhouse as attorney John Pierce, at left, and actor Ricky Schroder.
Hafer said Black Rifle’s mission is to serve coffee and support veterans. “We believe in the integrity of the legal justice system, and support law enforcement officials,” he said.
Schaffer’s podcast, Slightly Offens*ve, was sponsored by Black Rifle, but a spokesperson for the coffee company told The Salt Lake Tribune that it is terminating that relationship.
She said the company is not going to comment on or draw conclusions about an ongoing legal matter.
“We don’t traffic in national tragedy and to us, that’s what this is,” she said. “We are not legal experts or members of law enforcement. We fully support all law enforcement officials and believe in the integrity of the legal system.”
The coffee company will continue to be a sponsor and supporter of Blaze Media, she said.
Rittenhouse faces charges that he allegedly shot and killed two people and injured a third during an August protest that followed the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis.
Still, Twitter users criticized Black Rifle for not explicitly condemning Rittenhouse’s alleged actions.
“You’d think if @blckriflecoffee DIDN’T condone the murder of two people at the hands of #KyleRittenhouse they’d speak up,” tweeted actress Yvette Nicole Brown.
In 2017, the company drew attention as the right wing’s preferred roaster after conservative pundits, including Donald Trump Jr. and Sean Hannity, praised it in the wake of controversy over the Keurig coffee machine company.
Keurig pulled its ads from Hannity’s show because he defended Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, who was accused of inappropriately touching a teenage girl and pursuing other teenagers in his 30s. After Hannity viewers said they were boycotting Keurig, Trump Jr. promoted Black Rifle Coffee on his Twitter page.
“Great coffee, great guys and great Americans @seanhannity I’ve had the chance to meet and hang out with them. Try it. #blackriflecoffeecompany,” Trump Jr. wrote.
At the time, Hafer told The Tribune he didn’t know anything about the accusations against Moore, and attributed controversy over the company to its conservative stance.
“We’re a controversial coffee company because we’re openly conservative,” said Hafer, whose company was then roasting about 1 million pounds of coffee each year. “When I say conservative, it’s because of the things that we really believe in. I believe in the Constitution. I believe in the Second Amendment. I believe in family.”