Shopify is helping monetize the latest white nationalist meme

Milo Yiannopoulos gets help cashing in on racism.

A Canadian company refuses to remove Milo Yiannopoulos from its platform. (CREDIT: AP/SETH WENIG)
A Canadian company refuses to remove Milo Yiannopoulos from its platform. (CREDIT: AP/SETH WENIG)

Over the past week, trolls and white nationalists alike have coined a new phrase: “It’s Okay To Be White.” The genesis of the phrase, according to self-styled “national security reporter” Mike Cernovich, arose on the boards of 4chan.

The phrase – which appeared to pivot off of the “Don’t apologize for being white” fliers that recently peppered Boston College – bounced across white nationalist feeds through the week, reaching its way to some of the more prominent ethno-state proponents pushing their messages.

Unlike other messaging pushed by far-right accounts in the past, this one soon broke into the real world. A piece in The Washington Post attempted to tabulate the spread of fliers bearing the phrase, tracking messaging from Ohio to Maryland to Alberta, Canada, from college campuses to tree-lined avenues to, in one instance, a high school.

Targeting students is, of course, nothing new for white nationalists, and appears as much aimed at recruiting as it was trolling for trolling’s sake. Said one passerby who saw a flier, “I think it might say something about your message if you’re doing things in the dead of night when no one can confront you about anything.”

But for those who want to blare their support for the types of racially charged messaging 4chan revels in, there’s another option.

Eager to ride whichever illiberal wave he can find, former Breitbart editor – and one-time Daily Caller almost-columnist – Milo Yiannopoulos has begun selling “It’s Okay To Be White” shirts on his Facebook page:

While Milo has been effectively ostracized from numerous organizations for his apparent willingness to condone pedophilia, that hasn’t prevented him from selling his merchandise via Shopify, a Canadian company specializing in sales platforms. While Yiannopoulos’s site masks its ties with Shopify, the links show up in the site’s source-code, as well as the URL when you attempt to purchase material via Yiannopoulos’s Facebook:

Shopify’s links with Yiannopoulos caused something of an uproar earlier this year, as did the company’s willingness to provide a platform for Breitbart’s store. An article in Fast Company detailed an attempted boycott effort, led by SumOfUs, which said that Shopify was providing a platform for helping support hate speech. A petition from SumOfUs, which gathered over 200,000 signatures, described Shopify as the “largest company left” that hadn’t yet ditched its affiliation with Breitbart. In a Medium post, Fight for the Future’s Nick Reville wrote that Shopify “may be [Yiannopoulos’s] largest source of income other than the now canceled book deal and speaking fees.”

Shopify, however, dug in its heels. Shopify CEO Tobias Lütke said that his company would continue offering its services to Breitbart and Yiannopoulos, claiming that to do otherwise would be tantamount to censorship. “To kick off a merchant is to censor ideas and interfere with the free exchange of products at the core of commerce,” Lütke wrote. “When we kick off a merchant, we’re asserting our own moral code as the superior one.”

But this was before Yiannopoulos’s pedophilia comments surfaced – and before BuzzFeed revealed how Yiannopoulos turned to white supremacists to edit his articles at Breitbart. And it was, of course, before Yiannopoulos hopped on the latest racist bandwagon.

None of that, however, appears to have given Shopify any pause. Despite the fact that Yiannopoulos sells shirts that read things like “Lesbians Aren’t Real” and “Muslims Please Stop Killing Us,” Shopify spokesperson Sheryl So told ThinkProgress that Shopify does “not consider the store to be in breach of our [Acceptable Use Policy] at the moment. If it does, then we will prohibit them from using our services.”

Given that Yiannopoulos recently lost funding from hedge fund manager Robert Mercer his sources of funding, as Reville noted, now appear that much more limited to Shopify.

That hasn’t prevented Yiannopoulos from casting about for another patron. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the shirt sitting next to “It’s Okay To Be White” in Yiannopoulos’s store hawks the “Constantinople Reclamation Squad” – and features, in the latest overlap between white supremacists and Russian nationalist talking points, a Russian double-headed eagle.