Chartwell West: Marketing the American Warrior

Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher was accused of murder and other war crimes in Iraq. He was acquitted of the most serious charges but was convicted of the lesser offense of conduct unbecoming. The SEAL community tried to take away his SEAL qualification but President Trump intervened.

Kyle Rittenhouse purchased an AR15 before he was legally old enough, traveled across state lines and shot and killed two American citizens at a protest in Kenosha Wisconsin. He’s been charged with felony homocide. 

Eddie Gallagher is out of the Navy now. He’s got his own apparel line with Nine Line Apparel. Kyle Rittenhouse was released from jail this week after two million dollars was raised for his bail by a group of Americans that included the My Pillow Guy. Podcaster Elijah Shafer posted a picture of Rittenhouse with a Black Rifle Coffee shirt and the caption, “Kyle Rittenhouse drinks the best coffee in the world”. Black Rifle Coffee is a veteran owned business that sells actual coffee and spiritual gun rights. To their credit, they abruptly ended their sponsorship with Shafer’s podcast and declared they have no relationship with “the 17 year old facing charges in Wisconsin.” The leap isn’t a big one though. Shafer, Nine Line Apparel and Black Rifle Coffee are selling to the same audience.

To the untrained eye, it appears the military and veterans everywhere are lining up behind the political movement that President Trump uncorked four years ago. The reality is much more nuanced. 

Contrary to common opinion, the military is a surprisingly politically diverse entity. It’s true that as a voluntary force it has self- selection that favors people with conservative beliefs. But it’s more of a slant than a uniform conservative perspective. The technical domains or the officer corps that have higher education requirements actually slant quite liberal. And within those that have conservative beliefs, there are many establishment conservatives that bristle at the MAGA crowd. And of course there’s that pesky oath to defend the Constitution every commissioned officer takes. Trying to stay in office once one has lost an election is kind of a no-no if you’ve sworn to defend the peaceful transfer of power with your life.

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As President Trump has disrespected the likes of John McCain and criticized Jim Mattis and has been criticized by leaders like Bill McRaven, he’s has lost considerable political support among the military and veteran community. To say he’s lost the military is an overstatement. He’s still the Commander in Chief. But he’s got much less political pull with veterans than he had four years ago. And likely less than other conservative presidents in recent memory. The vote here in San Diego among active duty and vets was actually split this year. It was a landslide for Trump in 2016.

What’s underneath the Black Rifle Coffees and the Nine Line Apparels of the world is something much less interesting than a reality where the military and veterans are ready to do President Trump’s political bidding. It’s money. These groups sell things. They are building a brand identity. And it’s an effective one. 

There’s a loud and passionate group of Americans that believe that America is in a fight for its soul against leftist forces that hate America as we know it and aim to destroy our way of life. And that fight must we won at all costs. They believe that as with any fight that must be won at all costs, they need soldiers. And the soldiers they want won’t bow down to the norms that the liberal media or the deep state government establishment asks them to. They need heroes. 

Spend a few days binging on The Boys and this might get clearer. It’s why you’ll see a truck concurrently flying the “Don’t Tread on Me” and the “Thin Blue Line” flags that on face value used to mean opposite things. Today, it signals who’s on the same team; the one that’s going to save America.  

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Once one leaves the military and can fight no more or throws a conventional life away by killing someone at a protest before they’re old enough to vote one can either go quietly into the night. Or one can cash in the valuable chip that they have left; to market their street cred as a warrior in the fight against the anarchist left.

Guns. Cops. Heroes.

The secret you can figure out by seeing who’s lining up to buy it, is that it’s mostly not vets. They’re in there for sure. But the majority of the market is people who want you to know they love vets. 

Reality is always a useful elixir though. One strong argument against the notion that a fight to the death against anarchist leftists is already underway is that the leftists just elected Joe Biden, a 78 year old moderate who helped make sure Clarence Thomas was confirmed to a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. It’s reasonable to say the war against the anarchist left is going just fine without the war crimes and murder. But you wouldn’t believe it from the MAGA rallies. 

Politically passionate groups of people are pretty easy marks for two things. The first is to gain power. See Donald Trump. The second is to make money. If you’re smart, you can find a way to get both. 

Black Rifle Coffee can sell coffee using the 2ndAmendment to develop their brand identity. They could even sponsor Kyle Rittenhouse, though they’ve been clear they haven’t. And Eddie Gallagher can sell his clothes if he wants. The more you try to tell them they can’t, the more money they’ll make. It is, after all, still a reasonably free country. And this has proven to be a winner of a brand identity strategy. But what these groups can’t do honestly, is claim that they represent the much broader group of Americans we call veterans, of which I count myself a member. We have our service in common. But for many of us, the commonality ends there. 

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Personally, I wish we’d take the lead from the Veterans who came before us who left the service and went on to build a better America without the branding. One with infrastructure and technology and men on the moon and the ability to respond in unison to the threat of pandemic. That’s just me though. And there are many veterans who want many different things. And that’s the point.

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