Hating in plain sight: The hatejacking of brands by extremist groups

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The adoption of brands as an identity marker for hate groups has been extensively noted for decades. The use of specific brands, often covertly, allows hate groups to have identity markers without the social stigma ascribed to historical hate symbols. With high-profile events such as the ‘Unite the Right’ march in Charlottesville, hate groups have utilized media coverage to increase their visibility and, by extension, the brands that they have co-opted. Such unwanted associations for organizations are defined by this research as a hatejack, whereby an extremist group publicly presents linkage to a brand, typically to claim legitimacy by the association. The covert, hide-and-seek nature of the hatejack also allows extremist groups to identify with each other without public or legal scrutiny. The dangers of a hatejack have been exacerbated by two-way symmetrical models of public relations that focus on online and social media. Popular press books such as Brand Hijack seem to suggest that organizations would do well to cede ownership of their identity and allow the construction of brands by external publics. This emphasis, however, has allowed for hate groups to more readily adopt brands and publicly proclaim a connection to the organization that does not exist. This research examines cases of hatejacks in which brands become unwitting instruments of extremist groups and seeks to identify emerging and consistent themes across cases that merit further investigation by researchers and actions by practitioners.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7-26
Number of pages20
JournalPublic Relations Inquiry
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2020


  • Branding
  • hate groups
  • public relations


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