- DC Entertainment representatives have been telling fans that their legal team is “investigating” the Proud Boys’ use of their trademark on a flier advertising a March for Trump rally next month in Washington.
- “I would love for them actually to sue me. I’d love to turn that into a circus,” the Proud Boys’ chairman, Enrique Tarrio, told Insider.
- Tarrio might have a point: A lawsuit could give even more publicity to a right-wing organization that thrives off controversy.
- “Sometimes you say to a client: ‘You know what? They would love the publicity. Don’t do a thing,'” one trademark expert said.
- The legal investigation comes after comic book nerds and antifascists saw the misuse of the logo and alerted DC Comics.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The tagline of the neofascist Proud Boys group is that its members are “western chauvinists who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world.” But they might soon have to apologize for not creating their own logo advertising a coming march in Washington.
DC Comics, the iconic comic book company behind Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and a host of other superheroes, is considering legal action against the Proud Boys after the right-wing group used the company’s logo without permission, according to an email obtained by Insider.
At issue is the fact that the Proud Boys used the DC Comics trademark on flyers advertising a “March for Trump,” which is scheduled to happen in Washington, DC, on December 12, just days before the Electoral College is expected to meet and cast votes for President-elect Joe Biden.
Whether or not the Proud Boys used the logo is not in dispute; the group clearly placed the distinctive DC Comics logo — the letters “DC” in a specific font encased in a circle — at the center of flyers the group plastered all over the internet, including on its social-media account on Parler, the alt-right’s answer to Twitter.
The issue, rather, is that DC Comics and its owner, Warner Bros. Entertainment, are “investigating” their legal options because neither company signed off on that use of the logo.
Uniting comic book nerds, anarchists
The potential legal action comes after eagle-eyed comics book fans — and others who keep their eyes on the right wing — noticed that the Proud Boys’ flyer incorporated the DC Comics lettering. Several people sent messages to the company about it, and the flyer caused a stir on Twitter too, where users tagged DC Comics’ account.
One of the email whistleblowers was Legba Carrefour. A self-described “comic book nerd and anarchist” based in Washington DC, Carrefour has counterprotested at Proud Boys events going back to the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and as recently as the Million MAGA March, a demonstration that drew hundreds of thousands of supporters of President Donald Trump to Washington earlier this month.
He figured that, especially since Superman was not only created by two Jews but is also considered by some to have been inspired by the Holocaust, he’d write to the owners of the brand to ensure they’re aware of who’s using their logo.
“Superman is like an actual Jew,” Carrefour said in a phone interview. “His name is Kal-el, which are two Hebrew words. He was also exiled from his home in Krypton, against the background of a genocide, to America, and he spent most of the early ’40s literally punching Hitler.”
So he and some of his friends sent emails to Michael Shelling and Carrie Williams, who handle press and publicity for DC Entertainment.
“I’m an activist and organizer and DC comics lover based in DC,” Carrefour wrote, according to an email he shared with Insider. “I just wanted to let you guys know that the Proud Boys, an openly white nationalist, violent organization, is using the DC comics logo to promote a potentially violent protest in Washington, DC on December 12—right on the heels of a protest they organized last weekend in DC that ended in several stabbings.”
Williams wrote back, saying, “This use is not authorized by DC.” Shelling replied separately, writing, “We’ve received multiple emails regarding this and our WarnerMedia Legal department have been investigating this.” Carrefour posted the latter response on his Facebook page.
Shelling and Williams declined a request for comment.
Proud Boys taunt: ‘Sue me’
Get in line, said the Proud Boys’ chairman, Enrique Tarrio.
The Florida-based head of the group told Insider in a phone interview that he’s not even sure who DC Comics would sue, if it choose to pursue that route. Proud Boys is a somewhat decentralized organization with disparate members and chapters around the country. Tarrio posted the images on the group’s social-media pages, he said, but someone else created the flyers.
While Tarrio said he was the sole owner of the Proud Boys Limited Liability Corporation, he said the group didn’t even have a bank account to its name. And he said he was already $6.4 million in debt, part of his sentence that included 16 months in federal prison after he was caught selling stolen diabetic test strips online — “rebranding” the strips, in his telling of the story. So DC Entertainment can get in line behind the US government, he said.
He also added that a lawsuit would be counterproductive. Rather than shutting the group down, he said a trademark lawsuit would boost its publicity, just as the clothing brand Fred Perry did last month when it denounced the Proud Boys in a statement and discontinued the sale in North America of the brand’s iconic black-and-yellow polo shirt because it had become a uniform for members of the right-wing group.
“I would love for them actually to sue me. I’d love to turn that into a circus,” Tarrio told Insider when reached by phone. “Maybe they’ll benefit in their marketing, their virtue-signaling marketing, of trying to convince people that they don’t like the Proud Boys. That’s fine. Get in line with the rest of the other liberal faggots.”
The Proud Boys are in the midst of a circus act of their own. Tarrio’s leadership of the group is being challenged by the white nationalist Kyle Chapman, a member of the organization’s so-called tactical-defense arm, the Fraternal Order of the Alt-Knights. Tarrio, who is Afro-Cuban, insists the group isn’t racist, but Chapman, earlier this month, attempted to assert power over the group by claiming the Proud Boys explicitly are racist.
“We will no longer cuck to the left by appointing token Negroes as our leaders. We will no longer allow homosexuals or other ‘undesirables’ into our ranks. We will confront the Zionist criminals who wish to destroy our civilization,” Chapman wrote on the encrypted messaging app Telegram, according to Newsweek.
Even so, Tarrio might have made a good point by arguing that a lawsuit would do little more than hype the Proud Boys. He said legal action would just make him want to keep using the logo. Roberta Bren, an attorney and trademark expert at the intellectual-property firm Muncy, Geissler, Olds & Lowe, said that’s exactly why if DC Comics was her client, she might recommend shrugging it off.
“Sometimes you say to a client: ‘You know what? They would love the publicity. Don’t do a thing,'” she said. “Because the more you make of it, the more publicity you’re giving to this bad organization.”
Still, she added, DC Comics might have grounds to bring a dilution case, a suit claiming the Proud Boys’ use of its logo so damages the brand that it’s entitled to legal recompense. But even then, she said, the claim could go either way in court.
“It is a perfect setup for a dilution claim,” Bren said. “If all these people recognize it, and wrote to them and said, ‘Hey, they are using your logo,’ then that diminishes the value and perhaps tarnishes the value of the DC logo. It’s improper that they use the same lettering, but whether or not DC Comics would prevail in an infringement or dilution case is uncertain.”