Tender Loving Empire (TLE), Portland’s local chain of handmade goods, is well known as a cute, aesthetically pleasing shop for Instagram-worthy pictures of neon lights and vinyl records. Customers can purchase a leather-handled mason jar for $30, a $90 dyed cotton necklace, or a $12 pin proclaiming “yas kween,” among a myriad of other items that will help exhibit just how hip your money can make you. TLE is also a record label, with eighteen artists signed to their name and nearly ten past artists.
This brings me to The Domestics, a local Portland band who was recently signed to TLE until late August. The band, consisting of songwriter Leo London and frontman Michael Finn, was planning to release its newest album, Little Darkness, on September 1. Enter Jed Overly, the sync-licensing and operations coordinator at TLE, who handled most of The Domestics’ album release. On May 13, the day after Trump sent out his tweets threatening Comey with tapes, Overly called London and Finn in to discuss a viral marketing idea. TLE had purchased the url trumpcomeytapes.com, which contained digital breadcrumbs of Little Darkness album art, and a Russian flag that led to a Mixcloud sample of a song. In addition, Overly created fake Comey/Trump cassette tapes that contained Trump audio and songs off of the album.
At this point, The Domestics were onboard with the idea. “We knew people would fairly immediately know it was not an actual highly classified tape of the President and former FBI director, but the hope is it would be weird and timely enough to cause them to dig a little deeper and eventually be led back to our new record, which is exactly what happened,” the band statedon their Facebook page. The ‘tapes’ were sent out to multiple contacts, many of which were affiliated with the right-wingers in attempt to ‘troll’ them. However, Overly had labeled the packages with KKK and Westboro Baptist Church return addresses, which was not part of the original plan. Considering many of the tape’s sixty-three recipients were Jewish, it struck a sense of concern and fear for their safety, represented in their emails to The Domestics. In an apology, Overly remarked, “I literally had no idea that all of these people were Jewish.” The Domestics quickly sent out a frantic Facebook post stating they had nothing to do with the return addresses and no one was intentionally targeted.
On August 23, TLE released an official apology, stating that they had decided to mutually split The Domestics from their record label. Overly also released a personal apology, stating, “As a Jewish African-American, I can clearly say that the Trump-Comey Tapes were not targeted at people of the Jewish faith or any faith or race for that matter. It was never my intention to alarm or frighten people. Our sole objective was to pique interest in The Domestics. No one at The Domestics, Silver Morning Management, or TLE knew about the chosen return addresses. I had made a last minute decision to change return addresses and thought it was obvious that this was a gag, and I could not have been more wrong.”
So what is wrong with putting well-known hate groups on the return addresses of packages as a marketing scheme? Quite a bit, actually. Using groups that have historically associated themselves with and supported racism, sexism, bigotry, violence, homophobia, and transphobia as a way to make money and gain publicity not only aligns you with them, but also represents the growing culture obligated to doing whatever it takes to get what one wants. And in this case, that was money. There are a lot of ways to make a profit, but using white supremacy to promote your work should not be permissible. Silence is not an effective way to destroy a hate group, but neither is pretending to be one. Overly did not foresee the repercussions of his actions, and understandably most would not, but the message remains: being a part of the problem does not solve it.
Overly released a heartfelt apology, and forever blaming someone for their mistake is not often the right choice. Nonetheless, TLE’s decision to keep Overly on their team is puzzling. Second chances should be given, but such a quick act of forgiveness exhibits itself as condoning the behavior, not condemning it. When contacted for an interview, TLE declined, and Overly requested reference to the public statements.
We all make mistakes, but publicizing violent hate groups is a pretty big one. Going forward, a public business, or anyone for that matter, should reconsider how they plan on creating a profit—it should not be difficult to succeed without the use of such stunts. So if you continue to shop at TLE, just keep in mind you’re giving your money to a company that decided profiting on white supremacy was acceptable.
If you’d like to see trumpcomeytapes.com, the password is 9117.