On Monday afternoon, for example, Bryan Atkinson unloaded a Yeti cooler from the bed of a truck parked on a dirt road in the middle of a South Carolina field. Inside the cooler he placed ammonium nitrate and aluminum powder, packaged in a cardboard box sealed with duct tape.
“This Yeti,” he said, “ain’t ready.”
His friends took the cooler out to the middle of the muddy field and set it down. Atkinson got on one knee and lifted his AR-15 to eye level. Then, with one shot, he blew the Yeti cooler to pieces.
“If Yeti can’t stand behind the NRA, I ain’t standing behind Yeti no more,” Atkinson told the camera during a Facebook Live video, which has been shared more than 2,300 times.
The stunt followed a letter to NRA members sent by the NRA Institute for Legislative Action announcing that Yeti had severed ties with the NRA Foundation, following the lead of other companies in the wake of the Feb. 14 Parkland, Fla., shooting massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The letter, sent by former NRA president and current lobbyist Marion P. Hammer, said the company “declined to do business with The NRA Foundation” without prior notice and “refused to say why.”
“They will only say they will no longer sell products to The NRA Foundation,” Hammer wrote. “That certainly isn’t sportsmanlike. In fact, YETI should be ashamed.”
But on Monday, just as the backlash and calls for boycott picked up steam, Yeti said in a statement to The Washington Post, also posted on Yeti’s Facebook account, that the NRA letter was “inaccurate.” The Austin-based retailer said it notified various organizations, including the NRA Foundation, that it was eliminating a “group of outdated discounting programs” from which the organizations benefited.
The NRA was not specifically targeted, Yeti said.
“When we notified the NRA Foundation and the other organizations of this change, YETI explained that we were offering them an alternative customization program broadly available to consumers and organizations, including the NRA Foundation,” Yeti said. “These facts directly contradict the inaccurate statement the NRA-ILA distributed on April 20.”
“Further,” the statement continued, “the NRA-ILA stated … that ‘[YETI has] declined to continue helping America’s young people enjoy outdoor recreational activities.’ Nothing is further from the truth. YETI was founded more than 10 years ago with a passion for the outdoors, and over the course of our history we have actively and enthusiastically supported hunters, anglers and the broader outdoor community. … YETI is unwavering in our belief in and commitment to the Constitution of the United States and its Second Amendment.”
But the damage had already been done, and NRA supporters had taken to destroying Yeti coolers in a variety of explosive ways. Some filled the cooler with Tannerite explosive rifle targets and, like Atkinson, shot it and blew it up in a field. Others shot holes through the stainless steel Yeti tumblers in their back yards or basements. One man crushed a Yeti tumbler in a vise.
Over the past decade, Yeti has risen to become an “aspirational brand” for hunters and other outdoorsy consumers, as Ad Age described in a 2014 article about Yeti’s distinct appeal to that market. “Yeti is reinventing the utilitarian cooler as a status symbol,” Ad Age wrote.
The company calls the coolers “grizzly proof,” as certified by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee. Yeti markets them as the ideal companions for campers and other outdoor adventurers trudging through the wilderness on trips that require storing food and drinks.
Even Hammer acknowledged at the start of her letter, “For years YETI Coolers have been a hot item for sportsmen at the Friends of NRA Foundation Banquet and Auction events around the country.”
In a statement emailed to The Washington Post Monday night, Hammer said that it was “news to us” that Yeti dropped not only the NRA Foundation from the discount program but also other organizations.
“After three days Yeti issued a statement claiming they didn’t really drop the NRA Foundation,” she said. “They claim they simply eliminated the entire program affecting NRA Foundation and other unnamed organizations. Isn’t that like eliminating a job position so you can get rid of an employee?”
She added that “Yeti decided the NRA Foundation can’t place any more orders and in fact they forced us to cancel orders they would not fill.”
A representative for Yeti did not immediately respond to questions from The Post seeking a reaction to Hammer’s comments.
Some NRA supporters, commenting on Facebook were not buying Yeti’s claim and said they would no longer buy Yeti products either.
“I own several expensive Yeti products and planned on purchasing more, however, NOT NOW,” wrote one. “You just lost my family’s business. The second amendment is important, YETI is not. Shame on you.”
One sensed a buying opportunity, however, writing: “Hey! Proud NRA member here. Since I’m not a thin skinned wussy who boycotts everything that upsets me in the least [if you] are unhappy with Yeti and want to destroy your cooler that is all of the sudden overpriced, I will GLADLY take it off your hands! Can’t have to many of them!”
The Yeti flap comes after various businesses have distanced themselves from the NRA or from gun manufacturers in the aftermath of the Parkland shootings. Companies including airlines and rental car companies ended discounts for NRA members. Retailer such as REI, Dick’s Sporting Goods and L.L. Bean announced new policies on gun sales and stopped selling certain weapons or products tied to gun manufacturers.
All of these companies made formal announcements making their stance on guns or the NRA clear.
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