The policy change was a turnabout for Amazon after last week’s siege of the U.S. Capitol. On Monday morning, shoppers could have their pick of T-shirts bearing the “We Are Q” slogan, baseball hats with the QAnon motto “Where we go one we go all” and even onesies for babies with President Trump’s face inside the letter Q.
Those products, all offered by third-party merchants that sell on Amazon’s marketplace, remained available days after the riot at the Capitol, in which some QAnon believers were prominent. Some even wore the same sort of apparel available on Amazon.
Amazon’s sale of products that support or even glorify QAnon was “alarming but not altogether surprising,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, the chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks extremism nationwide. Historically, Amazon’s approach to addressing the sale of hateful goods has been to remove them only after critics complain, Greenblatt said.
“They don’t do things proactively, but when things are brought to their attention, they respond,” he said. “It’s an insufficient strategy to address the virulent spread of hateful ideologies.”
(Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
The company has taken other steps to quell the voices that incited violence at the Capitol. Over the weekend, Amazon suspended Parler from its cloud computing service, accusing the pro-Trump social network of violating its terms of service given its inadequate content-moderation practices. And last week, the Amazon-owned video service Twitch disabled Trump’s account indefinitely.
Parler sued Amazon Monday, alleging that Amazon violated its contract and was being hypocritical because such language is posted on other sites that use its cloud computing service.
QAnon, which took root on anonymous message boards in 2017, has been identified by the FBI as a potential domestic terrorist threat. Its adherents believe that Trump is battling a cabal of “deep state” saboteurs who worship Satan and traffic children for sex.
Amazon’s own policies would seem to have precluded the sale of QAnon items on its marketplace. The company bars the sale of offensive and controversial materials, including items that “promote, incite or glorify hatred, violence, racial, sexual or religious intolerance or promote organizations with such views.”
Those third-party sellers, and Amazon itself, which takes a percentage of each sale, made money from hawking those goods.
“They are absolutely profiting off hate,” said Michael Edison Hayden, a spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups. “They are profiting off a conspiracy theory that is eating away at American society.”
Amazon has removed offensive items in the past. A year ago, it halted the sale of Auschwitz-themed products such as Christmas decorations, a mouse pad and a bottle opener, following an outpouring of disgust on social media led by Poland’s official memorial museum. The company also pulled doormats, bathmats and other items imprinted with verses from the Koran after a deluge of complaints from members of the Muslim community.
And after the 2015 shooting deaths of nine African Americans at a church in Charleston, S.C., Amazon banned the sale of items bearing the Confederate flag.
The Anti-Defamation League has worked with Amazon previously to address items that promote hate, Greenblatt said. Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” for example, remains available on Amazon as a historical work, but the site includes a message from the ADL that provides context for the book, which it describes as Hitler’s “blueprint for what later became his war for world domination and for the extermination of the Jews and others.”