WASHINGTON (Reuters) - For fervent backers of President Trump’s plans for a border wall, there are plenty of ways to show support – and multiple merchandisers eager to cash in on their devotion.
Web stores have been hawking all variety of merchandise, from bumper stickers and “Border Wall Construction Co.” T-shirts to hoodies, mugs, coffee, even real bricks laser-engraved with slogans like “Build a Wall and Crime Will Fall.”
One popular site, Republican Legion, has been selling a “Build the Wall” play set, including Lego-like building blocks and a Donald Trump figurine wearing a “Make America Great Again” hardhat. It also sells a “Border Patrol kit,” marked down from $40 to $34.95: a barbed-wire barrier, plus two figurines each of border dogs, gun-toting border officers and sombrero-wearing “illegal immigrants.”
The man behind Republican Legion, Brandon Vallorani, once managed website design and upkeep for right-wing news sites run by Brian Kolfage, the single largest wall fundraiser. Since selling his former company, Liberty Alliance, a network of websites, Vallorani says he now concentrates on the conservative merchandise business through his company Romulus Marketing LLC.
“We successfully promote many gift and novelty items that speak to a variety of conservative values,” Vallorani said in emailed responses to questions. His Thrasher coffee company offers a “Border Blend” – “our most controversial coffee ever” – promising part of the proceeds will go to Kolfage’s organization. Vallorani would not say how much.
Romulus has battled consumer complaints. The Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network and the Better Business Bureau contain at least 26 complaints and six critical reviews from the past year and a half, many saying the Build the Wall toy was delivered late, or not at all.
The Better Business Bureau gives Romulus an “F” rating. Vallorani says the company goes “above and beyond” to respond to customers, but will never be able to satisfy all complaints.
One customer, Dustin Hoyt of Oregon, said he bought a Build the Wall set for a friend and another item for his father, a veteran, in part because the words “VETERAN OPERATED” appear on some Republican Legion pages. “I thought the guy running it was a veteran,” Hoyt said.
Vallorani said one of his managers is a Navy veteran, and he looks for veteran-owned suppliers. “When you ship hundreds of thousands of orders per week, there are sadly bound to be complaints,” he said.
Hoyt said his order took four months to arrive, but he was most troubled that the company is not veteran-owned. “It’s like stolen valor,” he said.
Editing by Ronnie Greene and Jason Szep