Neo-Nazis have supposedly swapped their jackboots for a pair of comfortable New Balance dad sneakers.
A white supremacist blogger and self-described internet troll has declared New Balance sneakers "the official shoes of White people" and encouraged his readers to buy them "so we will be able to recognize one another by our sportswear."
The blog post comes just one week after the New Balance VP of public affairs Matt LeBretton said a Trump presidency would take the company "in the right direction" to compete on the global stage. That comment led to some New Balance customers throwing their sneakers down the toilet and burning them.
The shoe company took to Twitter to distance itself from the blog's statements.
That hasn't mollified some customers who took to social media to say they were still switching to another shoe company.
In the same way that a popular green cartoon frog internet meme was declared a hate symbol this year, online culture experts say this is just a case of bigoted provocateurs intent on disrupting the conversation.
"New Balance is known for its all-white, "dad" walking shoes with big N's on the sides. They're easily recognizable and they could twist LeBretton's statements as evidence of the neo-Nazi connection," wrote Erin Buckles, a PhD Psychology student at the University of British Columbia who has conducted research on online harassers. "The left responded predictably by burning the shoes in protest."
In an interview with Motherboard about the online racist harassment this summer of Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones by the alt-right, Whitney Phillips, an assistant professor of writing at Mercer University who has literally written the book on trolls, reflected on the difficulty in dealing with toxic material online and how a critical story covering the exchange could itself become a way of further spreading a hateful message.
"All the people who retweeted that tweet and who commented on that story and who then perpetuate it inadvertently — even the people who are doing it from a well-meaning perspective or commenting on the story in order to condemn the story — we're all responsible for how the internet is. The internet is not bad because of a few bad eggs," she told Motherboard.
"If the internet is bad or if it yields more negative outcomes than positive outcomes, that's a function of all of us."