The anti-immigrant, all male group the Proud Boys, which has been known to use violence against left-wing opponents, was seen brandishing merchandise with the new logo – which is near-identical to the Scotch whisky firm’s branding - at a pro-gun rally in Virginia this week.
The Proud Boys are deemed a “designated hate group” by US civil rights organisation the Southern Poverty Law Centre.
The original Striding Man icon used to market the 200-year-old whisky brand, now owned by drinks giant Diageo, was commissioned by Sir Alexander Walker – the grandson of the eponymous Johnnie Walker - in 1908. It is believed to be one of the first marketing symbols ever used.
Diageo said it regarded the use of the logo as a “serious infringement of our intellectual property” and vowed to take action.
The logo used by the Proud Boys, which was believed to be involved in the storming of the Capitol building earlier this month which resulted in the death of five people, is the previous incarnation of the iconic Johnnie Walker logo, which was drawn by artist John Geary in 1996. Since then, Diageo has replaced it with its most recent design, which was created by consultancy Bloom five years ago. The right-wing group has previously utilised an image of a strutting rooster.
At the rally in Richmond, Virginia, filmed by Channel 4 news, a member proudly displayed a t-shirt bearing the new branding which features the Striding Man logo - in the Proud Boys’ usual yellow and black colour-way. The words ‘Proud Boys’ are printed above the logo and on either side of the Striding Man’s cane, it says: “Est. 2016”.
Holding the t-shirt, Proud Boys member ‘Beefy’ told TV cameras, referring to Donald Trump: “He told us to stand back and stand by because they wanted him to declare us a terrorist organisation, and that’s not what we are. I think he did have our back and I think things will change. I think Trump will go down as one of the best presidents in history. I think history has a way of rewriting things and I think the man will be on [Mount] Rushmore one day. We got room for one more face up there and he’s going to be up there.”
Members of the Proud Boys can be identified by their use of black and yellow Fred Perry shirts, American flags, Make America Great Again hats and military armour.
A spokesman for Diageo, which is currently creating the multi million pound “immersive” Johnnie Walker visitor experience in Edinburgh, reiterated the company’s commitment to social justice and inclusion and pointed to a statement made by chief executive Ivan Menezes in the wake of the killing of George Floyd when he said he denounced “any kind of racism, injustice or unequal treatment”.
The spokesman said: “We stand for inclusion and diversity and have a strong, consistent track record in promoting values of social justice and equality. This is a serious infringement of our intellectual property and we will take whatever action is required to protect the integrity of our brand.”