This story was originally published in November, 2015.
Is there anything better in this crazy, fucked-up world than sipping on a glass of smooth mezcal? How about if you are quietly sticking it to Donald Trump and everything he stands for at the same time?
John Rexer, the founder of Ilegal Mezcal, certainly doesn't think so, and he's willing to let the whole world know that neither he nor his mezcal are going to stand for right-wing anti-immigrant rhetoric. In July, his company launched a guerrilla smear campaign against the Republican candidate, wheat-pasting thousands of anti-Trump posters all over New York, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Oaxaca. The posters simply read "Donald Eres Un Pendejo"—"Donald, You're an Asshole"—alongside a silhouette of the most infamous hair in politics.
When Trump recently hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live, the small-scale mezcal company stepped up its tactics and projected the "pendejo" image all over the Rockefeller Center and Union Square in New York.
MUNCHIES caught up with Rexer to find out how his campaign is going, and why he decided to use his mezcal brand as a political tool against Trump.
MUNCHIES: Before we dive into politics, tell me a little bit about your mezcal. John Rexer: For starters, you get a mouthful of agave with only a little bit of smoke with our mezcal. This, along with the fact that we are one of only two brands which are aging mezcales into reposados and añejos, distinguishes our mezcal from a lot of other ones.
Also, with us, it is all about sustainability. We're not the type of mezcal company who "gives back" after we make a lot of money. If you tend to your own garden and take care of it [from] the start, giving back is not always necessary, especially if you start out the right way. We pay above-market rate to all of our producers for everything, and we personally see to it that it passes on to their workers and their families.
Lastly, we pay our producers up front, instead of paying in 60 to 90 days like a lot of other mezcal brands. It's a really nice way to work.
What was the exact a-ha! moment that made you realize "Donald, eres un pendejo" would be your next slogan? I was in New York and I had just come from Mexico. I was in Jackson Hole in the Upper West Side, having a really hungover brunch. I was sitting outside and saw a delivery server on a bicycle. I said to the person next to me, I bet you they are from Puebla or Oaxaca. So when the server came over I asked him, "Where are you from?" He said, "Puebla." We then talked about the beauty of Puebla, since I used to live in the outskirts there and it is such a cool state in Mexico. I also told him how I love the food of Puebla.
The server turned to me and said, "Man, it's good to know that everybody is not like Donald Trump." You [could] see some real hurt in his face when he said that. I told him, "Listen, everybody is not like Donald and most people don't feel the way he feels."
So he responded, "Donald es un pendejo." That moved me and I wrote it down in a napkin. I then thought that there are probably a lot of other people in New York, Oaxaca, and the US who are probably feeling the same way and are hurt by him.
The next morning, I opened up my wallet and the crumpled napkin fell out. That was when it hit me: These words exactly were going to be our next campaign. I just wanted to voice the sentiment of many of the hardworking people who work with me from all over Mexico.
Three days later, we had at least 1,000 posters plastered all over New York City alone. We've since branched out our campaign to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, and Oaxaca. And we're not quite done yet. I think we just hit our 2,000-poster count today.
How was the general reaction to the posters from people? Most people have responded with a "fuck yeah" attitude—like thousands of people. One or two people have questioned our motive.
Let's be really clear: It is publicity and I did use company money for this. On the other hand, let's also be really clear: This is something that we believe in. We strongly believe in the power of art and humor as protest. Especially with somebody like Trump, we take issue with him entirely. We take an issue with his entire xenophobic, money-dominated worldview.
Is this Ilegal Mezcal's first foray into activism? We've always been political. This brand started out of this bar in Guatemala, where I live. I've published a political magazine out of there, long before this. We've always been about making a crosscultural stand and movement. .
A couple of years ago, we did a protest against Chick-fil-A and did stencil art to protest them when [they] came out against marriage equality. We created this stencil, which depicted two roosters kissing each other, with the phrase, "I'd rather kiss a cock than eat your chicken." We spraypainted that all over over New York.
Building walls and blocking out people is not the way to look at the immigration issue. How about your provide an intelligent dialogue instead? This is more appropriate for anyone who wants to be a leader of a country.
Have you heard anything from Trump or his people? We have not heard back. But we did get kicked out by the police when my brand director and niece, Kayla Rexer, projected this image on Rockefeller Center the day he hosted Saturday Night Live.
What was that like? We went early and we joined around 200 protesters. We continued to project our billboard-sized image for 30 minutes until the cops found out about us and gave us a warning. After we got kicked out, we went on to project the image at Union Square and the CNN building.
Do you have any words for him, just in case he's reading this? Take a shot and chill out. Building walls and blocking out people is not the way to look at the immigration issue. How about your provide an intelligent dialogue instead? This is more appropriate for anyone who wants to be a leader of a country. Also, just just go away.
Thanks for speaking with me.