You Can Tell A Man By His Truck
Decoding the truck nuts and bumper sticks that define a movement. Plus: Messy right-wing media bitches living for the drama
You’re driving down the highway, your eyes coming slightly unfocused as you stare into the infinity of the asphalt. You barely even notice as the radio starts to crackle, the station slowly falling out of reach.
You’re jolted alive as a huge truck comes up on your left: It’s racing past you so quickly that the massive flags affixed to the side are flapping wildly, illegible.
It’s not until the truck is a car’s-length ahead of you that you can finally register the smattering of decals, flags, and bumper stickers nearly covering the massive vehicle. You recognize a few of the political slogans — Let’s Go Brandon, F🍁CK Trudeau, Fire Fauci — but some of the symbols and references are completely lost on you. The back of the dually pickup is so mesmerizing that you need to shake yourself back to reality and watch the road. In the distance, the speeding billboard weaves in-and-out of traffic, trying to get somewhere fast.
You sit there, behind the wheel, and think for awhile: Why? And, also: What? And: Who?
This week, on a very special Bug-eyed and Shameless, we study the esoteric practise of truck peacocking: The art of splashing your political opinions all over your vehicle to not just let the world know where you stand, but to deny them the ability of ignoring it.
Then, later, for subscribers: Egos clash in the right-wing media ecosystem. Could this spell trouble for the future of the anti-woke broadcast network?
You get the truck nut content for free, but if you’re looking for some juicy right-wing media gossip, sign up as a paying subscriber today:
The truck, as a political symbol, had a hell of a year in 2022.
It enabled, of course, the so-called Freedom Convoy and the occupation of Ottawa — and the ensuing convoys and occupations across the United States, Oceania, and Europe.
Mix in conversations about car-free cities, looming bans on combustion engine vehicles, and soaring gas prices: And the truck became an unrivalled symbol of protest.
That’s not to say all the protest is bad, or that it’s all inherently right-wing. Slapping a NOT MY PRESIDENT bumper sticker on your truck is as valid a protest as any, I suppose, and there’s certainly plenty an unhinged political message above MY OTHER CAR IS A BICYCLE license plate covers.
But I want to try and decipher a few of these real-world comment sections because I think it can tell us a bit about the sort of beliefs that people now feel emboldened to wave to the world, and the lucrative industry that caters to them.
Let’s start pretty simple.
What we’ve got here is a standard-issue QAnon-wagon.
First, the top-level stuff: On the left side, you’ve got some obvious QAnon branding, a weird flex about being toxic, generic pablum about staying free, and a two chess pieces — a reference to Q drop #3227, from May 2019, which teased the “plan (end game)” that will see “indictment(s) coming?” That End Game decal was being sold on eBay at one point, but it is, alas, sold out.
Below the QAnon call-to-arms — Where We Go One, We Go All — is, of course, a cross. And below that: ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ or, Molon labe or, “come and take [them].”
According to Plutarch, the phrase was uttered by Spartan king Leonidas in response to the Persian invader Xerxes: A phrase of defiance from a democracy to a tyranny. It was later adopted by some Texan militas as they fought against the Mexican government, and it has been used (best I can tell, unofficially) by some modern militaries. Unsurprisingly, it has been taken up by various pro-gun and far-right movements, including some in law enforcement and/or who affiliate with anti-government militias.
The phrase showed up on, of all places, a facemask worn by Representative Marjorie Taylor-Greene on the floor of the House of Representatives in January 2021.
Speaking of anti-government militias: On the right side of the truck we’ve got the logo of the III% militia, clearly the North Carolina chapter. If you followed the January 6 inquiry at all, you know the III%ers had a particularly outsized role in the Stop the Steal movement. Their patches and insignia have also cropped up in police departments across North America. The Anti-Defamation League offers a pretty good overview of the III%ers origin story: How it was originally coined in as a term in 2008 by Mike Vanderboegh, a minor mover-and-shaker in the militia movement of the 1990s, on his blog. In short, he was under the mistaken belief that only 3% of America stood up to fight the British.
Vanderboegh wrote at the time of his movement that he expected the Three Percenters to actually represent “3% of American gun owners,” and that “history, for good or ill, is made by determined minorities. We are one such minority…we are committed to the restoration of the Founders' Republic, and are willing to fight, die and, if forced by any would-be oppressor, to kill in the defense of ourselves and the Constitution that we all took an oath to uphold against enemies foreign and domestic.” It’s an unnerving, and succinct, summary the ethos of many modern far-right movements.
Rounding out the rest of these decals: You’ve got SI VIS PACEM, PARA BELLUM or, “if you want peace, prepare for war,” and two of Q’s favorite sayings: The storm is coming, and now comes the pain. (Spoiler alert, neither the promised storm nor pain, in fact, came.)
So what does this truck tell us? Well, it underscores the degree to which QAnon has exploded from its tiny corner of the internet, infecting and energizing movements like the III%ers. I’ve been writing for awhile how QAnon has become more religion and mythos than a movement in and of itself. It is grievance mysticism: A way of saying you reject any version of modern society that doesn’t involve The Patriots (see: Trump) in power, and that you are this close from needing to take the country back.
Here we’ve got a very nice cross-section of general right-wing grievances — a thin-blue-line decal on the left; some pro-Trump, anti-Biden, general anger sentiments; a sticker from their kids’ charter school; a bit of Christian nationalist iconography; histrionics over last year’s apparent death of free speech; and an inscrutable screed about guns (“I have the to bear RIGHT ARMS.”)
But what interests me is that COVID-19 acrostic. I had never seen this particular bit of paranoia kitsch, but a quick Google reveals that everybody has gotten into the business of hawking Control, Oppress, Victimize, Isolate, Divide junk. On merch store Redbubble, you can get that slogan on a sticker, on a tshirt, in French, or, confusingly, on a face mask. Merchants who sell that gear don’t seem terribly ideologically invested: They also sell t-shirts comparing MAGA hats to the Nazi flag.
You could also get your sticker, or an $18 mug, from PatriotGear.com, a Shopify shop for real freedom lovers. The holding company that owns the online shop has led a meagre effort to “Recount the Vote” and has published a 416-page book actually entitled So, Would Jesus Vote for Trump? At least they’re ideologically pure.
Dozens of other sites offer this inane slogan on hats, tank tops, sweatshirts, and whatever other dumb swag you can think of. They’re available on eBay, Amazon, Etsy, and dozens of other online shops.
It doesn’t really matter where this stupid bit of propaganda originated from, but I was curious just the same. From what I can tell, the first mention of our COVID acronym comes in February 2021, from a cringe-y far-right channel called The Dollar Vigilante. The acronym was used as the title of a video about, what else, The Great Reset. (Subject of Dispatch #16.) Here’s a clip — where he steals a bit of content from far-right, uh, comedian Awaken with JP, before hanging out with his dogs and talking nonsense.
He goes on for awhile, and makes use of the nickname “Kill Gates.” But the general rub is that COVID-19 was planned by Schwab and Fauci and Clinton, probably, in order to enact a form of worldwide Communist control.
Of course I don’t expect that our SUV driver necessarily watched this video. But it’s an interesting sign of just how this ecosystem works: A stupid little slogan gets used by one conspiracy broadcaster once, it catches on, entrepreneurial t-shirt makers start using it to hawk goods, and it gets cemented as a statement of values.
Alright, one more:
You have to appreciate the subtlety.
I’ll draw your eyes to the rather discrete WHITE PRIDE WORLD WIDE (or is WHITE WORLD PRIDE WIDE? WHITE PRIDE WIDE WORLD?) It’s not just a regular ol’ white supremacist insignia: It’s the logo of Stormfront, the OG online hate site. Founded in 1995 by former KKK leader Don Black, it was the go-to digital meeting place for all manner of neo-Nazi organizations. While it has lost ground to other websites over the decades, it remains unnervingly popular. It has been a focal point for far-right organizing, from the KKK to various ultra-nationalist political parties and skinheads. According to the forum, its busiest ever day was two months ago, when 282,293 users and guests were perusing the site simultaneously. While it has its own radio show (which I have listened to a brain-numbing amount of) it does not have a shop.
Our New York state pickup truck probably bought his little decal from Tightrope Records — their slogan is, like the truck proclaims, “it’s not illegal to be white…yet.” Their online shop sells White Pride World Wide bumper stickers, flags, buttons, hoodies, and tshirts. They all sell a wide array of swastika, Hitler, SS, and other Nazi merch. Calvert is been recording and distributing neo-Nazi music in the midwest since the early 2000s, and has never had much success. His biggest claim to fame is probably peddling bumper stickers.
Back to the truck: You might have to squint a bit, but you can see the owner of the truck added an addendum to the decal: “The ZOG says yes it is.”
The ZOG, or Zionist Occupied Government, is neo-Nazi shorthand to describe Western governments that, they believe, are controlled by the Jews. It follows many of the same tropes as the World Economic Forum conspiracy theory, but it is (obviously) more explicitly antisemitic. The term is fairly old, going on a half-century at this point. But it’s come back into fashion in radicalized online spaces. Juraj Krajčík murdered two people outside a Slovak gay bar in October — a viciously anti-semitic manifesto he uploaded online before the attack makes over 60 mentions of the “ZOG.” Payton Gendron, who murdered 10 people in a Buffalo supermarket in a predominately Black neighbourhood, wrote that his attack was meant to weaken the “zog-bot government.”
Look closer into the truck and you can see a noose dangling from the rear-view mirror.
That’s it for Decoding Radicalized Trucks for this week. I may revisit this format in the future, so if you want to submit your own paranoid pickups, send your photos in now!
Below the paywall: Big egos and big salaries are brewing for a fight in far-right media.