On January 5, the day before MAGA rioters overran police and stormed the U.S. Capitol, an obscure Twitter account called GOLDCORPDEFENSE tweeted a picture of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office door.
Affixed to the placard was a sticker showing ex-U.S. Special Forces soldier-turned-reality TV personality Terry Schappert, standing shirtless, in a pair of Speedos, wearing a snorkeling mask. The image had been edited to look like he had lasers shooting out of his eyes. The text on the sticker read: “Team work makes the dream work. GOLDCORP.”
The same sticker was left on the office door of California Rep. Adam Schiff, who led the impeachment investigation into former President Donald Trump. The GOLDCORPDEFENSE Twitter handle also posted a photo of Schiff’s door. “Stopped by to flex on “Pencil Neck,” they wrote.
We still don’t know for sure who left the GoldCorp stickers in the Capitol complex. The incident itself was largely overshadowed by the deadly insurrection on January 6. But we do know that on the same day GOLDCORPDEFENSE was tweeting those pictures, a failed congressional candidate from Texas, who had previously referenced GoldCorp online, was meeting lawmakers inside the Capitol.
GoldCorp itself appears to be both a meme and a calling card, shared as a “joke” within a loosely-affiliated network of hardcore VetBros also known as #GoonTwitter—extremely online, highly trained current and former military personnel, some of whom have a record of doxing and harassing anyone who draws attention to them.
There are also clear overlaps between GoldCorp and the anti-government Boogaloo movement. Some of the individuals who’ve posted under the GoldCorp hashtag also previously shared content related to the Boogaloo, which is best known for its violent fantasies of overthrowing the government. Over the past year, the group has been linked to bomb plots as well as several attacks on law enforcement. It’s worth noting that Boogaloo, too, was a gag and a meme before it was an identity, and subscribers to the Boogaloo movement have begun to suggest that they’ve been working to rebrand themselves behind the scenes.
Now, as federal prosecutors, lawmakers, and investigators look for evidence that the Capitol insurrection was premeditated, they will also be looking closely at activity inside the Capitol in the days preceding it.
Veterans affairs reporter Jack Murphy first wrote in depth about the stickers, and GoldCorp, back in January. He pointed to simmering fears online, which are still unsubstantiated, that GoldCorp could be a sinister offshoot of a white supremacist or anti-government group.
About a week after the Capitol attack, New Jersey Rep. Mikie Sherrill, a former Navy helicopter pilot, went on Facebook Live and said she personally witnessed members of Congress giving individuals “``reconnaissance tours” on January 5. “Some exSpecial Forces twitter #Boogaloo bros who call themselves #GoldCorp PMC took part in a reconnaissance tour of Capitol Hill,” wrote Malcolm Nance, an expert on terrorism and former U.S. Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer who specialized in cryptography, after posting screenshots of the GOLDCORPDEFENSE tweets.
This has all put military veteran and failed congressional candidate Casey Gray, who was in the Capitol on January 5, in a bit of a tight spot. Gray told Odessa American, a local outlet from his Texas hometown, that he’d met with five members of Congress on January 5, including freshman Rep. August Pfluger from Texas, whom he’d spoken to for about an hour.
He posted a video to Twitter of Pfluger delivering a message to his constituents. “I appreciate you all being here,” Pfluger, who served a brief stint on the National Security Council under Trump, told the camera. “We are just absolutely disgusted with the fraud that went on. We’re fighting it, we’re going after it tomorrow.”
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VICE News asked Gray about his time in the Capitol on January 5. He denies that he was touring the Capitol and said he was instead attending a “pre-planned” meeting about “U.S. veterans disability issues” with “both Democrat and Republican congressmen—just veterans who served.”
Gray said he knows nothing about GoldCorp, but there’s plenty of evidence online to suggest otherwise. For example, a recently archived version of Gray’s LinkedIn page stated that he was working “freelance” as GoldCorp’s “Chief of Mission” in their “Office of Regional Affairs” (this is, presumably, a joke). Since January 6, Gray has removed the reference from his LinkedIn. Gray has also tweeted under the #GoldCorp hashtag.
Gray denied having ever tweeted under the hashtag, even though his tweets referencing GoldCorp are still up. “I haven’t posted anything under that,” Gray told VICE News. “It’s unfortunate that in your industry, in journalism, that you guys try to frame people for things.”
VICE News later emailed Gray images of his past tweets and the archived LinkedIn page that referenced GoldCorp, but he didn’t respond.
After Rep. Sherrill went public, she and 29 other congressional Democrats wrote to the Capitol Police, calling on them to investigate activity inside the Capitol that day. The letter noted that there was “an extremely high number of outside groups in the [Capitol] complex on Tuesday, January 5,” despite restrictions on public tours that were in place due to COVID.
“A federal investigation into the events of January 5th and 6th is ongoing. Rep. Sherrill has spoken with federal investigators and looks forward to their findings,” Sherrill’s office told VICE News in an email. “As a former federal prosecutor, Rep. Sherrill understands the importance of allowing these independent investigations to run their full course.”
Capitol Police said they’re “aware of stickers that were left on the office doors of members in January,” in a statement to VICE News.
On January 6, the day after Gray said he met with members of Congress in the Capitol, he was livestreaming from the horde of Trump supporters who gathered by the Ellipse, where the main “Save America” rally took place. He was joined by Steve Brignoli, who wore a white blazer emblazoned with Trump’s face on it. Brignoli is the CEO of Beyond SOF, which is essentially a talent agency for private military contractors.
Gray insists that’s the extent of his participation in the events of January 6, that he did not participate in the riot or storm the Capitol. And yet that evening, he posted a video on his Instagram and Facebook showing the moment that Ashli Babbitt was shot by Capitol Police. When someone responded to the video by suggesting she somehow deserved to get shot, he wrote, “She was unarmed. I was there.”
When VICE News asked him about those comments, Gray denied having written them and stated repeatedly that he was definitely not inside the Capitol and was only by the Ellipse for the main event.
“I wasn’t there. I wasn’t inside the Capitol at any time, and that’s a completely false allegation on your part,” Gray said in a phone call. “You can try to lie about it, when you write it. And I will sue you. Because I’m recording this conversation right now.”
After the Capitol attack, Gray posted a (now-deleted) 33-minute video to social media in which he discussed the highlights of his day on January 6. He talks about making his way from the Ellipse to the Capitol, where he describes a “medieval castle scenario” unfolding and good-natured play fighting between police and protesters. “There was a very energetic attitude,” Gray said on the video. “It wasn’t anti-police, they were just getting each other back and forth.”
Gray analyzed videos taken by other people inside the Capitol, noting moments where he saw Trump supporters picking up garbage inside the Capitol or being courteous to police.
“It wasn’t this overwhelmingly violent madness, but it wasn’t this peaceful—there weren’t harps out front, and angels flying around,” Gray said. “I’d equate it to watching a live football game in a crowd. It was comedy.” He says that he had dinner later that night with a guy who was “there when they broke the window” at the Capitol Rotunda—the first breach of the Capitol. In the video, Gray doesn’t suggest that he himself actually went inside the Capitol.
According to Murphy, GoldCorp began as a joke made over Zoom by a Special Forces soldier following the failed “coup” in Venezuela led by a group of ex-Green Berets who called themselves “SilverCorps.” The joke turned into a meme, and the meme turned into merch, inspired an array of social media accounts—and made its way into the Capitol.
GoldCorp’s tagline is “The World’s Premier Non-Fiat PMC.” PMC is an acronym for private military contractor.
A GoldCorp Instagram account republished a “recruitment video” earlier this week (the first time it posted that video was September). The video begins with a stylized version of the GoldCorp logo, which was apparently designed to mimic the Pornhub logo. The first clip is of a scene from the 2008 film “In Bruges”, a comedy set in Belgium involving two Irish hitmen. The selected scene is of Ralph Fiennes, who plays their boss, looking at an assortment of firearms laid out on a table in front of him. “An Uzi?” he says. “I’m not from South Central Los fucking Angeles. I didn’t come here to shoot 20 Black ten-year-olds in a fucking drive-by. I want a normal gun, for a normal person.” Another GoldCorp logo flashes, before the video cuts to images of skulls on the ground, then footage from various military operations, while the song “Bomb Thrown” by CZARFACE & MFDoom plays.
Like GoldCorp, the Boogaloo movement also attracted many current and former military personnel. Both communities have another thing in common: They combine fetishization of violence and war with in-jokes and silly memes. And just like the Boogaloo began integrating media companies’ names like “CNN Bois” as a way to make fun of their critics, the GoldCorp community says their purpose is to trick experts and journalists into thinking they’re a real thing.
“You realize that is a joke as well?” wrote the Twitter account @LakesFirearmsTr, when asked about the overlaps between GoldCorp and the Boogaloo movement. “Oh sure, there are some idiots out there that take it for real, but 99% of rational adults use it as a joke. And by idiots I mean folks that actively want it to happen. There are extremists on both sides of the political spectrum.”
Experts who have studied recent extremism movements are skeptical of this defense, noting that it’s a common strategy weaponized by these kinds of groups, who often use humor, irony, and memes as a smokescreen for their shared goals.
“When you scratch at it, it becomes the plot of a really bad B-movie,” said Mia Bloom, who works in evidence-based cybersecurity at Georgia State University. “You’ve got military veterans who are in some way connected to the Boogaloo, and they sometimes use their access to the VA or law enforcement to harass, cyber-bully, or dox people they don’t like.”
In February 2020, while the Boogaloo movement was still in its infancy, Twitter user @SnakeEater36, posted a photo of a T-shirt emblazoned with the word “BOOGALOO,” accompanied by some Hawaiian floral print and a skull and crossbones. “Look what came in the mail,” he wrote, followed by an emoji of a smirking purple devil.
By late September, @SnakeEater36 had a new look. “Mail call pt. 2?” he wrote, along with a picture of a dark blue T-shirt with “GOLDCORP” printed on it, and the tagline “The World’s Premier Non-Fiat PMC.”
September was around the time that GoldCorp began cropping up online in earnest. Some of the most prolific early endorsers of GoldCorp had previously been associated with the Boogaloo movement, whose ranks included active-duty military, as well as Libertarian teens, gun nuts, white nationalists, and anti-government conspiracy theorists.
By then, the Boogaloo movement had been name-checked in congressional hearings on domestic terrorism, and by the Attorney General, and had been linked to a deadly ambush on federal officers, a plot to incite violence at a protest by detonating explosives, and even a scheme to sell weapons to Hamas.
“The boogaloo is dead,” the user @25th_Prestige wrote on Twitter. “We came up with a new name and we’re not telling you nerds what it is.”
“I keep checking to make sure I scrubbed “Boogaloo” of all my shit,” Clay Martin, an author and veteran, wrote in response. “Not because I’m scared of the Govt. Because I don’t want to be associated with these fucking goobers who came out of mom’s basement in aloha gear.”
Martin’s most recent book, “Prairie Fire,” published in October 2020 and sold via Amazon. It touts itself as a “Guide for Red Counties to survive and thrive during what looks to be another Civil War brewing.” Martin dedicated his book to Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old who killed two people during a protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last summer. “Saint Rittenhouse, Hero of Kenosha, Defender of the Realm,” Martin wrote. “They are going to make a statue of you one day son. Unfortunately, they might make you a martyr before that.”
GoldCorp is listed as a “sponsor” for an upcoming event in May: “The Secret Rifleman’s Ball,” also called #Farmageddon21, which is taking place near Athens, Georgia. Promoters of the event have begun circulating the “official T-shirt” of the event, which includes the GoldCorp logo on its back. The front of the T-shirt shows Dr. Seuss’ “Cat in the Hat” (the GOP’s unofficial new cancel-culture mascot since some libraries stopped stocking a few of his books due to racist imagery). The Cat in the Hat appears to be driving a tractor, along with the words “TREAD ON THEM”—a play on the Gadsden Flag “Don’t Tread On Me.”