Flandre S. enjoys shitposting on 4chan’s /k/ board, collecting Kalashnikov rifles from foreign conflicts, and cosplay. Flandre S., who identifies as gender-fluid, is a Kommando, which is what aficionados of the /k/ board call themselves. And they want you to know that while Kommandos aren’t your typical American gun owner, their influence can be measured by their memes and in-jokes that have trickled into the mainstream.
“Especially in the South, when you think about firearms and gun owners, they’re all like turbo normies or older types,” said Flandre S., who is 32 and has spent about 14 years on /k/ (they’ve requested we use their Kommando identity for privacy reasons). “/k/ is a bunch of young dudes or dudettes who like the same shit. We all shitpost. We all hate each other, but we like the same things. I guess that’s what it is. People who all have this mindset that’s different from the norm.”
The /k/ board on 4chan, the infamous imageboard that has defined much of fringe internet culture in the last decade, is dedicated to all things weaponry. Averaging about eight posts a minute, users obsess over obscure guns used in foreign wars, brag about their personal stockpile, or share tips about building or using firearms.
Over the years, Kommandos have quietly established an online ecosystem of blogs, interactive maps identifying “kommando-friendly” shooting ranges, an annual meet-up called “NuggetFest”, and a Kommando-branded store selling everything from patches referencing /k/ approved anime characters, axes made in Switzerland, and night-vision equipment priced at $6,899.99.
Despite 4chan being a niche world, its influence cannot be overstated: It’s been a factory for memes that created a new genre of humor, and a breeding ground for fringe movements including hacktivists, conspiracy theorists, the alt-right, and “Bronies” (adult male fans of the kids show “My Little Pony”). The same can be said for the /k/ board, which is shaping the shared language of a new generation of gun owners.
While the stereotype for the American gun owner is old, white, conservative, decked in plaid, and hung up on culture war issues, Kommandos like to think of themselves as typically young, apolitical (despite guns being perhaps the most politically polarizing issue in the U.S)., and fluent in the ever-changing landscape of meme culture.
There’s not much data on Gen Z, who age out at 24, and their positions on guns. However, a recent poll by Washington Post/ABC News found that support for stricter gun laws had plummeted among people aged 18-29. In 2018, they reported that 65 percent of people in that age range favored gun control, compared to 45 percent this year.
Flandre S. said that their dad had a couple of guns growing up but never talked about them. Their interest as a collector stemmed from their love of video games. Today, their arsenal includes rare items such as a first-edition CZ-75 (a handgun from the Czech Republic), a Soviet Union-era Degtyaryov machine gun (which is permitted under U.S. federal law because it was manufactured prior to 1986), and a Taiwanese assault rifle.
“But this is just me, and my personal reasons for collecting firearms. Everyone is different. Some are shooters, they want the best gun for performance reasons, and they'll spend lots of money to obtain that,” said Flandre S. “And others, like myself, are collectors, who spend tens of hundreds of thousands of dollars on firearms for their historical significance.”
The other thing that Kommandos pride themselves on is being so apolitical, or politically incorrect, that anything goes. Flandre S., whose name is inspired by Flandre Scarlet, a character in a popular anime series, makes no secret of their gender fluidity and love of cosplay; they like to attend Kommando meet-ups as a “trap”, which is a 4chan term to describe a fictional anime character who wears the opposite gender’s clothing to “trick” people.
(When used in the context of people who identify as transgender, "trap" is considered a transphobic slur.)
“I’ll dress up as pretty as I wanted to, and everyone would just have to deal with it, and everyone came to just expect it. I was a trap...People know and people straight-up don’t care,” said Flandre S. “If something isn’t hurting someone, then who the fuck cares what you identify as, or what you do in your free time. You have everything from Furries to Bronies on there. In our local group, I think half of us is LGBTQ.”
“The community is so politically incorrect to begin with,” Flandre S. added. “Everyone has thick skin. People throw around things like slurs, homophobic slurs, and it’s just part of the culture’s banter. People make fun of eachother. That’s just 4chan, no one cares at the end of the day.”
To Kommandos, /k/ is a “magical place” —one where offensive, sometimes bigoted banter is harmless, where the most controversial issues in society or contentious moments in history exist in an apolitical vaccum, and where nothing should ever be taken too seriously. But on the other hand, it’s also been an incubator for violent insurgent movements like the Boogaloos, and by virtue of its existence on 4chan, overlaps with other communities that are explicitly violent and racist.
Sneks, Boogs, and Fudds
Kommandos rely on a shared language of memes and in-jokes, often containing layers of meaning and irony, as is true for chan culture in general. Despite the fact that Kommandos spend much of their time online ridiculing “normie” gun owners, whom they also refer to as “Fudds” (a reference to Looney Tunes’ blundering hunter Elmer Fudd), the influence of /k/ often trickles out into the mainstream gun world.
“The group itself spawns a lot of memes that get circulated within gun culture, and that can influence modern gun culture,” said one Kommando who uses the screen-name “Rustled Jimmies.”
A good example of something that started on /k/ and got co-opted by the mainstream gun community is the “No Step on Snek” meme. It’s a crude version of the Gadsen “Don’t Tread on Me” flag often seen at events for former President Donald Trump, militia events, and gun-rights rallies. Palmetto State Armory, a gun manufacturing company based in South Carolina, sells T-shirts referencing the meme. Patches saying “No Step on Snek” are available via Amazon.
“So many of the prominent memes that originate on /k/ get spread out across larger gun meme communities on Facebook,” said Flandre S. “Often, admins of those groups are Kommandos, even if the community or group itself isn't. They control the content and culture of those groups.”
“I’ve met lots of people who have never been on 4chan or /k/ but have an understanding of the culture,” Flandre S. added.
One of the most widespread memes mocking the ATF, which uses a frame from a Spiderman cartoon that is now ubiquitous in the online gun community, also started out on /k/.
Another influential and infamous meme that started on /k/ is the Boogaloo, code for a second civil war or violent uprising. The meme was the basis for a movement of Hawaiian shirt–wearing insurgents who organized in plain sight on Facebook, until the network was linked to a series of bomb plots, attacks on federal officers, shootings, plots to kidnap the governor of Michigan, and even a scheme to sell weapons to Hamas.
The gun industry also adapted to the emergence of the Boogaloo movement accordingly, as The Trace reported last year. Palmetto State Armory released a semi-automatic pistol with a custom Hawaiian-print paint job. Guns.com, one of the more popular online marketplaces for guns, now sells a green Hawaiian-print shirt.
But despite the reach of the Boogaloo meme, the adherents of the movement are not well-liked back on the /k/ mothership. “They’ve more or less been ostracized by the [Kommando] community because they’ve been a bit too vocal in their anarchist stuff,” said Flandre S. “ For the most part they are made fun of now by the greater community as cringe content.”
History without politics
When Flandre S. first started out on /k/ around 2007, it was a relatively small community of a few hundred people, some of whom began identifying themselves with screen-names on the anonymous messaging board, which in turn helped them cultivate friendships. “It was close-knit, we had essentially people in group chats, and we’d chat outside the board,” said Flandre S.
They even developed a cohesive aesthetic back then–for example, Kommando style was German flecktarn, a camouflage pattern from the 1980s and 1990s that was available at U.S. military surplus stores. If you went to a gun range and saw someone wearing German flecktarn, you could probably assume they were a Kommando, said Flandre S. Then, the pattern began catching on in the mainstream. (These days, the biggest identifier for Kommandos are “morale patches” sewn onto jackets, referencing a wide variety of /k/ memes, from the obvious “Don’t Step on Snek” to the obscure, like “Jormungand,” a Japanese Manga series that follows the adventures of a young arms dealer.)
Flandre S. says that /k/ really started blowing up around 2013, after the mass shooting at an elementary school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, left 26 dead. The horror of that massacre intensified the gun control debate. “The panic that happened in the firearm community resulted in a lot of new people coming in and being like, ‘Hey I bought a gun’ and then they’d end up on the /k/ board,” said Flandre S. “As the community grew, you'd see the diversity of ideologies, different types of people, different types of ideas, that sometimes splintered.”
Today, /k/ averages nearly 11,000 posts per day, far less from its explicitly racist cousin, the infamous /pol/ section, which averages around 140,000 posts per day. /pol/ is best known as a cesspool of violently anti-semitic, racist, Islamphobic hate, where members try to outdo one another on the bigotry scale.
“Boards like /k/ have attempted to differentiate themselves from the openly racist culture of /pol/ boards, yet their murky relationship makes it more difficult to clearly distinguish between violent and non-violent content,” wrote Blyth Crawford, a researcher specializing in online radicalization within the far-right, in a recent paper “/K/ and the Visual Culture of Weapons Boards.”
The Kommando community is also known for romanticizing bygone conflicts and niche weapons. But their commitment to looking at military history from a “look at these cool weapons” perspective that’s devoid of politics means that they sometimes veer into some murky territory that ends up overlapping with /pol/.
For example: their fascination with the weapons used by the Rhodesian Army when they were fighting Black-led insurgents during the Bush War of the 1960s and 1970s. Nostalgia for Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe, then ruled by a white minority) is the kind of thing that’s most prevalent in white supremacist circles for obvious reasons—the white supremacist who killed nine Black parishioners in Charleston in 2015 had a blog called “The Last Rhodesian.”
But Josef D., who declined to give his last name and describes himself as “the network relations manager for The Kommando Blog”, insists that Kommando’s interest in Rhodesia isn’t about romanticizing the white-minority rule as much as admiring their weaponry and scrappiness.
“The military feats accomplished by the Rhodesians are nothing short of miraculous, especially when you consider the adversity and material circumstances they were performed under,” Josef D. said. Additionally, he said that “militaria-oriented people” are attracted to the “self-sufficiency, raw grit and determination” exemplified by their guns and other tactical gear.
There’s another meme crossover between white supremacist circles and /k/, and it comes down to a song from 1993 that was intended as a morale-boosting tune for Serbian nationalist forces at the height of the Yugoslav wars. “It was originally just a meme referring to a low-quality Serbian music video with an unknown soldier who had a chiseled face that anons referred to as ‘Dat Face Soldier,’” said Flandre S.
Because of the nature of the conflict, which resulted in thousands of Bosnian Muslims being massacred, the meme was co-opted by neo-Nazis who created the phrase “remove kebab” to advocate for the genocide of Muslims. And later, that meme was also featured in an act of violence: The white supremacist who killed 51 Muslims at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019 had that phrase written on one of his weapons.
“Overall, other than a loose set of rules, you can’t create or maintain a culture on an anonymous image board that has no registration,” said Flandre S. “Crossover is something you can’t avoid completely because /pol/ has such a large presence on 4chan. People who have those ideologies are sometimes going to end up in the same thread.”
Flandre S. said there’s some self-policing in Kommando communities on Discord, Facebook, and other platforms, where moderators can take steps to remove someone who’s sharing white supremacist material.
But the thematic crossover between 4chan boards shouldn’t be taken too seriously, argues Cody Wilson, a gun rights activist who made a name for himself in his legal showdowns with the federal government over posting blueprints for 3D-weapon printing online.
“It’s easy to say /k/ is just where the kids are, and here’s what's wrong with them,” said Wilson. “But I think there’s an elemental search there, through this fetish, for a way to comprehend the dramas of the past two centuries by venerating militaria and practices of foreign armies.”
Wilson didn’t grow up on /k/, but he recognizes the influence of the board—and has sought ways to incorporate the community into his 3D-printing world. For example, his company, DefCad, is listed as one of Kommando Blog’s “partners.” They even co-developed a patch that puts a modern spin on the famous “Come and Take It” flag popular among gun rights activists. The cannon in the original flag is replaced by a file icon, to reference downloadable blueprints to make 3D-printed guns.
And people like Flandre S., who did grow up on /k/, continue to live and breathe its culture as an adult, even married another Kommando, and has sought ways to integrate it into their professional life. They went on to work in a gun store for a while, said they grew tired of “the NRA types” they encountered on a regular basis, and pivoted to refurbishing, collecting, and selling rare firearms to other Kommandos.
“Much better when you know all your customers personally,” said Flandre S. “Plus many are gay... fun times.”