White supremacists have a new code for the n-word. It’s “jogger” — a direct reference to the death of Ahmaud Arbery, the young black man who was shot dead in February while he was running in a suburban neighborhood in Georgia.
They’ve celebrated Arbery’s death in the worst places on the internet, and turned his killers — a retired cop and his son — into white supremacist folk heroes.
Over recent years, online extremists have been constructing a shared, private language that they use to dog-whistle in public, online arenas without having to worry about getting banned for hate speech. “Jogger” is just the latest example.
These extremists often latch onto brutal, fueled crimes against people of color, lionizing their perpetrators in the hope that they might inspire future attacks. Hate-motivated mass shootings in Charleston, El Paso, and Pittsburgh, to name a few, have all lit up the far-right ecosphere and galvanized the movement. That same process is playing out around Arbery’s death, even though investigators are yet to come forward with a motive.
“In the twisted, putrid world of white supremacy, those who murder and maim blacks become folk heroes,” said Brian Levin, who leads the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. “Whether it’s the Klan, their support for George Zimmerman, or even Dylann Roof.”
The McMichaels told police that they chased Arbery in their truck because they thought he was responsible for burglaries in the Satilla Shores neighborhood, and planned to make a “citizen’s arrest.” When they confronted him, they claimed that Arbery attacked them, a struggle ensued, and the younger McMichael pulled the trigger on his shotgun, firing three shots in total. Arbery was struck in the chest twice, and then staggered before collapsing in the street. The McMichaels are claiming self-defense.
“The idea of running blacks out of town, running them down and lynching them because they’re rumored to be come sort of criminal threat, has a long history that goes back to slave patrols.”
The investigation into the February 23 shooting is ongoing, and the Justice Department is reportedly weighing possible hate crime charges. The fact that the McMichaels weren’t charged until May — months after the shooting — has prompted widespread outrage over what many see as prosecutorial bias. And Arbery’s parents have called his death a “modern-day lynching.”
In recent days, white supremacists have posted “jogger” under pictures of Obama or articles about crime involving African-Americans. There’s a meme circulating of a black man running, with the words “Joggers Will Be Shot.” The McMichaels, meanwhile, have been called “white heroes” on 4chan. There’s a meme going around of a cartoon version of Travis McMichael, with the caption “McMichael, Defender Against the Eternal Jogger.” They photoshopped the McMichaels’ mugshots to make them look like they’re smiling, and wearing tuxedos.
Levin added that the fact that Arbery was killed — and that white supremacists are glorifying his assailants — should come as no surprise. It’s got deep roots in the history of racism in America.
Forty years before Arbery was killed by Travis McMichael, 34, and his father Gregory McMichael, 64, in broad daylight, an avowed white supremacist murdered two black joggers using sniper fire in Missouri. Back then, white supremacists would refer to a “running n----- target,” said Levin.
“The idea of running blacks out of town, running them down and lynching them because they’re rumored to be come sort of criminal threat, has a long history that goes back to slave patrols,” said Levin. “Each generation has its own incarnation, and that’s what’s so awful and painful about this. But also highly predictable.”
Cover: A screen shot from the 4Chan.org message board where people can olny post images anonymously which is where the Anonymous hacker group was formed and choose their name. Picture date: Thursday July 4, 2013. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire URN:16982261 (Press Association via AP Images)