Malheur militia snark

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The internet has responded with a wave of snarky hashtags to the self-appointed militia occupying the  visitors' center at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Many are inappropriately anti-rural (#YokelHaram, #YeeHawdists), or irrelevantly anti-southern (#YallQaeda), but in a case like this, snarky stereotype-based ridicule is a better weapon than gun battles, I guess.

And the occupiers sometimes seem to have subcontracted their PR tactics to The Onion. For example, one spokesman apparently uses the operational name "Fluffy Unicorn". Thus Amanda Peacher, "Armed Ranchers In Oregon Take Over Wildlife Refuge Building", NPR All Things Considered 1/4/2016:

AMANDA PEACHER: Protesters emerged from brick buildings at the refuge headquarters for a Sunday press briefing. This self-styled militia man identified himself as Fluffy Unicorn.

FLUFFY UNICORN: Head count, anything of that nature – none of that will be addressed for operational security.

PEACHER: Although the protesters won't reveal their numbers, fewer than 20 militiamen were visible Sunday. The protesters originally arrived in Burns, Ore., to defend local ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond. Their prison sentences start today for arson on federal rangelands. But the Hammonds said they didn't want the militia's defense and intend to report as required. So the protesters turned their focus to this remote Malheur Wildlife Refuge 30 miles away.

AMMON BUNDY: This refuge, from its very inception, has been a tool uh of tyranny.

PEACHER: That's Ammon Bundy, the leader of this occupation. He believes the government violated the Constitution in its purchase of the refuge land back in 1908. Bundy says their mission is to put the federal lands under local control. But it's unclear by what means.

BUNDY: We do have a- a plan. That plan is going to take several months at the shortest to accomplish.

And an early appeal from one of the group's leaders asked for supporters to send "supplies or snacks or anything that may be useful" — by U.S. Mail:

This led to a certain amount of speculation about the group's degree of operational preparedness, e.g. Tim Dickinson, "Armed, Pathetic and Hungry: How the Oregon Militants' Revolutionary Plan Went Sideways", Rolling Stone 1/5/2016, or

It also inspired this variation on the Gadsden Flag: Anyhow, here's a sample of the hashtags:


  1. Jym Dyer said,

    January 5, 2016 @ 6:08 pm

    # I've steered clear of the anti-southern hashtags, but as a person who's shouted the occasional "yee haw" out in the wide open, I have no qualms
    about incorporating it (though #GeeHawdi makes far more sense).

    #VanillaIS and #FailQaeda are the clear winners in my book, except of course there's no consensus on their spelling.

  2. buford puser said,

    January 5, 2016 @ 6:22 pm

    I thought Cowliphate was the best one until i thought of Cowliban which i like better (sadly i am not a twitterer).

  3. Pearl Polanski said,

    January 5, 2016 @ 6:57 pm

    That Blaire Cooper guy asking for snacks…he looks like Zoolander's crazy cousin! Unfortunately he unpublished his fb page shortly after I posted this:

  4. KeithB said,

    January 5, 2016 @ 7:00 pm

    Rocky Mountain Mike on Stephanie Miller this morning came up with "#OccupyHooterville"

  5. Mark Mandel said,

    January 5, 2016 @ 7:34 pm

    @buford puser: For me, "Cowliban" first evokes "Caliban", as in The Tempest.

  6. mike said,

    January 5, 2016 @ 8:26 pm

    Someone on Facebook had a poster thing that talked about "Cosplaytriots," which I thought was clever.

  7. Pflaumbaum said,

    January 5, 2016 @ 8:44 pm

    @ Mark Mandel – that was my reaction too.

    I think I'm aesthetically adrift of the Twitter generation. "FailQuaeda"? That's not nearly phonetically close enough to work. Even "Y'allQuaeda" seems marginal to me. "Shania law" though is excellent!

    "Talibarn" would work in my accent, maybe not so well for rhotic speakers…


  8. John Hedtke said,

    January 5, 2016 @ 8:53 pm

    Okay, as much as I would like to take credit for this, I cannot. I saw this on FB myself.

    But it will give me great pleasure to share it with you here, as I'm not seeing it on the list yet.


    Okay, let's hear it! :)

  9. Theophylact said,

    January 5, 2016 @ 8:53 pm


  10. Karen Sarrow said,

    January 5, 2016 @ 8:57 pm

    Cheers on this post, your blog is fascinating, thank you! A wordsmith and pattern finder, wonderful! I was wondering if the Gadsden flag/snacks was authentic to the protestors or snark lol

  11. Daniel von Brighoff said,

    January 5, 2016 @ 10:11 pm

    "Y'allQaeda" works because–as is so often the case with borrowed words–the more common practice in American English is to represent foreign /a/ with the LOT vowel rather than the vowel of TRAP, as is generally the case in the UK and elsewhere.

    I ran several of these past a younger international crowd and–as I suspected–they found most of them opaque. Sometimes the phonetic match was too loose or the references (e.g. Vanilla Ice, Boko Haram) simply weren't salient for them, but I think much of the difficulty came down to unfamiliarity with the cloud of stereotypes associated with this particular strain of (conservative White rural) anti-governmental activism. They know y'all and yeeha, they just didn't see how they could be relevant here.

  12. Jerry Friedman said,

    January 5, 2016 @ 10:35 pm

    Mark Mandel and Pflaumbaum: I've been having the Tempest problem for some years now.

    Ban, Ban, Ta-Taliban
    Has a new master, get a new man!

  13. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 5, 2016 @ 10:40 pm

    For me "#YokelHaram" evokes Procol Harum rather than Boko Haram, an allusion that seems a bit . . . oblique in context. I find the "irrelevant" anti-Southernism telling, because it suggests a somewhat bizarre lumping of stereotypes in which all uncosmopolitan rural whites in "flyover country" are more or less the same, so if you can't recall any relevant stereotypes about rogue Nevada Mormons you might as well assume that your stereotypes about Dukes of Hazzard/Deliverance-style rednecks can be made to fit despite being 2,000 or so miles off geographically.

  14. Jerry Friedman said,

    January 6, 2016 @ 12:11 am

    By the way, as I live in a small town in the Southwest, let me jump on the bandwagon with Prof. Liberman and J. W. Brewer of considering the Southern stereotypes inappropriate.

  15. A. Damian said,

    January 6, 2016 @ 12:29 am

    As a Southerner who has spent a lifetime flitting in and out of my native dialect and accent, I must say, I'm not that offended. I say this mainly as our dialectical particulars are often borrowed by those in other regions to reflect a political and socio-economic sense of identity, though generally in utter failure. In that light, I find it rather amusing despite, from what I've heard, these folks using a more standard American/western accent. If I hear one of them incorrectly a-prefixing even that would likely just make me laugh even more at their antics.

    Perhaps I was merely laughing way too hard at "Fluffy Unicorn".

  16. Ben Zimmer said,

    January 6, 2016 @ 12:34 am

    FWIW, in the Harvard Dialect Survey, about 11% of respondents from Nevada gave y'all as their answer to the question, "What word(s) do you use to address a group of two or more people?" (And another 5% said you all.)

  17. Pearl Polanski said,

    January 6, 2016 @ 2:50 am

    Whoever said #TrailerDaesh, I'm loving it!

  18. Keith said,

    January 6, 2016 @ 3:34 am

    I had exactly the same reaction as J.W. Brewer, being puzzled by an allusion to Procul Harem.

    This, though

    Head count, anything of that nature – none of that will be addressed for operational security.

    Reminded me of Brian Hanrahan's famous line reporting from the Falklands Campaign.

    I'm not allowed to say how many planes joined the raid, but I counted them all out and I counted them all back.

    As for all the "southern" references, they seem misplaced to me for two reasons.

    Oregon doesn't seem to me to ge geographically a southern state.
    It seems to equate "southern" with "redneck" with "anybody other than us internet urban sophisticates".

  19. John Swindle said,

    January 6, 2016 @ 4:37 am

    @Ben Zimmer: I may already have mentioned this in another context. Here in Hawaii I sometimes hear "you two" for dual and "you guys" for plural, especially from restaurant wait staff. The Hawaiian language is alive here and does distinguish singular, dual, and plural, but I wonder whether "you/you two/you guys" might not be from some kind of American English. Probably not Oregon, though.

  20. Phillip Minden said,

    January 6, 2016 @ 4:55 am

    Can't come up with anything better than #AhSays

  21. Coby Lubliner said,

    January 6, 2016 @ 8:10 am

    @Daniel von Brighoff: [T]he more common practice in American English is to represent foreign /a/ with the LOT vowel rather than the vowel of TRAP, as is generally the case in the UK and elsewhere.

    I'm not sure if that's the case if the vowel is followed by /l/. Think of the British and American pronunciations of the surname Talbot. And there is Calcutta (the respelling as Kolkata is meant to counteract the usual American pronunciation).

  22. Mr Punch said,

    January 6, 2016 @ 8:46 am

    Oregon was a center of KKK activity; Nevada's largest university calls its athletic teams the Rebels. Let's not be over-fine about geography.

  23. Daniel von Brighoff said,

    January 6, 2016 @ 9:13 am

    Cory, is Talbot a recently borrowed name? If so, what's the proximate source?

    Point taken about Calcutta. Here we might be dealing with a subpattern, since I can't think of any native words (even names) where cal represents /kahl/.

  24. D.O. said,

    January 6, 2016 @ 9:18 am

    The name of the refuge, Malheur, is itself evocative and not accidentally. Wikipedia explains,

    The name of the river [the source of a whole host of local toponyms, including the refuge] is derived from the French for "misfortune." The name was attached to the river by French Canadian voyageur trappers […] for the unfortunate circumstance that some beaver furs they had cached there were discovered and stolen by Indians.

  25. gribley said,

    January 6, 2016 @ 11:07 am

    Pflaumbaum, I share some of your reservations about the phonetics, but I'm surprised by your acceptance of "Shania Law". Orthographically it's perfect, of course, but I pronounce Shania and Sharia very differently. Maybe I'm just not sure how to say Ms Twain's name?

  26. Dan Lufkin said,

    January 6, 2016 @ 12:12 pm

    "You guys" seems to be creeping into standard use but it still grates in the wrong register. I recently watched a surgical colloquium (anterior approach total hip arthroplasty) in which the chair consistently addressed a panel of distinguished surgeons as "you guys." The chair was obviously not a native English speaker, so one can only suppose that someone had coached him on how to sound appropriately colloquial.

  27. Rodger C said,

    January 6, 2016 @ 12:13 pm

    For me "#YokelHaram" evokes Procol Harum rather than Boko Haram, an allusion that seems a bit . . . oblique in context.

    Well, they're definitely a whiter shade of pale.

  28. marie-lucie said,

    January 6, 2016 @ 12:23 pm

    Shania : It is Shan[aj]a Twain.

    Malheur : The French word is stronger than just 'misfortune'. Depending on the context, it could be 'calamity' as well as 'wretchedness'. The trapper in question could have lost a season's worth of pelts.

  29. Pflaumbaum said,

    January 6, 2016 @ 2:38 pm

    @ gribley

    Yeah I pronounce sharia wrongly as /ʃə'rajə/.

    @ Corey

    I'm not sure what the old RP pronunciation of 'Calcutta' was, but these days it's /kal-/. "Talbot" varies, personally I have /tal-/.

  30. Ralph Hickok said,

    January 6, 2016 @ 2:56 pm

    @Mr Punch:
    Further to your point, Oregon was the only free state admitted to the Union with an exclusion clause in its constitution. Blacks were not allowed to live in Oregon, at least theoretically, until 1926.

  31. Neal Goldfarb said,

    January 7, 2016 @ 1:46 am

    @J.W Brewer

    For me "#YokelHaram" evokes Procol Harum rather than Boko Haram

    A whiter shade of fail.

  32. Neal Goldfarb said,

    January 7, 2016 @ 1:58 am

    "Fluffy Unicorn" sounds like someone out of a song by the Gourds. Maybe he's a friend of Fatty Carmello's.

  33. Marcus Bales said,

    January 9, 2016 @ 11:21 pm

    They don't believe in women's rights
    Or science data;
    Breakfast prayers provide their heights
    Of thought, but only for the whites,
    They see themselves as southern knights
    Who've got the Feds dead in their sights,
    The brave Y'all Qaeda.

    Our zealots are as bad as theirs —
    A long parade of
    Idiots who think affairs
    Have gone to hell and no one cares
    Except for them who think repairs
    Require violence and prayers
    By brave Y'all Qaeda.

    They carry guns so they won't fear
    What they're afraid of:
    A decent life of peace that's clear
    Of weapons since the new frontier
    Is multicultural, peer-to-peer,
    And not some fucking buccaneer
    From brave Y'all Qaeda.

    They each remain a willing slave
    To their crusade of
    Being free to misbehave
    With ignorance and hate. But they've
    Misunderstood what they should save:
    Unarmed civilians are more brave
    Than brave Y'all Qaeda.

    The courage of civilian life
    Is a cascade of
    Moments of controlling strife
    With which each situation's rife
    Without a gun or bomb or knife
    So you can love your kids and wife —
    Not brave Y'all Qaeda.

    They're living in the Yellow Zone
    And in the shade of
    Terrors we've already shown
    Are livable — all people own
    The same desires, and most have thrown
    Their lot to see their children grown —
    Not in Y'all Qaeda.

    The time has come, you bloody fools:
    Show what you're made of.
    Build, instead of blow up, schools,
    And teach and live by golden rules
    Instead of hoarding gold and jewels.
    Put down your weapons, pick up tools,
    O brave Y'all Qaeda.

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