“Whatever, taxation is theft,” says the man.
He’s wearing a black hat and a black T-shirt, an old Metal Mulisha joint. With a smooth motion, he sweeps the hem of his black jacket, grabs the black sidearm on his hip and brings it across his body to shoulder height, where in his other hand, a can of White Claw hard seltzer is waiting.
Bang: The sleek white can explodes in a mist of malt beverage and aluminum shards.
“Goddammit, motherfucker!” exclaims an onlooker.
“WOOOO!!!” howls another.
The man in black tilts his head back and holds the twisted White Claw casing aloft, chugging its remains. Then he tosses it to the ground and lets out a howl of his own.
Structurally, this video is a near-perfect execution of the three-act setup-confrontation-resolution arc. I’ve watched it probably 20 times. So have others, apparently: “How to Open a White Claw” has been viewed more than 21,000 times on YouTube, and untold thousands more on the feeds of the various aggregator accounts that have reposted it across social media.
Culturally, though, the practice of gunning open hard-seltzer cans point-blank while braying voluntaryist credos into the void is slightly harder to parse. It’s not a full-blown trend per se, but neither is it the isolated behavior of a solitary wingnut. In certain corners of the gun-owning internet, “ain’t no laws when you’re drinking Claws” functions as a Molon Labe for militant millennial males who are as taken with the hard seltzer’s effervescent low-carb wiles as they are with alt-right lingo and maybe-serious-maybe-not jokes about political violence.
But why have strapped, shitposting, self-avowed “autists” taken up an effeminate mainstream malt beverage as their drink of choice?
White Claw in hand, I struck out in search of answers.
Meet the Boog Bois
Contrary to what you might think, there are a bunch of videos of well-armed dudes shooting alcoholic beverages online, if you know where to look. When I went looking, I found Reddit’s r/weekendgunnit forum, an 85,000-plus-strong digital community of Very Logged-On gun enthusiasts who have pulsing paranoia for the federal government, a yen for Hawaiian shirts and a hearty thirst for White Claw.
“I don’t drink White Claw ironically; it’s my favorite drink ’cause it’s good,” says one r/weekendgunnit member who agreed to speak with me on the condition that he be identified only by his username, RawAssPounder. A 25-year-old from New Jersey who owns two shotguns, two handguns, an AR rifle and a bolt-action deer rifle, Mr. Pounder’s favorite White Claw flavor is black cherry.
If this seems like a joke, you’re not wrong: As with many close-knit online communities, this one relies on a bevy of recurring memes and running gags. White Claw is one; another is the “boogaloo,” a yearned-for second American civil war that, depending on how you choose to decipher irony, is either elaborate kayfabe or a frightening, imminent reality.
Members of r/weekendgunnit get ready for the Boog (also known as the “big igloo,” “the luau,” and in a nod to COVID-19, “the boogaflu”) by stocking up on firearms and military-spec gear like night-vision goggles, as well as pastel-colored custom patches and tropical apparel that seems more suited for a frat party than a paramilitary movement. It’s probably a stretch to say White Claw fuels this zealously militant bent, but America’s favorite brand of lightly fruited boozy bubble water is certainly woven into the domestic uprising discourse here.
They make videos of themselves retrieving assault rifles from their fridges, which are full of the stuff. They upload photos of themselves and their personal arsenals with the slender white cans tucked amongst assault rifles, silencers and extended clips. A lot of these posts also include their feet, but I decided to leave that particular rabbit hole unexplored for the time being.
The juxtaposition is bizarre, even to experts who study online gun communities. “I think what you’ve stumbled into here is a young adolescent male thing,” says Connie Hassett-Walker, a criminal justice professor at Kean University in New Jersey and author of Guns on the Internet.
She wasn’t, however, surprised by the level of anonymity throughout (on r/weekendgunnit, members mostly keep their faces and identifying features out of posts). In her research, she’s found numerous deeply detailed YouTube channels and tutorial pages wherein legal gun owners even doing mundane “how-to” tutorials still go to great lengths to avoid showing any distinguishing features. It’s a mindset of “it’s nobody’s business what you have,” she explains. (“Nice try ATF I’m not gonna let you DOX me,” Pounder replies to my initial request for a phone interview.)
As for the inclusion of White Claw, to the members of the subreddit, an offshoot of the much larger, more mainstream r/guns, elevating the hard seltzer is a reaction to the types of self-serious gun content that Hassett-Walker has studied. “R/guns is supposed to be a place to show off your firearms, but there [are] only so many guns you can look at before you get bored,” says Pounder. “Eventually Weekendgunnit was created and became a place to post the most entertaining and over-the-top stuff.”
“White Claws are delicious, and firearms are fun,” he adds. “It was only a matter of time before the two came together.”
It should be noted that White Claw isn’t the only drink on r/weekendgunnit. Far from it: Members also post other hard seltzer brands, beer (both alcoholic and non-) and liquor. But White Claw comes up enough to be unusual, says Peter David, the operator of @WorstBeerBlog, who first turned me onto the forum. “I find references to other brands, but White Claw outnumbers them by a lot, and it’s only been around a couple years,” he tells me.
David — not his real name; he asked to be identified with a pseudonym to avoid “get[ing] sued” — canvasses the bowels of social media for beer and general drinking-culture oddities to aggregate on his own feeds, which are popular with craft brewers and other beer industry insiders. He first surfaced the “taxation is theft” video in a Twitter thread that also includes videos of dudes shooting macro beers and other seltzers.
Hunters and mainstream gun owners (“fudds,” in the jargon) would likely look down on these posts out of concern that they reflect poorly on the gun community as a whole, says Hassett-Walker. But the posts alone aren’t necessarily indicative of future violence, though they “can seem scary to a person who doesn’t have an interest in guns, it just means that the person lives in a state where they can legally get that stuff.”
Pounder, a former law-enforcement officer, emphasizes that the White Claw posts are a joke, not to be taken seriously by “normies.” He merely incorporates the seltzers into his firearm and boogaloo-related posts as a way to “sell how ridiculous posts are” to his fellow boog bois.
Alcohol, Guns and the Ingredients of a Performative Risk Cocktail
You don’t have to be an expert on gun safety to know that mixing firearms and alcohol is deeply risky. And in fairness, in the comments section of the “taxation is theft” video, you’ll find a handful of apparent fudds condemning the move as reckless. “The responsible gun owner in me hates this video,” replies redditor KalashnikovKitty9420 when I ask him about it. “I’d never associate with someone who disrespected gun-safety rules like that [in real life].”
Still, Mr. Kitty, a small-business owner in his late 20s who lives in Virginia, concedes that he found it “amusing, like all the videos online of people driving irresponsibly, or doing any number of dangerous things while intoxicated.”
“I’ve seen it several times and love every second of it,” agrees Pounder. “It’s dangerous, reckless and fully embodies what r/weekendgunnit is about.”
Doing risky things for the entertainment of others is a tried-and-true method of getting attention online, and make no mistake, r/weekendgunnit is Very Online. Not unlike the Jackass peanut gallery of yesteryear, the sub’s members celebrate performative risk-taking and bad decisions made deliberately to entertain. Dudes who post photos of their guns with the safeties engaged are derided as “lunatics” and “f*ggots”; intentionally mis-assembled, overbuilt and/or antiquated firearms are upvoted to the front page; and threatening to “send” (i.e., shoot) annoying inanimate objects like chirping smoke detectors and food that takes too long to cook is similarly popular.
Introducing alcohol into this context obviously ups the risk-taking ante. “It shows a disregard for health and consequences. That’s why we see alcohol as a central component to a lot of male-bonding themes, especially the performative consumption of alcohol,” explains Helana Darwin, a sociologist who has written extensively on drinking culture, social inequality and masculinity. Study after study has found that some young men form masculine identities (usually of the hetero, cis, white variety) around high-volume drinking rituals. “Risk-taking is strongly associated with our culture’s masculinity ideals so any sort of performative display of men doing risky things increases their status as ‘men’ in our culture,” Darwin continues.
The redditors, however, claim the opposite: This is a send-up of America’s red-blooded firearm machismo, not a salute to it. “I can’t speak for everyone in the community, but I, for one, am sick of all the skulls and flames seriousness and stereotypical image of a ‘gun guy,’” says Mr. Kitty, who argues that the media’s representation of the country’s gun owners is almost entirely divorced from reality. “Those hyper-macho, fragile, masculine guys do exist, and do show up in comments [on /r/weekendgunnit],” he explains. “But they usually don’t last long, as people on the sub antagonize them until they shut up or leave.”
Icing, Emasculation and Anti-Macho Masks
The guns-and-White Claw #content looks like an evolution of another drinking-related gender parody to Nathaniel Chapman, a sociologist at Arkansas Tech University who edited Untapped, an anthology of academic essays on craft beer culture. “It made me immediately think of the icing thing from a few years ago,” he tells me. “To chug something is like the most masculine way you could drink a ‘feminine’ beverage, but how do you ramp up that level of masculinity?”
Icing hit the mainstream in 2010, half a decade after the virality of baldly homophobic videos like “Bro Rape” (starring, somehow, a younger Donald Glover) and half a decade before the rise of virtue-signaling and woke bae. In that internet era, inverting gender norms with flavored malt beverages and light irony was enough to get a laugh.
Ten years later, White Claw functions as a similar foil for online gunmen. The internet landscape has changed, and the guns are a new wrinkle, but the underlying humor itself is the old “bitch beer” tripe. After all, before the Claw became the post-gender purview of gunmen, BBQ dads and literally everyone else, it was popular with, you know, chicks. Guns, on the other hand, are phallic and have long been represented as a vital accessory to self-reliant American manhood. As sociologist Scott Melzer told the Washington Post in 2019, “At the heart of gun politics is masculinity politics.”
Given all that, the hard seltzer functions as a sort of low-carb, anti-macho mask. “I don’t think it’s too far off to say White Claws are ‘girly’ [and] guns are the opposite,” says Pounder.
“The image the media paints of gun guys [is of] paranoid, racist, neckbeard cringelords,” Mr. Kitty adds. “This mindset fuels us to go to lengths to be silly, and attracts us to things that are anti-masculine, so people don’t take [us] so seriously.” (On that tip, he also runs the subreddit r/gatcat, a 5,000-member forum featuring firearms and felines where all posts “[m]ust display propurr firearms safety.”)
The emasculation is explicitly spelled out on the forum. White Claw posts are often tagged with flair like “girly drink,” “girls night out” and “soyboy,” and redditors talk about asking their wives’ boyfriends to buy them more Claw. “The White Claw drinkers embrace the cuckold lifestyle,” explains PeteTodd, the subreddit’s mod.
Maybe the subreddit’s gun-toting members genuinely fetishize watching their significant others bang other dudes IRL, and use the Claw as a way to communicate that identity. (“Secretly, I’m sure cuck porn is a favorite among some of the people on here,” says Mr. Kitty, who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community.) But the sexual tension that frequently appears beneath the hard-seltzer posts, a lot of which is graphic and homoerotic in nature, is probably more often the layered gag of gun owners than anything else.
“We talk about cuckoldry and emasculation ironically,” says Pounder. “People pretend they’re homosexual, emasculated and even mental disabled because those things aren’t typically associated with gun ownership.”
‘Ain’t No Laws’
But even if r/weekendgunnit is just a series of malternative in-jokes, its underlying politics are just as fringe as White Claw is mainstream. For instance, Mr. Metal Mulisha’s rallying cry — “taxation is theft” — has been popular with libertarians and other get-your-laws-off-my-land types for centuries. More recently, it’s found plenty of intellectual resonance on the modern right. Andrew Napolitano, late of Fox News, wrote an essay under that headline for the libertarian rag Reason in 2013, and there’s a very-long longshot 2020 presidential candidate campaigning in anarcho-capitalist yellow-and-gold garb who goes by Dan “Taxation Is Theft” Behrman.
In other words, these aren’t the centrist politics of aisle-crossing cuckservatives (if such a politician even exists these days). This is anti-establishment shit, and White Claw — through no fault of its own — is a near-ideal vessel to carry it. Unlike mainstream macro beers and other beverage brands, White Claw has no innate political leaning. There’s no American heartland mythos inside a can of Black Cherry White Claw; nor is there any cynical, class-based jingoism. It isn’t even innately American: Its parent company is based in Canada. In fact, the closest political connotation it has is comedian Trevor Wallace’s “ain’t no laws when you’re drinking Claws” quip.
To that last point, part of the brand’s appeal “is because of the ‘no laws while you’re drinking Claws’ saying that started popping up,” Mr. Kitty tells me, adding that r/weekendgunnit members tend to be very not-ironically opposed to firearm laws like the National Firearms Act. “The ‘no law’ slogan is what separates White Claws on the sub from Truly or any other brand,” Pounder speculates.
Wallace’s motto is unofficial, and White Claw has taken legal action against merchandise featuring it. (A White Claw representative declined several requests to make an executive available for an interview or provide comment for this article.) But official or not, it’s incredibly catchy, and popular on r/weekendgunnit, where members radiate with paranoia that the federal government will take their guns and shoot their dogs in no-knock raids.
“The idea of putting a [shorter than] 16-inch barrel on a lower with a stock without getting permission from the federal government, and it being legal cause you’re drinking a White Claw is a fun meme,” says Mr. Kitty. (For those non-strapped readers: This is explicitly illegal.)
Along those lines, most of the time, the absurdist inflection is fairly obvious. But sometimes, the “no laws” vibes skew darker, and some posts even indicate praxis. One titled “Ain’t No 26 U.S.C. § 5861 When You’re Drinkin the Claw,” features a close-up of a drill bit poised over the lower of a rifle with a Ruby Red Grapefruit White Claw in the background. The federal statute in the title prohibits people from modifying their weapons; the drill, however, is positioned to do exactly that.
“ATF wants to know your location,” commented a redditor.
“Only if they bring a 12-pack of White Claw,” replied another.
What About the Boog?
Now, for the question likely lurking in the back of your head this whole time: How terrified should we be of the counterintuitive overlap of guns, hard seltzer and a shitposter’s zeal for attention?
It really depends. White Claw or not, we live in strange, violent times, and with the pandemic ripping through the country’s already threadbare social fabric, it’s not hard to imagine the hard-seltzer-loving ATF-haters of r/weekendgunnit losing their sense of humor and putting their arsenals into play. It’s particularly easy to imagine, in fact, thanks to President Trump’s recent mid-coronavirus pandemic “LIBERATE” tweets, which stirred up a bunch of boogaloo chatter on popular right-wing forums.
“I don’t think anyone takes the boogaloo seriously — even during the pandemic,” Pounder tells me in early April when I ask whether the COVID-19 situation had given the insurrectionist discourse any additional sincerity. “But I do think I speak for everyone when I say that all gun laws are unconstitutional and should be repealed.”
It’s not clear that everyone’s in on the same joke, though, and the online schtick has recently been turning up in a higher-stakes arena: real life.
In Texas earlier this month, a self-avowed boog boi was arrested for allegedly telling his Facebook Live audience that he was going to kill a cop. A few days later, when armed dudes in tactical body armor swarmed capitol buildings in protest of stay-at-home orders in Kentucky, Ohio and Michigan, a masked man holding a rifle was photographed wearing a Hawaiian shirt underneath his tactical vest.
The photo of the Michigan man made the front page of r/weekendgunnit, where posts featuring similar vests stuffed full of White Claw cans often show up. This Tommy-Gun Bahama was roundly mocked as a fudd and an embarrassment. But out there IRL, on the statehouse steps in Lansing, he’d filled his vest pockets with what looked like magazine clips.
There wasn’t a hard seltzer in sight.