Cringe: FBI Associates Internet Slang Popular Among Conservatives with Domestic Terrorism

Attorney General Merrick Garland departs after delivering a statement defending the FBI's recent search of Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence. (Getty Images)
April 10, 2023

The FBI associates common online slang terms popular among conservatives, like "red pilled" and "based," with domestic terrorism, according to a bureau memo.

The terms are flagged in the glossary of an FBI "domestic terrorism reference guide" that the bureau uses to identify potential cases of "violent extremism" carried out by racially-motivated extremists and members of the so-called incel community. Many of the terms in the glossary, published by the Heritage Foundation, are popular far beyond the confines of those groups. The glossary says the word "based" is used to "refer to someone who has been converted to racist ideology, or as a way of indicating ideological agreement." But it is also defined as "a word used when you agree with something."

The glossary defines the term "Chad," which has become a popular online joke, as "race-specific term used to describe an idealized version of a male who is successful at gaining sexual and romantic attention from women."

While the FBI says that the use of the terms would not by themselves warrant a domestic terrorism investigation, the memo is likely to raise concerns that the bureau will improperly flag common Internet language.

Republicans have already raised concerns that the Biden Justice Department has opened investigations into parents who have publicly criticized their local school boards over left-wing curriculum and coronavirus politics.

In October 2021, Attorney General Merrick Garland formed a federal task force to investigate threats against school board members as acts of potential domestic terrorism. Garland formed the task force after the National School Boards Association asked the Biden administration to investigate threats at school board meetings as acts of potential domestic terrorism under the Patriot Act.

The FBI recently disclosed that it opened 25 preliminary investigations into parents accused of making threats against school board officials. According to House Republicans, the FBI opened just one full investigation into school board threats and did not identify any legitimate threats against school board members. Six of the preliminary investigations were opened under the FBI’s counterterrorism division.