A photo of new Patriots kicker Justin Rohrwasser caused quite a stir Saturday when tattoos on his arms displayed a logo for a far-right group known as “The 3 Percenters” or “III%ers.” The logo is three roman numeral I’s surrounded by a ring of 13 stars, as the original U.S. flag. Rohrwasser, who kicked for Marshall and went to high school in upstate New York, says that he did not know what the logo actually stood for when he had it permanently inked to his body years ago.
“I got that tattoo when I was a teenager and I have a lot of family in the military. I thought it stood for a military-support symbol at the time,” said Rohrwasser at an introductory press conference. “Obviously, it’s evolved into something that I do not want to represent. When I look back on it, I should have done way more research before I put any mark or symbol like that on my body, and it’s not something I ever want to represent. It will be covered.”
Of late it’s been racist and anti-Semitic tweets from years back that have brought athletes public scrutiny and criticism. Social-media posts are easily deleted. Body paint not so much.
Since Rohrwasser now says he wasn’t familiar with what the III% logo stood for — and neither was Bill Belichick apparently — when he got it years ago, it certainly raises red flags that it hadn’t been covered up once he learned of its use by racist groups. So, we thought we would educate Rohrwasser, and others, as to what it represents to people of color — and those who think them inferior — especially as he’s about to enter a league that is 70 percent black.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that tracks and monitors hate groups across the country, describes “3 Percenters” as an anti-government group, despite protestations from the group’s website.
“Percenterism is one of three core components within the anti-government militia movement, along with the Oath Keepers and traditional militia groups,” the SPLC states on its site. “The reference to 3 percent stems from the dubious historical claim that only 3 percent of American colonists fought against the British during the War of Independence.”
The Anti-Defamation League, which monitors extremists and confronts anti-Semitism and bigotry, describes “3 Percenters” this way: “These anti-government extremist groups are trying both to exploit and to fan the anti-government sentiment that has grown over President Obama’s first year in office, as well as to support each other’s efforts.”
The SPLC also notes the rise in anti-government groups since the 2008 election of President Barack Obama. One of those groups, the “3 Percenters” formed that year to help foment support for the belief that Obama was coming for Americans’ guns. Vice.com listed “The 3 Percenters” numbers at more than 10,000 in 2017, describing its members as “a heavily-armed Second Amendment supporters who believe their right to own firearms is under attack.”
But the SPLC believes it goes much deeper than that:
“Factors fueling the anti-government movement in recent years include changing demographics driven by immigration, the struggling economy and the election of the first African-American president. In 2017, the Southern Poverty Law Center identified 689 anti-government groups that were active the prior year. Of these groups, 273 were militias and the remainder includes ‘common-law’ courts, publishers, ministries and citizens’ groups.”
With Donald Trump in the White House, anti-government groups who grew opposing the Obama administration, now find themselves in the paradoxical position of being on the same side of the government they had recently confronted.
“The movement has gravitated more and more toward the same white nationalist themes — animus toward non-white immigrants and Muslims — that animate the Trump administration,” states the SPLC.
Much of “3 Percenters” actions are in response to what it perceives as unconstitutional acts made by the federal government against local governments, many of which have extended beyond Second Amendment rights and into immigration and environmental issues.
Here’s some recent history surrounding the group:
In 2013 New Jersey police officers were disciplined for wearing “3 Percenters” patches.
“They were separating themselves from the others in the unit and we put a stop to it immediately,” said Jersey City Police Deputy Chief Peter Nalbach.
In 2015, Idaho “3 Percenters” protested refugee resettlements of Muslim refugees in the state.
“It ain’t gonna happen on three percent of Idaho’s watch!” said Brandon Curtiss, president of III% of Idaho, according to the SPLC.
In 2016, the group provided security for an armed militia group, led by Ammon Bundy, and its occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, a federal installation.
In 2017 “3 Percenters” were present in Charlottesville, Va,. to provide “security” for the “Unite the Right” rally which formed in opposition of the removal of a Confederate statue of Robert E. Lee. Conflict there led to the murder of counter protester Heather Heyer by a white supremacist.
Also in 2017, “3 Percenter” Jerry Drake Varnell was arrested for plotting to bomb an Oklahoma City bank with an explosive-laden van, the same tactic used in the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995 that killed 168 people. Varnell said he identified with the “3 percenter” ideology and wanted “to start the next revolution.” The “3 Percenters” publicly condemned Varnell’s actions.
In 2018, North Carolina suspended a police officer for the “III Percenter” tattoo on his body. The state’s legislature issued a statement calling into question the officer’s ability to do his job.
And last June, “3 Percenters” voiced support and offered security for Oregon Republican state senators who were ordered by the state’s governor to return to the Senate floor to vote on a cap-and-trade bill that would lower greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent. The Oregon “3 Percenters” said on Facebook the group would do, “whatever it takes to keep these senators safe.”
One June 22, The President of the Oregon State Senate had to shut down the state Capitol due to a possible “militia threat.”
Navy veteran and “3 Percenter” Wade Bemis told North Carolina’s CBS17.com in 2018 that the group is an organization of “patriots.”
“I signed and took an oath that I would protect the Constitution of the United States against foreign-born and domestic terrorists. This is an oath that does not expire,” Bemis said.
As high-minded as goons like Bemis make it sound, such stances equate to vigilantism and mob justice, not patriotism. There are ways to confront what you believe to be an unjust law or action by the government. See Colin Kaepernick. More often than not, these militia groups serve as nothing more than a way to intimidate black and brown people.
And while “3 Percenters” have outwardly tried to distance themselves from white supremacy and neo-Nazism, the actions and associations of their members suggest otherwise.
So as Rohrwasser walks into the NFL, he might want to know more about what the tattoo on his arm means to the majority of his new teammates.
That is, of course, assuming, as he suggests, that he had no idea. Which is assuming a great deal.