“If you want to be part of the resistance against Russian disinformation,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger said, “join the fellas.”
It’s an admittedly unorthodox way to begin an interview with the outgoing Republican congressman, one of two on the House select committee investigating Jan. 6 and an outspoken opponent of former President Donald Trump.
But then, Kinzinger is equally outspoken about his support for Ukraine. He is the first and only sitting U.S. legislator to enlist in the “North Atlantic Fella Organization,” or NAFO, an increasingly influential online army of activists who savagely mock pro-Kremlin trolls and Russian diplomats on Twitter and are instantly recognizable by their individually stylized or militarized Shiba Inu avatars.
Kinzinger’s own Twitter profile picture proudly displays his bespoke “fella” in a jumpsuit manning a toy-sized F-18 fighter jet. A former U.S. Air Force pilot who had tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, he doesn’t mind that playful rendering. “F-18 are Navy planes and I don’t like the Navy,” he teases.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov briefly adopted a cartoon dog avatar as his Twitter profile picture, and on Aug. 28 the ministry tweeted its gratitude to the grassroots organization, featuring a Ukrainian fella with an “oh my” expression standing in front of a High Mobility Rocket Artillery Systems (HIMARS) launch. There’s even NAFO merchandise, some of which has already shown up on the battlefield in Ukraine.
“This will be a marker in history in terms of countering a hostile state’s lies and propaganda,” Kinzinger said of NAFO. “I’d love it if we could do that with op-eds in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. But it’s a meme world. Trump was elected on memes, and now NAFO is using that weapon brilliantly against the Russians.”
For someone about to be out of a job come January after 12 years in Congress, Kinzinger sounds incredibly upbeat, even jaunty, on the phone. “When I got back from Iraq and ran for Congress, I thought: If we’re going to ask 19-year-olds to die for my country, I have to be willing to give my career up for it.” [Continue reading…]