After years of driving what she describes as “the mom mobile,” Nicole Cooper finally fulfilled a lifelong dream in June when she ordered a Jeep Wrangler. Not only was Cooper excited to own a vehicle that was a better fit for her outdoorsy hobbies like hiking and camping, she was also eager to become a part of the vibrant Jeep-owner subculture, spending her summer immersing herself in the world of Jeep-focused Facebook groups to learn more about what she calls “the Lego of the car world.”
But what should have been an opportunity to connect with her fellow Jeep owners quickly turned into a summer of “gritting my teeth and scrolling on” as Cooper endured post after post antagonizing liberals and the Black Lives Matter movement. After realizing one of the most egregious posts she encountered was made by a page administrator and therefore could not be reported for abuse, she was set over the edge and founded her own Facebook group, the Dirty Liberals Jeep Club of America, in October.
Although still small by the standards of most Facebook groups (the private group currently has just over 250 members), the Dirty Liberals Jeep Club of America – DLJCA for short – has grown to include 11 regional chapters and an active Twitter account. I spoke with Cooper about what inspired her to found the club, Jeep’s recent Super Bowl commercial, and if she thinks members of the Jeep-owning community can ever reconcile.
Why did you start the Dirty Liberals Jeep Club of America?
I’m a new Jeep owner, and I spent my summer hanging out in some online, mostly Facebook Jeep groups trying to learn about Jeeps and Jeep culture. And I was very quickly surprised by some of the things that I saw. I didn’t realize how political some of the Jeep groups could be. And then during the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer, things sometimes got very, very ugly and went to dark places. I felt really uncomfortable and frankly sad that I finally got this car, this Jeep that I had dreamed of for so long, only to find out that the culture was less than accepting of me.
One night, scrolling through one of the Jeep groups, I saw a sticker that somebody had put on their Jeep and it said “All Lives Splatter,” and it had a picture of a Jeep running over a group of stick people. For me, that was just the end. I could not be a part of that group anymore. I searched to see if there were any groups that were liberal or progressive, and I found nothing. And I thought, you know, I have a couple of friends locally who drive Jeeps who are like minded in terms of their politics, and I’m just going to start a little Facebook group and we’ll just have a place where we can talk about our Jeep and not have this sort of culture war around it.
We’re a small group compared to Jeep groups that have thousands and thousands of people – we just recently went over 200 – but a lot of people come to the group and say, “thank God this space exists.” They didn’t want to leave other Jeep groups because they love their Jeeps, but they weren’t feeling like they could express themselves. If you complain it just opens yourself up to a lot of frustration and potential harassment or just getting into arguments with strangers on the Internet.
Have you received any sort of pushback or attempted infiltration from people who might not share your point of view?
So far, no. I think somebody mentioned us in a comment somewhere on Twitter saying we should have a rumble with the Proud Boys but, you know, we’re lovers, not fighters [laughs]. I have had to delete some nasty comments on the main Facebook page, but usually that page is just to direct people to the private group. We don’t have a lot of conversations on that page but we do share some political content, some Jeep memes, that sort of thing.
Why do you think some of these other pages are dominated by the right wing or Trump supporters?
I don’t know, and that’s why I was so surprised. Honestly, during the past four years it’s been hard to put a bumper sticker on your car that was anything other than the prevailing Trumpian culture depending on where you live. I live in a city, but I’m surrounded by a lot of rural communities that are very red, and it can be daunting to brand yourself as a liberal in a very large red ocean. If I had to guess the right wing culture just became so loud because so many other forces were afraid to speak up.
How long after you founded the original page did regional groups start to pop up?
That is a very recent development. After the January 6th attack on the Capitol we saw the numbers jump, and then we saw them again after the inauguration, and then there was another number jump after the Super Bowl commercial. People were sharing the commercial in groups and some people were very, very angry about that commercial, generally on the conservative side, and very angry about Bruce Springsteen – they had a lot to say about Bruce and his politics. But somebody who joined messaged me and they said they wanted to meet up with people, and she was from Florida, so they were the first group that requested to have their own page. Once Florida started, I had Tennessee pop up and it kind of just got the ball rolling.
People want to just feel like they can go enjoy their Jeep without having to worry about arguing about politics. Politics just became so pervasive in our daily lives because we were hearing about a tweet every single day. So being able to meet in public is already a risky thing. But being able to meet up and know that you’re not going to be dealing with having to talk about the president or things that he’s saying or doing is a relief.
Obviously, Trump is no longer president. Are you hopeful about the future of the Jeep community? Do you think eventually it will become a little less politically charged or is the damage already done?
I’m hopeful. I hope that we can come to an agreement that we can just have our Jeep clubs. If you want to have a conservative Jeep club and I want a liberal Jeep club, then we can have those clubs, but we can still get together at meetups and just be like “Hey, how’s it going in the conservative club? Great, how’s it going in the liberal club? Great, let’s drive. Let’s go get muddy. Let’s go get dirty.” That Jeep commercial talked about the middle and to have a middle you have to have sides and it’s okay to disagree. It’s okay to have two ends of a spectrum so that you have a middle, a place where you can meet and make it about the Jeep, about driving, about asking: Why are you a Jeep owner? What memories do you have of driving a Jeep with your family that made you want to continue the tradition? What adventures were revealed to you because you have a Jeep? And I think that if you want to be a conservative Jeep group, then that’s what you should call yourself. And that’s why we call ourselves what we do. Then that’s your space and this is our space. Can we have a space together that doesn’t have to deal with these things?
So, I think it can happen. It’s not going to happen soon. It’s not going to happen without work. But there are good people on all sides. We can tap into those greater natures and really bring the community back to a place where it doesn’t have to be about anything except the Jeep.