If you’ve been watching the latest season of BBQ Brawl—Food Network’s cooking competition starring celebrity chefs Bobby Flay and Michael Symon—you may have spotted a barbecue pitmaster from Texas named Brendan Lamb. What you might have missed, however, is the Three Percenter tattoo inked prominently on the back of Lamb’s left arm.
The Three Percenters are a U.S.-based far-right, anti-government militia movement that the government of Canada last week designated a terrorist entity. That list also includes, among others, Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and an ISIS offshoot based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Lamb, 32, said he got his Three Percenter tattoo, a Roman numeral III surrounded by 13 stars, when he was 18 and working as an actor in Los Angeles. At the time, he was preparing for a role with a team of firearms instructors who turned him onto the Three Percenter ideology.
“I didn’t see it as a bad thing,” Lamb told The Daily Beast. “But with the political climate in the past few years, it’s turned into a bad thing.”
Six men the U.S. government says are affiliated with the Three Percenters were recently indicted on conspiracy charges for their alleged roles in the Jan. 6 Capitol siege, and federal authorities have linked the Three Percenters to a foiled 2020 plot to detonate explosives and kidnap and execute Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. In 2017, armed members of the Three Percenters provided perimeter security for the violent Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The largely decentralized Three Percenters movement, which is designated an extremist group by the Anti-Defamation League, was founded in 2008. It takes its name from the incorrect notion that only 3 percent of American colonists took up arms against the British during the American Revolution. The organization claims it is not a militia nor does it have designs on overthrowing the government, but vows to “reign in an overreaching government and push back against tyranny.”
Lamb, one of 12 contestants on the Food Network show, opened Smiley’s Craft Barbecue in Roanoke, Texas, in 2018. His Central Texas-style cooking has been featured in Texas Monthly, which noted the “Prison Platter” featured on Smiley’s menu. The combo plate is a nod to the 32 days Lamb spent in jail on a 2015 DUI charge.
Lamb, who has made it through the initial rounds of BBQ Brawl and will get his own show on Discovery+ if he is crowned the winner, insisted he’s “not on any lists of registered members or anything like that.”
“I had to do some training with gun experts, and those guys let me know that 3 percent of Americans fought against the British, that 3 percent of Americans stood up to fight,” he said. “That’s literally where it started, and then from there it was just people who wanted to protect the citizens against anybody who was going to oppress them. And I was like, ‘I can get behind that.’ Like, I’m not gonna be the one who’s gonna be boots on the ground, but I can support that.”
According to Lamb, he views the Three Percenters as “protectors of anybody and everybody… I see myself as a protector, a protector of my family, a protector of my friends.” He said he has “never been a guy who said he was going to take up arms against anybody,” and doesn’t agree with the extremism “going on nowadays—I want to separate myself from all that.” Lamb insisted he sees himself as a patriot.
“I don’t feel that it should mean that you’re some kind of bad person if you’re patriotic,” he said. “Everybody should love where they live.”
The Food Network did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment, but is apparently aware of the tattoo as it was blurred out in the pay-per-view version of the episode posted online by the network. None of Lamb’s other ink gets the same treatment.
Jared Holt, a fellow at the Atlantic Council and an extremism researcher who tracks the Three Percenter movement among others, said that the group’s members are extremely disparate. And while there are factions who train for the violent overthrow of the government, not everyone who displays the Three Percenter logo is part of a militia. Still, most people who identify with the Three Percenters—even if they’re not connected to a militia group—generally view the government as an oppressive force that must be resisted, said Holt.
“They see themselves as being willing to put their foot down and speak out against whatever flavor of the day they may be opposing,” Holt told The Daily Beast. “As [public] awareness of Three Percenter groups has risen in the last couple of years, for the subset of people that might use the language of the Three Percenters or the logo of the Three Percenters as part of an ideological statement, it’s landed some of them in hot water.”
Last year, New England Patriots kicker Justin Rohrwasser came under fire for a Three Percenter tattoo inked on his left arm. Like Lamb, Rohrwasser also said he had gotten the tattoo as a teenager, believing it signified support for the armed forces.
“There’s certainly a subset of people that display these logos who don’t pose a violent threat,” Holt said. “But what that logo means and what it’s associated with—there are these veins of the Three Percenter movement that express violent desires and spread incredibly conspiratorial anti-government conspiracy theories, and there are bands that organize and train to conduct violence when one day they believe they will be required to perform that violence.”
After at first vowing to get his Three Percenter tat covered up, Rohrwasser later decided to get rid of it altogether.
“I knew I had to get it totally taken off my body,” he told CBS Boston at the time. “I said [I would] cover it up, but I want to get it removed from my body. It’s shameful that I had it on there ignorantly.”
Lamb said he has no plans to get the tattoo removed or covered up, but that he will be adding additional tattoos to his left arm which ought to “camouflage” the Three Percenter symbol.
“I’ve actually gotten this question a few times,” he said. “I honestly didn’t think it would be an issue.”