When his official portrait was released last month, Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA) experienced a routine Senate rite of passage.
But Ossoff’s legions of online fans, who had been anticipating the portrait for months, experienced something else—a heady mix of emotions expressed through emojis with bulging heart eyes, the eggplant emoji, and the meme of Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in The Wolf of Wall Street biting his fist.
In the over-the-top worship of the 33-year old senator from Georgia, some observers might see proof of an online fan culture run amok. But a crew of progressive digital organizers sees something different: a bunch of easy marks.
Enter the “Ossimp Patrol”—a portmanteau of the senator’s name and a popular slang term for effusive online adoration—a group of very online, mostly Gen Zers who have spent the last year turning an abundant quantity of online Ossoff thirst into campaign cash for Democrats.
Whenever someone offends, a few accounts are quick to respond to them directly with a link to a page on the Democratic fundraising platform ActBlue that functions like an online swear jar—if the offense were instead letting slip a few too many sexually suggestive emojis and GIFs in response to a tweet about Ossoff.
The revenue collected from that ActBlue page—what organizers call the “bonk tax”—is currently being directed to the campaign of Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and organizations supporting voter registration and outreach in Georgia and Texas. While Ossoff is not up for re-election until 2026, Warnock faces Georgia voters again in November 2022, and his defeat could be a fatal blow to Democrats’ thin and hard-won majority in the Senate.
The organizer behind the main Ossimp Patrol Twitter account is pretty much who you’d expect it to be: an 18-year old U.C. Berkeley student. She declined to give her name for privacy reasons, but she said a similar effort to tap Ossoff superfans through guerrilla fundraising tactics yielded six-figure sums for the candidates during the 2020 runoffs.
“The bonk tax is really effective for small dollar donations,” she explained to The Daily Beast over Twitter direct message.
The persistence of this effort after Ossoff and Warnock’s victories is a testament to the urgency that many Democrats feel to maintain their majorities in Congress, particularly after the events of Jan. 6.—and, yes, probably to the fact that there continues to be a bunch of people who find the nerd-chic senator attractive and are somewhat guilty about it.
The post-January feeling, said the Berkeley student spamming thirsty Ossoff fans, was “more like, ‘Wow, we were able to do that, we should do it again to protect our democracy.’”
Ossoff himself seems puzzled by the whole phenomenon. On a recent day on Capitol Hill, The Daily Beast showed the senator the ActBlue page and the “You’ve been Ossimped” meme that accompanies it.
He paused for a moment, furrowed his brow, and said he didn’t know anything about the effort—though he did allude to the “great community” that had supported his 2020 campaign.
“Thank you,” Ossoff told The Daily Beast, “for bringing this to my attention.”
While the online fan community around the first millennial senator has clearly evolved in ways he did not anticipate, it is true that his especially savvy social media operation has allowed that culture to flourish.
In 2020, for example, Ossoff proved to be one of the first candidates anywhere to effectively use the video-sharing platform TikTok as a tool to reach younger voters. He managed to find a sweet spot of authenticity, with his videos surfing the platform’s meme of the month for surprisingly non-cringey videos that got his name out and, maybe, got the vote out. He currently has half a million followers.
In turn, Ossoff’s own presence on TikTok fueled a vibrant subculture around him on the platform, where videos set to pop music of Ossoff milling around on the Senate floor routinely draw 200,000 likes.
The organizers behind the Ossimp Patrol campaign lament that they can’t bring their appeals to TikTok ahead of the 2022 election, due to the platform’s restrictions on link-sharing. Their current fundraising isn’t what it was ahead of the runoffs, which is understandable, given that small donors nationwide forked over hundreds of millions of dollars to the Georgia Democrats during the two-month sprint. But people are still giving, and Warnock’s campaign posted a remarkable $6 million haul during the first three months of 2021.
The Berkeley student behind the effort said the crew of five to 10 people on Ossimp Patrol had full plans to bring the band back together as the 2022 race heats up—they had dozens more during the runoff—and with no judgement towards those spending their time on Twitter swooning over Ossoff’s every move.
“People Ossimp freely,” she said, “but since this is America, there is a bonk tax associated with it.”