Skip to content

Full Metal Sponcon

The former SEAL building a business out of backlash

The video Eddie Gallagher posted to his Patreon page late last July begins, like his others, with images designed to reinforce his status as one of America’s most notorious former Navy SEALs. First, we see Gallagher—strong, shirtless, and sweaty—from behind. He’s hunched over a barbell as if praying to the SEALs flag hung on the wall in front of him. Then there’s a series of smash cuts: Gallagher shooting guns and lifting weights, interspersed with what appears to be an amphibious rescue operation and then a missile destroying a building in a sandy landscape that looks like the Middle East.

Such a preamble primes viewers to see something hardcore, and, often, that’s exactly what he delivers: ball-busting workouts, sweaty jiu-jitsu clinics, and product posts featuring knives, brass knuckles, and gun silencers. The July video, however, veers in a far different direction: into Gallagher’s bright, well-appointed kitchen. It’s lunchtime, and the former SEAL is preparing to scramble some eggs.

Gallagher looks completely out of place in this environment, like a grenade in a fruit bowl. “I’m not a chef,” he says sheepishly. “This is about the sloppiest egg-making you’re gonna get.” Indeed, the meal quickly devolves into disaster. Shortly after he instructs viewers to “throw all the shit in here and let the pan do the work,” Gallagher burns a plastic bowl on a stove top, a mistake that triggers an additional flood of obscenities. The salted mound of eggs and meat that he finally presents doesn’t look particularly appetizing, but that’s not the point. Gallagher, who in 2018 was court-martialed on charges that he attempted to kill civilians and stabbed a teenage ISIS prisoner to death while deployed in Iraq, is now a spokesman for a seasoned salt company called Firecracker Farm, and the eggs offer a chance to show the product in action. “I’ve been a condiment and seasoning connoisseur for a while, and this seasoning is the best I have tasted,” Gallagher testified in the description of a promotional video he posted on YouTube, adding that he’s “#Ffaddicted!” and urging his followers to use a unique promo code for free shipping on orders over twenty dollars.

Fuck Around and Find Out

As unlikely as it seems, Eddie Gallagher is now a social media influencer. His role hawking salt reveals just how deeply politics have seeped into even the most innocuous corners of consumer spending, a phenomenon exemplified by the conservative activist Charlie Kirk, who recently told listeners of his eponymous radio show that “I’m going through my refrigerator and I’m starting to ask the question: Was this ketchup bottle woke? Is this mustard? I mean, literally.”

Though far-removed from the top tier of influencers, Gallagher remains remarkable for successfully leveraging his history of violence into an upper middle-class existence.

Gallagher’s pivot also speaks to the trend of divisive right-wing figures harnessing backlash to build a brand. This weird world includes the likes of acquitted Kenosha shooter Kyle Rittenhouse, who has written a memoir and recently partnered with a body armor company, and disgraced General Michael Flynn, who gives speeches, sells merch, and promotes a precious metals exchange. In Gallagher’s case, he has an expert helping him navigate this new landscape: his wife, Andrea, who has a background in marketing and portrait photography. While he was locked up in a Navy brig, she flooded social media with calls to support her husband and scored high-profile TV interviews on Fox & Friends and Good Morning America.

Along the way, Andrea leveraged the positive brand of the SEALs—commonly considered America’s most elite special operations force—to establish Eddie’s public persona as an innocent victim of cancel culture, a leading enemy of the deep state, and the last alpha in a beta-fied America. This message attracted thousands of followers, who bought “Free Eddie” T-shirts and donated $750,000 for the family to use for legal and living costs. By the time Gallagher was cleared of the most gruesome allegations in July 2019 and freed, many had come to see him as a new soldier archetype: a righteous fighter unfairly restrained by corrupt generals and woke military dictates who, when confronted with evil, took matters into his own hands to mete out extrajudicial justice.

As his legend grew, a fourteen-year-old boy and his father made and sold Eddie Gallagher action figures, pledging to donate half their proceeds to the Gallaghers’ military justice reform charity, the Pipe Hitter Foundation. The nonprofit takes its name from military slang for a combative and increasingly emboldened sect of special forces that Eddie belongs to. (Some in this unofficial cadre also self-identify as “hunters” or “pirates.”) Pipe Hitter offers a simple mission: to “serve those who serve us.” In practice, this means fortifying the Congressional Justice for Warriors Caucus, which has supported an array of accused war criminals, including Gallagher, and pledges to discredit and reform the military justice system. Despite his vague gestures at institutional reform, Gallagher retains the blinkered philosophy of a SEAL—viciously targeting the individuals who wronged him and his clients rather than executing a comprehensive plan to topple the system itself. Such an approach may succeed in a few battles, but it’s surely not enough to win a war.

Following Gallagher’s release, he and his wife refocused their respective strengths—Eddie as a photogenic SEAL, Andrea as a self-styled “better business babe”—to establish Gallagher Holdings LLC. They’ve since amassed more than 250,000 Instagram followers, launched a podcast, started a Patreon, and forged connections with more than a dozen companies, including Nine Line Apparel and Black Rifle Coffee, both veteran-owned and known for their unflagging patriotism. They also cowrote a popular book, The Man in The Arena: From Fighting ISIS to Fighting for My Freedom, in addition to launching Pipe Hitter, which has raised millions to support cops and service members accused of crimes.

Some veterans have objected, accusing the couple of capitalizing on Gallagher’s criminal charges. “It’s gross,” said Maximilian Uriarte, a New York Times best-selling author and animator, whose work is inspired by his time as a Marine infantryman in Iraq. He charged Gallagher with building a brand around “unapologetic violence toward our enemies” in an era of intensifying polarization and domestic turmoil.

Gallagher’s lawyer, Tim Parlatore, cast the rebrand as a financial necessity. “Eddie Gallagher is not one of those SEALs who, you know, went into this so he could eventually write a book and start a political career,” he told Military Times in 2020. Parlatore said that Gallagher had hoped to quietly retire and become a CIA contractor, but after that prospect vanished in the wake of the trial, he needed to find other ways to support his family. “He never wanted the spotlight,” Parlatore said. “He never wanted any of this stuff.”

Andrea’s actions tell a different story. A source directly involved in the “Free Eddie” campaign recalled how, during his first phone call with Andrea, she laid out a series of business ideas connected to her husband’s newfound notoriety, including her own beauty line. “There was concern, yes, for her husband, and concern for his conditions, but it was about opportunities above all else,” he said. “There was a lot of enthusiasm about what was down range on marketing and branding, which I thought was weird.”

While the Gallaghers declined to speak for this story or detail their income, Washington Post tech columnist Taylor Lorenz estimates that an influencer of Gallagher’s stature can easily net six figures annually—and perhaps as much as a million. Though far removed from the top tier of influencers, Gallagher remains remarkable for successfully leveraging his history of violence into an upper middle-class existence. He continues to attract followers and sell new products. In a recent sign of their success, he and Andrea purchased another home for over $300,000 across the bay from their $1.2 million home on Florida’s Emerald Coast.

For every follower who purchases a product stamped with Gallagher’s “FAFO” monogram (short for “Fuck Around and Find Out”), many more absorb his militant messaging, spread via social media, through advocacy work at Pipe Hitter, and in his role as a defense coach and consultant for two private security companies, one of which deployed him to train Florida cops in what he described as “new concepts of shooting.”

Gallagher was ultimately acquitted of six of the seven charges filed against him, thanks, in part, to a stunning turnabout from a key witness and allegations of prosecutorial misconduct. He was later granted clemency by President Donald Trump, allowing him to retire in good standing with a potential path to building a SEAL brand. Though he’s legally exonerated, fellow platoon members have accused Gallagher of being a habitual liar, a reckless battle planner, and a poor shot: noncriminal allegations but ones that would collectively seem to limit his ability to partner with gun manufacturers, knife-makers, and the police. And yet Gallagher’s unrepentant recklessness has found an audience among those who believe service members should be just that. “What appeals most on the internet is extreme content,” Lorenz explained. “And for a certain segment of men, violence has become aspirational.”

Spoils of War

On the day Gallagher was freed, he and Andrea strode out of the San Diego courthouse as newly minted conservative celebrities. News cameras and paparazzi strained to get good shots of the beaming couple. Both dressed in white, they jumped into a convertible Mustang of the same color and, telling assembled reporters they were in search of “tattoos and alcohol,” sped off.

The SEALs’ appeal is broad: one recent study estimated that 36 percent of internet users follow at least one veteran or service member on social media.

Making this kind of media splash is antithetical to hallowed SEAL codes. When the SEALs were formed six decades ago, its leaders were explicitly seeking men who would avoid the spotlight, a strategic imperative for a force with top-secret tactics and highly sensitive missions, many involving the CIA. The narrator of a 1969 Navy documentary casts SEALs as the military’s “unsung heroes,” further warning potential recruits that “if you are in here for just getting the Bronze Star and your name on the front page, no you won’t—because they don’t put our name on the front page.” In 2005, the Navy formalized this ethos of quiet professionalism with an oath in which SEALs pledge to “not advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my actions.”

Gallagher, of course, is not the first SEAL to leverage his service for reputational and financial gains. Retired SEALs are now authors, politicians, TV stars, and dominant personalities in the growing world of military influencing. Their appeal is broad: one recent study estimated that 36 percent of internet users follow at least one veteran or service member on social media.

Numerous theories explain this shift. Don Shipley, a former SEAL who, at sixty-two, is a generation removed from Gallagher, believes the brand’s explosion was inevitable. “SEALs are not built to slide into retirement and never ever mention their service,” he explained. “They’re among the toughest men that walk on the face of this planet—the sleek, black stallions on top of the mountain overlooking the herd. They’ve accomplished a lot, and they have the right to talk about it.” However much pride plays into it, Shipley ultimately chalks up the trend to economic factors. “There’s not a lot of jobs out there for a washed-up commando,” he explained. “The contracting world has largely dried up, so nobody wants your shooting and looting skills.” Under these conditions, he explained, “guys find other things to do.”

Others point to a 2015 paper for the Naval Postgraduate School, where SEAL Forrest Crowell traced the embrace of “narcissistic and profit-focused behavior within the SEAL community,” which, he argued, damaged military effectiveness and “undermined healthy civil-military relations.” Crowell notes that it was not individual SEALs but the Navy itself that first exploited the brand, hoping that a turn toward “entertainment” would ease the recruiting struggles and intense manpower needs of the war on terror. He traces the Navy’s first major act of brand-building to 2007, when the branch gave a SEAL named Marcus Luttrell time off to write Lone Survivor, a best-selling memoir later adapted into a Mark Wahlberg movie about a violent clash with the Taliban. In his second book, Luttrell admitted to feeling “strange” after being enlisted to promote SEAL culture. “But,” he added, “we also knew how to get something done when the chain of command spoke.”

The Navy subsequently supported Act of Valor, an action film that cast active-duty SEALs. On the night of the premiere, the Navy pulled out all the stops, enlisting their elite parachute team, the Leap Frogs, to land on a red carpet in Hollywood. These new propaganda products were at once a way to goose recruitment and a form of pacification for the public, reducing a failed war down into a series of badass missions wholly divorced from politics or foreign affairs. In his 2019 book ALPHA: Eddie Gallagher and the War for the Soul of the Navy SEALs, New York Times reporter David Philipps observes that, throughout the war on terror, SEALs were seen as “men who in the absence of broad strategy victory could still deliver wins.” He continues: “They were evidence that in the face of repeated military failures, America was still great. And the nation loved them for it.”

SEAL notoriety accelerated in 2011, when President Barack Obama publicly identified SEAL Team 6 as the force that killed Osama bin Laden. The White House later leaked details of the killing to the filmmakers of Zero Dark Thirty, which was originally slated to premiere just ahead of the election, burnishing Obama’s reputation at a critical juncture. (While the film was ultimately delayed until November, a quick-and-dirty TV movie about the raid, produced by noted Democratic donor Harvey Weinstein, was broadcast two days before the election.) In addition to TV and movie projects, the bin Laden raid spurred a glut of SEAL memoirs; St. Martin’s Press launched an imprint exclusively on special operation stories. A cheeky 2014 headline from The Onion reads: “Navy Forms Elite New SEAL Team to Write Best-Selling Tell-All Books.”

Carl Higbie, a Gallagher ally and author who today hosts a political show on Newsmax, said that once SEAL command broke its cardinal rule and “started talking about fight club,” he and other SEALs moved swiftly to get in on the action. “We were like, ‘Hey, you guys are using it as a recruiting tool and a publicity stunt, why can’t we?’”

Pimp My Trident

Whereas the first big wave of SEAL celebrities chiefly focused on telling war stories, the emerging class is often engaged in the work of arming civilians with the tools and traits of warriors. A swirling set of political and cultural conditions account for this shift, including the rise of doomsday prepping, a perceived “crisis of masculinity,” and the legitimizing of political violence on the right, from Unite the Right to Kenosha to January 6. Many Americans have abandoned the prospect of seeking solutions to societal decay and are instead training to survive on a scorched earth. In turn, there are SEALs eager to fuel and monetize their fears, with help from allies like the Fox network, whose highly rated show Special Forces: World’s Toughest Test puts D-list celebrities through a gauntlet run by battle-hardened operators.

Since becoming a culture warrior, Gallagher has positioned himself as a true patriot assailing a corrupt American system—a renegade now rescuing others facing persecution.

As the SEAL brand reaches new heights, some vets deride others for exaggerating their service or leaning too hard on it—what SEALs call “pimping the trident.” An intra-SEAL skirmish of this sort broke out last year between David Goggins, an ultramarathon runner and motivational speaker with eleven million Instagram followers, and U.S. Representative Dan Crenshaw, a politician with eight hundred thousand constituents and various influencer assets, including a podcast and a merch shop. First, Crenshaw suggested that Goggins was playing up an unremarkable SEAL career to gain more followers. Goggins subsequently accused Crenshaw of hypocrisy, displaying a direct message in which the lawmaker had asked him for a book blurb. He complained that SEALs “talk out of one side of their mouth, and then the other.”

Shawn Ryan, a former SEAL who hosts a talk show on YouTube with more than two million subscribers, said he’s watched plenty of former peers transform online into hypermasculine versions of themselves. “You didn’t act like that before, when we worked together,” he recalled thinking. “I don’t know why you’re like that now on Instagram.” Ryan conducts generally sympathetic interviews with veterans, including controversial figures like Gallagher. But considering one of the few products he sells are gummy bears, he seems to reject the hardcore, iron-pumping lifestyle many military influencers use to hawk gear, muscle supplements, and other masculine products. “I didn’t want to be a character,” he said.

Gallagher made a similar declaration during an episode of his podcast Shoot Me Straight. “I truly believe if you end up selling yourself out, or being like ‘Oh, okay, I’ll go that route just to make money, that is a very dangerous road to go down,” he said, without a hint of irony. His guest that day was Alex Bonamarte, the civilian founder and CEO of Firecracker Farm. Gallagher has cast his support for the seasoned salt company as patriotic, rather than a strictly commercial alliance. He contends that, contrary to claims from Big Pharma and the media, salt is “vital to your body.” On Gallagher’s podcast, Bonamarte strained to demonstrate his conservative bona fides, predicting the coming crack-up of society and expressing support for Daniel Penny, the former Marine accused last summer of fatally choking Jordan Neely, an unarmed Black man, in a New York City subway.

Salt is something of an outlier when it comes to the products shilled by Gallagher. Most reference the violence of combat deployment, like cigars named after the Javelin rockets he launched overseas, or a $2,499 rifle inscribed with a skull and the phrase, “Seek Battle.” Gallagher, a trained medic, has also endorsed a tourniquet kit and other first aid tools, calling to mind his alleged improper medical treatment of the wounded ISIS captive that, by Gallagher’s own admission after the trial, amounted to “nursing him to death.”

Gallagher has long loved knives, and his nickname in the SEALs was “Blade.” In his role as an influencer, he has been affiliated with Half Face Blades, a company owned by former SEAL Andrew Arrabito. Ahead of his deployment in 2017, Gallagher ordered a custom knife and hatchet from Half Face that he planned to put to use in Iraq; in a text sent to Arrabito after his arrival, he wrote, “I’ll try and dig that knife or hatchet on someone’s skull!” (The order ultimately had to be sent in the mail and, according to David Philipps, did not arrive by the time Gallagher crossed paths with the teenage prisoner he was later accused of stabbing.) Recently, Gallagher posted a Patreon video tour of the knife company’s headquarters in San Diego. At one point, Arrabito, who looks like he could be Jason Momoa’s brother, shows off some of the rare materials used to construct handles. They include a portion of a prosthetic leg, a piece of an exploded IED, and a gray shard of rock recovered by SEAL Team Six at bin Laden’s compound. Gallagher fingers the objects for a beat, then turns to the camera. “That is badass,” he says.

Stop and Sell the Coffee

Only a couple of the companies Gallagher has listed as partners or affiliates responded to written questions, making it impossible to understand the true scope and terms of the former SEAL’s influencing empire. One of them, a supplement maker called Protekt Products, said Gallagher applied, like anyone else can, to be an affiliate. They also clarified that only two veterans serve as official spokesmen: Arrabito and another SEAL, Trevor Thompson.

The widespread silence from these companies may stem from the potential pitfalls of attracting mainstream attention to a highly divisive brand ambassador. While many of these brands exist in a self-contained ecosystem, able to survive by virtue signaling to a narrow set of radical consumers, other, larger companies also target a moderate audience. It’s an uneasy balance to maintain. Perhaps no company knows this better than Black Rifle. When Kyle Rittenhouse wore a Black Rifle T-shirt in his first photo out of jail, some assumed that he had partnered with the company. Amid intense blowback, the coffee makers distanced themselves from him—a move that drew equal and opposite ire from the right.

A Black Rifle spokesperson claimed there is no active business relationship with Gallagher and denied that the company had any role in his Salty Frog apparel line beyond social media promotion—a characterization that contrasts to the rollout, during which Black Rifle and Nine Line were both billed as collaborators. (The spokesperson said no money was “involved” in the Salty Frog work but didn’t respond to clarifying questions.)

As for Half Face Blades, Arrabito initially agreed to speak with me when I reached him by phone but became combative when I brought up Gallagher and denied that the two had any kind of formal deal.

Nine Line, by contrast, was the first company to embrace Gallagher, even after founder Tyler Merritt’s executive team warned him that “we can’t touch Eddie with a ten-foot pole.” Merritt said he became convinced of Gallagher’s innocence after launching his own clandestine fact-finding operation, which he declined to elaborate on. Before helping to launch Salty Frog, Nine Line initially sold the “Free Eddie” T-shirts that raised over $80,000 for the Gallaghers. Merritt estimated that the company’s partnerships with the Gallaghers have cost the company millions of dollars, thanks to what he described as misinformation that angered customers, distributors, and investors. Still, he told me he stands by them. “At some point in my life I made a decision to do what I think is right, regardless of the monetary impacts,” he said.

As thanks for Nine Line’s support, Gallagher has promoted the brand on big stages. He wore a black Nine Line T-shirt for his first interview as a free man with Fox News, then, a few months later, tagged the company in a viral Instagram post documenting his and Andrea’s meeting with the Trumps at Mar-a-Lago just before Christmas.

SEALed with a Fist

Gallagher’s collaboration with Nine Line extends to apparel featuring the Pipe Hitter Foundation’s red, white, and blue logo. At least five companies linked to Gallagher have similarly pledged support to the nonprofit, though none responded to questions seeking the details of their giving.

Many Americans have abandoned the prospect of seeking solutions to societal decay and are instead training to survive on a scorched earth.

To date, Pipe Hitter has provided more than $3 million in legal, PR, and living costs to defendants with grievances that resonate with the Gallaghers. The list of cops and warriors they have helped includes Penny, the accused Marine, and four convicted former Blackwater contractors charged for their role in the 2007 Nisour Square massacre, during which the men fired blindly into an Iraqi crowd of civilians, killing seventeen. The contractors received around $120,000 thanks in part to Ryan, the SEAL podcaster, who interviewed the men and promoted Pipe Hitter’s fundraiser.

When Ryan interviewed Gallagher, he raised the potential pitfalls of Pipe Hitter’s work, estimating that, with one wrong move, “you could be helping somebody that, you know, is an actual fucking criminal.” Gallagher insisted there was a “thorough” process for vetting grantees, though he ultimately explained it as a kind of instinct. “Most of the time, you know, you can tell when someone’s getting screwed, or someone’s getting fucked,” he explained matter-of-factly.

Eddie remains the bold face of Pipe Hitter, with Andrea serving as president. (State filings indicate she is now compensated in this role, though how much she earns isn’t clear.) Carl Higbie, who serves on Pipe Hitter’s board, has promoted its work on his Newsmax show. In a May segment, he and Andrea spotlighted the case of Catherine Arnett, a Marine who was detained in a brig after refusing to take the Covid-19 vaccine. In describing Arnett’s case, Andrea described a pattern of military “harassment and bullying that we haven’t seen, gosh, since our case.”

Arnett told me she appreciated that Pipe Hitter “saw an injustice and moved toward it,” but said she’d parted ways with the organization due to the mishandling of her case, a saga she declined to detail other than to describe the nonprofit as adopting an aggressive legal strategy she summed up as “Fuck you to the Marine Corps.” “That’s not how I operate as a Catholic,” she explained.

While Arnett ultimately refused to operate according to the Gallagher playbook of aggressively assailing the military, others have embraced this bellicose strategy. One is Stuart Scheller, a Marine who was arrested and later discharged by the military after publicly criticizing the Biden administration’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan. (Pipe Hitter raised more than $2.5 million for Scheller’s case.) He’s since written a book for Simon & Schuster called Crisis of Command, been repeatedly feted on Fox News, and become a source for veteran opinion for the New York Post, where he recently railed against the Biden White House’s decision to fly the pride flag. (In an apparent rite of passage, Scheller has also launched his own apparel brand called “Authentic Americans.”)

Since becoming a culture warrior, Gallagher has positioned himself as a true patriot assailing a corrupt American system—a renegade now rescuing others facing persecution. There’s a germ of truth in his broadsides against the highly undemocratic and punitive military justice system, which is vulnerable to command influence and focused on maintaining order above all else. It’s a system used to cast aberrant behavior as the sole responsibility of an individual, rather than the inevitable conclusion of an institution built on violence.

Gallagher’s sense of resentment is also understandable coming from a man, who, in the absence of widespread military service, clocked eight overseas deployments, which very well might have left him with anxiety and a traumatic brain injury. And yet Gallagher ultimately romanticizes the violence that left him damaged and many of his friends dead. He presents his case as an example of military injustice when the system’s weak points are arguably what facilitated his freedom. He attacks the military as morally bankrupt but also derives his status and credibility from the institution.

It’s a tough line to walk. This was evident in a merch drop for his FAFO brand late last year, which Gallagher announced with a photo of himself sporting a new seventy-dollar hoodie. He’s pictured standing in front of the Navy brig where he was once locked up, his two hands in the air flashing middle fingers. Their intended target is the prison, of course, and the system it represents. Yet the angle of the camera makes it appear as if Gallagher is flipping off an American flag waving just above the brig entrance. The confused symbolism is compounded by the fact that the hoodie itself displays the stars and the stripes. In a way, it perfectly encapsulates Gallagher’s brand: America at war with itself.