On November 30 2022, tweets about a Republican fundraising email containing the phrase “88 words” appeared:
I hate playing “gotcha” — regardless of the side. But I’m striving to understand why — during week of Trump/Kanye/Fuentes — an RNC-approved email solicitation would draw attention to the fact it is only “88 words” long. I mean, is there a non-awful explanation? Anyone home? pic.twitter.com/JPLx8ZX1mg
— Robert A George (@RobGeorge) November 30, 2022
A December 1 2022 tweet featured a screenshot of the email, apparently the same as the one in the tweet above, categorizing the email as containing “Nazi code words”:
The republicans are using nazi code words in their fundraising emails now. We are in the midst of a society wide rightwing radicalization event and people need to push back before this goes kinetic. The Republican Party is a fascist domestic threat. pic.twitter.com/K2Qq9NWciZ
— karl (sad trombone noise enthusiast) (@brainnotonyet) December 1, 2022
Preview text available in the screenshot read:
FROM: THE GOP
PLEASE READ IMMEDIATELY:
This message is only 88 words. Herschel’s Senate runoff is almost here, and we can’t afford to FALL SHORT of our November End-of-Month Goal if we’re going to help him flip Georgia RED.
Why ’88’ is Controversial
By itself, the number “88” seems innocuous — but in the context of coded hate speech, it comes up on a regular basis.
In March 2019, we addressed a rumor that the “OK sign” represented profanity in American Sign Language (ASL). Outside of ASL, the hand gesture in question was — to a degree — associated with coded white supremacist signaling; in that article, we excerpted YouTube essayist and debunker Natalie Wynn (ContraPoints) on the practice of co-opting of seemingly benign symbols:
Popular YouTube channel ContraPoints, whose host explains political and social issues, addressed the issue in a September 2017 video titled “Decrypting the Alt-Right: How to Recognize a [email protected]” At the 10:10 mark, host Natalie Wynn discusses “Secret Symbols” and “innocuous emoji.” Wynn addresses the trolling aspect at approximately 11 minutes in, noting here that the “OK sign” is not inherently racist, but notes how the normative nature of random symbols like the gesture are a jumping-off point for claims that opponents of racism find everything racist — “even the OK sign.” In a subsequent point, Wynn notes that the ambiguity is yet another functional strategy in muddying the waters around discourse about white nationalism.
Later in 2019, we profiled a piece of Facebook engagement-bait which contained a veiled white supremacist reference. Several posts on the page in question made reference to two numbers often seen together — “14” and “88” — and explained the context of both:
On August 8 2019, the page shared a post about the date (8/8, a nod to the white supremacist dogwhistle “88,” which stand for the eighth letter of the alphabet, H, and is widely used as shorthand for “Heil Hitler”), and asked people to consider moving their birthdays …
Post comments (archived here) were full of winking references to the numbers 14 (representing the “14 words” white supremacist meme), 88 (the aforementioned coded “Heil Hitler” reference), and 1488 …
In June 2020, readers spotted a baseball priced at $88, available for purchase on TrumpStore.com. That page reiterated context for “88,” as well as the function of a “dog whistle” in coded speech:
It is well established that the number “88” is a hate symbol. In its Hate Symbols Database, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) explains:
88 is a white supremacist numerical code for “Heil Hitler.” H is the eighth letter of the alphabet, so 88 = HH = Heil Hitler. One of the most common white supremacist symbols, 88 is used throughout the entire white supremacist movement, not just neo-Nazis. One can find it as a tattoo or graphic symbol; as part of the name of a group, publication or website; or as part of a screenname or e-mail address. It is even sometimes used as a greeting or sign-off (particularly in messages on social networking websites).
Although the ADL added that it “should be noted that 88 can be found in non-extremist contexts,” the organization also alluded to its use as a dogwhistle. A dogwhistle, in this instance, involves employing the use of coded signals to appeal to white supremacists:
Dog whistle is a type of strategy of communication that sends a message that the general population will take a certain meaning from, but a certain group that is “in the know” will take away the secret, intended message. Often involves code words.
In July 2020, we examined a claim that the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) webpage featured the badge number “14188,” once again referencing the ADL:
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) includes “1488” or “14/88” in its Hate Symbols Database. A short entry about the numbers as white supremacist code explains:
1488 is a combination of two popular white supremacist numeric symbols. The first symbol is 14, which is shorthand for the “14 Words” slogan: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” The second is 88, which stands for “Heil Hitler” (H being the 8th letter of the alphabet). Together, the numbers form a general endorsement of white supremacy and its beliefs. As such, they are ubiquitous within the white supremacist movement – as graffiti, in graphics and tattoos, even in screen names and e-mail addresses, such as [email protected] Some white supremacists will even price racist merchandise, such as t-shirts or compact discs, for $14.88.
The symbol is most commonly written as 1488 or 14/88, but variations such as 14-88 or 8814 are also common.
In September 2018, the number 1488 was spotted in a controversial Department of Health and Human Services apparent admission that it had “lost track” of “1,488” children (a number that was later revealed to be so wildly inaccurate as to be meaningless) …
In the excerpt above, “1488” was also mentioned. “Fourteen” was often paired with “88” in white supremacist code, as a nod to the “Fourteen Words.” Information from the ADL explained:
ALTERNATE NAMES: Fourteen Words
“14 Words” is a reference to the most popular white supremacist slogan in the world: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” The slogan was coined by David Lane, a member of the white supremacist terrorist group known as The Order (Lane died in prison in 2007). The term reflects the primary white supremacist worldview in the late 20th and early 21st centuries: that unless immediate action is taken, the white race is doomed to extinction by an alleged “rising tide of color” purportedly controlled and manipulated by Jews.
Because of its widespread popularity, white supremacists reference this slogan constantly, in its full form as well as in abbreviated versions such as “14 Words”, “Fourteen Words,” or simply the number “14.”
Notably, the screenshots depicted text reading “88 words”; “Fourteen Words” was not directly referenced, but nearly guaranteed to appear to anyone searching the phrase. In fact, the first six results for a Google search for “88 words” (without quotes) was about white supremacist dogwhistling.
You can read more about coded hate speech on our page about the linguistic features of disinformation.
Is the ’88 Words’ GOP Email Real?
It contained a November 29 2022 fundraising email matching the images. In addition to the text in the screenshot, a footer indicated the email was “paid for” by the Republican National Committee:
PAID FOR BY THE REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE. NOT AUTHORIZED BY ANY CANDIDATE OR CANDIDATE’S COMMITTEE.
Republican National Committee (RNC) 310 1st Street SE Washington, DC, 20003-1885, US
Screenshots of a November 2022 GOP fundraising email suggested the text began with “This message is only 88 words …” The number “88” is “a white supremacist numerical code for ‘Heil Hitler.'” The email was real, and a copy of it was archived on the above-linked website, which catalogs political emails.