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A whacker (also spelled wacker) is to law enforcement and other emergency services what a "foamer" is to railroads: an overenthusiastic amateur they wish would get the hell out of the way, preferably before their ineptitude turns a situation (manageable or otherwise) into a complete disaster. Ricky Rescue has a similar meaning among emergency medical responders.
The term is common in volunteer firefighting for those who join the fire department mainly as an excuse to show off to the world that they are bad-ass firefighters but with little to no interest in doing the work involved, among police for those who think their involvement in something peripheral to police work such as being a mall security guard or a junior explorer makes them a bona fide cop and god's gift to law enforcement, and in ham radio to poke fun at the small number of hams who always seem to mysteriously show up at public emergencies decked out in an expensive array of tactical radio gear, police boots, and an orange vest, to "offer their services" and get in the way. Ham radio whackers mistakenly think their ham license makes them real honest to goodness "first responders" (These are different from members of Amateur Radio Emergency Service organizations, who are trained to provide communication back-up in situations where other communications are otherwise disrupted, and are supposed to wait to be called in to situations where they're wanted; naturally, though, many whackers are drawn to such organizations as well).
Real emergency services personnel consider whackers nuisances at best and wish they would stay the hell away so they could do their jobs.
How to spot a whacker
The most obvious sign of whackerdom is a personal car or truck that looks like one of these:
- A red pickup truck with antennas, stickers, and a huge firefighting mural in the back window. They may also mount amber emergency lights on it if they can legally get away with it.
- Any car with about 16 different antennas, a spotlight mounted on the side, several radios mounted inside tuned to every police and fire frequency, and boxes of tactical gear, a medical jump kit, night vision goggles, portable radios, a bulletproof vest, traffic cones, red and blue lights for quick mounting on the vehicle, and who knows what else in the trunk. Not to be confused with a kookmobile, although overlap between the two is not unheard of.
- A $500 junk car with $18,000 in emergency lights and radio gear.
- Any personal vehicle with big magnetic decals on it indicating the person is some kind of emergency services volunteer: search and rescue, CERT, React International, etc., that they leave on their vehicle at all times, not just when they are actually involved in an emergency. Also not to be confused with a kookmobile.
- A civilian flaunting a Toughbook laptop (like the police and the military use) which they use exclusively for
undercover government stuffblogging and Facebook posting on the battlefieldat Starbucks or the public library.
- A car with LED strobe lights in the dashboard, large antennas mounted on the trunk, and a siren box. For bonus points, the owner is carrying a sidearm.
Variations on whackerdom include the small percentage of volunteer National Weather Service spotters and Skywarn volunteers who take their hobby way too seriously and deck out their vehicle with tens of thousands of dollars of weather equipment and storm chasing gear that they may not even know how to use, and the occasional person arrested for impersonating an officer who stalks drivers on the interstate and, when questioned, claims they are on a secret spy mission for the White House or CIA. The presence of whackers among their ranks is an embarrassment to other radio hams, weather spotters, CERT volunteers, search and rescue teams, and the like, who will go out of their way to avoid even the appearance of being one.
A particularly grating type of whacker will make their way into the ranks of uniformed military auxiliaries, such as the US Coast Guard Auxiliary or the Civil Air Patrol. These organizations provide missions similar to aforementioned groups, such as search and rescue, disaster relief, and radio communications. Because these organizations wear a uniform, are military-adjacent, and less selective of its members, it attracts variation best described as the combination of a boot, whacker, and stolen valor. At their least annoying, they are just harmless eccentrics. Many just wear their uniforms incorrectly and repeatedly ask to "get into the action" despite never following through when offered training. At their worst, they misrepresent themselves (often combined with stolen valor) as military officers to harass or gain access to people or places they should not be.
Another variation is the wannabee, someone who is not in any way involved in emergency services at all, but who wants people to think they are. Again, they tend to use their personal car or truck to do this. There is also a paramilitary version, "mall ninjas", who are always wearing camo, collect big Rambo knives (and guns, if they can get away with it), take martial arts courses, read Soldier of Fortune magazine, and fantasize about being a mercenary. Many wannabees and mall ninjas are just misunderstood teenagers going through a teen angst phase, but if this behavior continues into their 20s and 30s, it is a good sign they need to get a real life.
Possible etymology of the term includes whack-job, wanking or wacking off, a police pejorative for rent-a-cops and security guards (from Wackenhut Corporation, one of the major employers of same), or that they have so many big antennas on their vehicle it goes "whack" every time they drive under a bridge.
Scientology Volunteer Ministers are a corps of whackers sponsored by the Church of Scientology to make the Church's good humanitarian works visible to the media at any opportunity. They notoriously got in the way at 9/11 and the Haiti earthquake. And you thought it wasn't possible to hate Scientology any more!
"Stolen valor", or the military impostor (also "Walt" or "Walter Mitty" in the UK), is a similar phenomenon that has received increased attention with the rise of internet video; specifically videos of people confronting military impostors over their deception. Stolen valor typically takes the form of persons with no military experience presenting themselves as active duty or veterans by using purchased uniforms and medals, but it may also involve actual former members of the military lying about their rank and achievements. Similar to whackers, military impostors may present themselves as experts in emergency situations and interfere with the work of first responders.
Some identifiers of stolen valor may be a person in their twenties wearing a dress uniform festooned with more medals than the head of a South American junta, or a person in less than peak physical condition wearing special forces insignia and combat uniforms in public.
In the US, fraudulently wearing a military uniform and medals is protected by the First Amendment. Lying about military service becomes illegal when it is used to obtain federal benefits, and one would be civilly liable for fraud if the misrepresentation was used to obtain commercial goods and services specifically for current and past members of the military.
Fraudulently wearing a military uniform and/or medals has been illegal in the Commonwealth nations since 2016. Several groups exist in the United Kingdom to identify and expose possible impostors.
- Gun nut
- Mall ninja
- Militia movement
- George Zimmerman, whacker who killed a teenager
- Soldier of Fortune magazine
- Hamsexy see the photos! read the stories! much fun.
- Is there such a thing as being too Ricky Rescue? emtlife.com.
- Armed man arrested at NC airport as Obama departs. Associated Press via wcfcourier.com, 26 April 2010.
- Man arrested near Air Force One a police buff. NBC News, 26 April 2010.
- Stryker nabbed again: Man posing as police officer charged after I-81 pursuit by Edward Marshall (September 10, 2009) The Journal News (archived copy from November 11, 2013).
- Cop Impersonator Arrested After Calling For Backup Friday May 15, 2009 6:09 PM UPDATED: Wednesday May 20, 2009 8:04 AM. 10TV.com (archived from 7 Jul 2013 20:50:59 UTC).
- https://www.tampabay.com/news/courts/criminal/roy-antigua-man-of-disguises-pleads-no-contest/1267964/ Roy Antigua, man of disguises, pleads no contest
- https://abc7news.com/fake-navy-seal-military-imposter-us-coast-guard-auxiliary-jim-van-fleet/22100/ Coast Guard Auxiliary commander posed as Navy SEAL
- Operation Clambake: Scientology at Ground Zero
- Scientologists in Haiti: A Firsthand Account Gawker.com archived on 7 Jul 2013 14:09:53 UTC.
- John Travolta flies Scientologists' aid to Haiti by Rory Carroll (Tuesday 26 January 2010 14.17 EST) The Guardian.
- The 'Walter Mittys': Why do some people pose as heroes?, BBC News, 25 November 2016