The #KHive, Kamala Harris’s most devoted online supporters, explained

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Senator Kamala Harris, with husband Douglas Emhoff, right, is cheered on by supporters outside the 2019 California Democratic Party State Organizing Convention at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, California. | The Washington Post/Getty Images

“Like how the #BeyHive stings, the #KHive is going to sting.”

There are Kamala Harris fans, and then there are Kamala Harris stans. Reecie Colbert, a 36-year-old financial analyst in Washington, DC, considers herself firmly in the latter camp. She’s a vocal participant in a grassroots movement backing the 2020 candidate that takes its name from a moniker embraced by some of Beyoncé’s most fervent supporters. With Harris, it’s not the #BeyHive but the #KHive.

“If you’re talking about Kamala, you can bet the #KHive is going to be there,” Colbert told Vox. “Like how the #BeyHive stings, the #KHive is going to sting.”

As of late July, a Twitter account run by Colbert, @BlackWomenViews, is one of about 38,000 accounts that have used the #KHive hashtag to comment on Harris’s candidacy. The hashtag first surfaced in August 2018, and has only spread since Harris’s breakout moment during the debates in June when she confronted former Vice President Joe Biden about his opposition to federally mandated busing. Its use has continued to grow since Refinery29 profiled the rise of the hashtag in May.

The people who make up the #KHive are some of Harris’s most devoted online followers, and they’ve gone out of their way to hype her up and “set the record straight” when others critique the candidate.

Colbert, for example, has compiled multiple Twitter threads countering pushback Harris has received about her record as a prosecutor. Eric Chavous, a 29-year-old attorney behind @FlyWithKamala, started his Twitter account after the 2016 election in order to boost Harris early on. And Chris Evans, a 32-year-old talent manager running @NotCapnAmerica, has helped amplify several viral memes about Harris. None are affiliated with the Harris campaign.

The #KHive hashtag, too, was born organically, independent of any campaign efforts, a Harris spokesperson tells Vox. According to the social media analytics firm Meltwater, the hashtag has now been shared more than 73,000 times on Twitter, and in most cases, it’s associated with a positive statement. Posts include shoutouts about Harris’s campaign events, policy plans, and video clips, though a small fraction with the tag are focused on drawing attention to criticism she has faced.

While the number of tweets from the #KHive is still relatively small, the reach of those sharing these posts is apparent: Thus far, they’ve accrued an estimated 360 million impressions.

Given its size and the commitment of those using it, the #KHive hashtag could be an invaluable organizing resource for the campaign, says digital strategist Alan Rosenblatt. In a competitive and crowded race where grassroots support and funding is everything, the #KHive has emerged as its own energized, and passionate, community.

How the #KHive became a thing

The first documented use of the hashtag was on August 7, 2018, by the account @FlyWithKamala, which is run by Chavous.

Chavous said he starting using the hashtag after watching a panel discussion on a television show anchored by Joy Reid on MSNBC. “They were jokingly coming up with a term to call this growing legion of Kamala Harris supporters on social media,” he told Vox.

The term “hive,” as used in #BeyHive and #KHive, refers to a group of people who are committed fans of a particular person. “Beyoncé has the most loyal fan base in entertainment on the globe,” Chavous said. “And the #KHive is made up of dedicated fans of Kamala.”

Since Chavous first used the hashtag, it’s taken on a life of its own and become a label sported by supporters, Harris campaign staffers, and even Harris’s husband, Douglas Emhoff, who identifies as a member of the #KHive in his Twitter biography.

“It’s just kind of code, for we’re in the club, we’re all in for Kamala,” says Julie Zebrak, the co-founder of @Mamas4Kamala, a group focused on rallying moms to back Harris.

Those using the hashtag often post it alongside others including #YesWeKam, #JoyfulWarrior, and #ForThePeople, some of which are used by her official campaign. #KHive members tend to be avid supporters of Harris’s policy proposals — like her bill to address the racial disparities in maternal mortality — and staunch defenders of her candidacy.

In some instances, the #KHive aims to share countermessaging to combat negative articles and potential misinformation. “You see all the hit pieces, you see all the negative messaging,” said Colbert, who says she’s tried to actively rebut reports that she considers skewed.

“I’ve probably done more oppo research on Kamala than anybody. I don’t like speaking from a place of ignorance,” she added. As a pinned thread on her profile, Colbert has listed a series of tweets and “receipts” that defend Harris from attacks, including those questioning her implementation of a truancy program that affected low-income California residents. “They will swoop in. I will swoop in,” she said.

“Similar to this #BeyHive mentality, it’s that her supporters are very passionate about her and very willing to jump in and defend her when they see her,” says Evans, who added that the majority of posts strike a positive tone.

This attention is helping amplify Harris’s existing popularity on social media. Of the 2020 frontrunners, Harris is among those who have long had a prominent presence on Twitter, and prior to the launch of her candidacy, video clips of her pointed Senate questioning of Trump officials like Jeff Sessions had helped her establish an early fan base. The growth of the #KHive is further building on this backing.

The #KHive is showing up for Kamala because they see her as the best option to beat Trump

Based on supporters I spoke with, the #KHive is so committed to Harris for a wide range of reasons: They see her as a fighter who can take on Trump, a progressive with ambitious policies, and a woman of color who can make history.

Many of her fans are former Hillary Clinton supporters who think she combines a compelling progressive platform with a practical sensibility they view as necessary to bringing these proposals to fruition. In several of her policy plans, including one to close the gender wage gap, for example, Harris acknowledges that her proposals are unlikely get through the Senate, and offers executive actions she could take to achieve similar goals without Congress.

“My opinion of her is that she’s somewhere in the middle. She has more practical ways of making things happen,” says Jovanni Ortiz, a 27-year-old Democratic strategist supporting Harris based in Long Island, New York.

Beyond Harris’s approach to policy, backers also point to the warmth and charisma she brings to events as a quality that’s won them over. “She’s got this policy wonk side of her, but she’s got this great extemporaneous style of communicating. She’s very charismatic,” says Evans.

That particular characteristic was on clear display during the June Democratic debates, when Harris confronted Biden about his record on desegregation busing and work alongside segregationists in the Senate. (Her own stance on busing was later questioned.)

Devon Moore, a 21-year-old student at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, said Harris’s performance in June and her ability to connect policy on everything from medical bills to immigration law to its effects on people, were part of what swayed her. “The main reason I like Kamala is how much of a storyteller she is when it comes to her stances on issues,” she said.

Harris’s supporters are also aware of the criticism she faces: Many have spent extensive time reviewing her record as a prosecutor, and acknowledge that she was part of a system that’s disproportionately targeted people of color. They add, however, that her efforts — including a program aimed at reducing recidivism called “Back on Track” — are indicative of her intent to reform the system from within.

“I think one thing that gets lost in the conversation of locking up ‘black and brown people’ is that most of the victims are black and brown people,” says Evans, who describes Harris’s work as California’s attorney general as “progressive.” “When we call the police, half the time, they don’t come. When crimes are committed against us, they aren’t taken seriously.”

For several supporters, Harris’s work as a prosecutor is also seen as a strength, and a sign that she’s the “fighter” whom voters need to defeat Trump. “I feel like her experience working as a prosecutor and a district attorney really showcases … that she’s a fighter and that she’s not afraid to go head to head,” Ortiz says.

Additionally, Harris fans say her prosecutorial experience could make her more appealing to people in the center during a general election. Ortiz runs a Facebook group of supporters in New York state and says he’s heard from Republicans who “happen to like her as well.” Chavous, who started a Facebook page promoting Harris’s presidential candidacy, noted that her prosecutorial record is something he’s seen connect with moderates.

Harris’s groundbreaking identity, too, stands out to her core supporters — though they’re quick to note they aren’t solely supporting her because of that. If she were to win the Democratic nomination, Harris would be the first black woman and first Asian American woman to be a major-party nominee.

Her historic candidacy has resonated with many voters interested in seeing someone new, and more representative of the US writ large, in the White House.

“What I’m most attracted to is that she is a fresh face,” Ortiz says. “She’s got fresh ideas, and I feel like she represents the next generation of the Democratic field.”

“As a black woman, do I want to see that barrier being shattered? Absolutely,” says Colbert.

And Moore, who supported Bernie Sanders in 2016, said she was ready for someone different this time around. “My hype has kind of expired with Bernie. I wanted to branch out a little bit more,” she told Vox.

The #KHive has spawned the #DougHive

Not only has social media been a place for candidates to establish themselves, it’s also proven to be a popular stomping ground for Democratic spouses this cycle. Chasten Buttigieg, notably, has made a name for himself on Twitter, sharing pithy posts from the campaign trail featuring his husband, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Emhoff, a lawyer who Harris married in 2014, has a lower profile, though his fan base, too, is growing.

In fact, it’s gotten to the point where he has a #DougHive of his own.

Some of the earliest mentions of the #DougHive can be traced back to this past May, though the hashtag ultimately exploded after a MoveOn event in June, when Emhoff rushed the stage to remove a protester who tried to confront Harris while she was presenting her policy plans.

Since then, support of and attention toward Emhoff has increased, with fans of his and Harris’s highlighting his appearances at various campaign events. In total, the #DougHive hashtag has been used more than 6,000 times.

Emhoff’s Twitter has also ramped up its activity in recent months: On a typical day, his posts are heavily focused on promoting Harris campaign events and include outreach toward the #KHive.

As a Politico story noted, Emhoff’s social media presence may not be as polished as Chasten Buttigieg’s, though followers see his social media footprint complementing his wife’s online accounts.

“We love Doug,” says Colbert. “He called [Chris Evans] and myself the Avengers of the #KHive. We are the Avengers of the #DougHive, too.”

Grassroots support has been central to the 2020 cycle. Social media is one of the ways Harris can leverage it.

Grassroots support has been key for candidates in the 2020 cycle when it comes to racking up small-dollar donations, recruiting volunteers, and establishing progressive bona fides. In that context, the #KHive movement could be a major asset for the campaign. Digital strategists note, however, that these Kamala backers could be mobilized even further.

“I think it’s a great asset. I don’t think it’s sufficient,” says Hilary Nachem Loewenstein, a strategist at Bully Pulpit Interactive, of how the Harris campaign has leveraged the movement. “I think it’s something that demonstrates an enthusiasm and energy from a very vocal group of supporters, but it needs to translate into action.”

Several fans have already used the community to meet up at the Essence Festival in New Orleans (a campaign stop for several candidates), and to coordinate debate watch parties.

“One thing about #KHive people is that we support Kamala very, very deeply and we want to be helpful,” Colbert says. “I definitely think people are not just Twitter warriors. They want to volunteer, they want to participate.”

Alan Rosenblatt, a strategist with Lake Research Partners and Unfiltered Media, notes that the campaign could potentially capitalize on the movement even further by setting up private DM groups that help supporters organize activities like regional canvassing and fundraising.

“You want this core group of people reaching everyone in the country,” he said, noting that Harris has yet to use the KHive hashtag from her official accounts. “This is the proverbial leaving money on the table.”

Whether Harris works to further mobilize the movement or not, its organic rise continues to speak to the commitment of some of Harris’s earliest fans — and the potential for this base to grow. As Chavous told Vox, “The #KHive lives and breathes all things Kamala Harris.”