The online trolls who congregate on 4chan, Reddit and the extreme fringes of social media have been ironically co-opting innocuous symbols in a broader attempt to bring right-wing views into the mainstream.
Like a lot of their efforts, that might not make sense to outsiders — or, “normies” — but Wired’s Emma Grey Ellis explains why online racists have been making “OK” signs and conspicuously drinking milk in photos.
“This goes beyond sowing irritation and confusion among ‘normies’ and ‘snowflakes,'” Ellis wrote. “The alt-right is attempting to normalize itself and its ideas. If anybody who drinks milk might be a Nazi, the idea of someone being a Nazi starts looking more pedestrian.”
Here’s how it works.
Some 4chan users took an image from a 2013 Nature article about lactose intolerance and used it to spread the idea that Northern Europeans are better able to digest milk products, which then spurred racist poetry and jokes about milk as a symbol of white supremacy.
Shortly after those posts were made in February, some neo-Nazis drank milk as they pestered actor Shia LaBeouf during his anti-Trump performance art piece.
The media then spread the idea that milk was a racist symbol, which “alt-right” trolls then cited as evidence of mainstream media’s cluelessness.
A similar process played out when 4chan users claimed the “OK” sign symbolized white power, and right-wing blogger Mike Cernovich and Sanders-to-Trump Sputnik reporter Cassandra Fairbanks were photographed making the gesture in the White House Press Room.
InfoWars blogger Paul Joseph Watson, a conduit of alt-right messages to more mainstream conservatives, pulled off a “trolling quadruple-lutz” with a recent Twitter post, Ellis wrote.
The OK sign and milk came out of 4chan message boards, but online racists have mocked an Oxford University directive claiming eye contact could be a racist microaggression and the idea that social media posts about non-Western food could be considered cultural appropriation.
I'm eating Asian food, drinking milk, not looking you in the eye AND doing the OK sign.
TRIGGERING INTENSIFIES. 😄👌🏻 pic.twitter.com/eIX8fWn3a6
— Paul Joseph Watson (@PrisonPlanet) May 1, 2017
The whole thing is intended to confuse and annoy outsiders, and also to create paranoia.
“Rather than accuse other people of secretly communicating an evil agenda, seed the idea that you’re doing it,” Ellis wrote.