The internet has given us many things, some of them wonderful and some of them awful. The so-called alt-right—the racist, misogynist collective of angry white men—deserves a place in the digital garbage pile, alongside cyberbullying, revenge porn and “2 Girls 1 Cup.” (And to a far, far lesser degree, choreographed wedding dance videos.) In short, the alt-right is a product of online troll culture, a direct outgrowth of the internet’s digital Wild West. For years it expanded—or more appropriately, festered—in the dark corners of sites like 4chan and Reddit, where it ultimately became the group that gained peak visibility with the horrible events of Charlottesville.
It’s important to remember that there are no card-carrying members of the alt-right. It’s not an official organization, and alignment is self-defined. What’s collectively described as the alt-right is a loose coalition of overwhelmingly white male representatives of various online communities, including anti-women “meninists,” gamers, white nationalists, neo-Nazis and their sympathizers, anti-government types, conspiracists, and dudes who’ve just decided that women and people of color are the reason they don’t have dates or C-suite jobs. The alt-right houses all of those groups, but they might not have come together so seamlessly under its big tent were it not for a unifying loathsome cause. Enter Donald J. Trump, King of the Internet Trolls and Patron Saint of Racists. Trump’s campaign—nearly two years of his gross and violent racist, xenophobic and anti-woman rhetoric and behavior—gave these groups a central figure around which to rally. The_Donald, the Reddit community that helped get the president elected, gave them a home base.
Perhaps the best way to describe The_Donald is as the internet hivemind of Trump’s most fervent—and vicious—supporters. Launched in June 2015, it now has nearly 450,000 subscribers, making it one of the most popular subreddits on one of the most popular sites in the United States. The_Donald is like a virtual local watering hole where aggrieved young men can come together, put their differences aside and celebrate the Trump that unites them amidst a cesspool of shared internet ephemera, Holocaust jokes and racist memes. More than a year ago, Vice’s Motherboard summed up The_Donald as “a disconcerting melting pot of posts that run the gamut from InfoWars-style conspiracies, men’s rights activists and GamerGate-style real and faux outrage, memes and shitposts (basically, jokes that are only meant to be understood by those in the community), and, yes, Donald Trump news.”
As with all fraternal communities, The_Donald users have their own speak. Tim Squirrell, an expert in digital culture, wrote a lengthy piece at Quartz on the unique identifying language markers used by the multiple groups in attendance at The_Donald. He identified the “4chan Shitposters,” a group that posts “the most extreme racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic slurs, but without necessarily fully buying into racist ideology.” Consider them trolls who hurl horrific abuse online and then claim innocence with the defense that they were only joking. They most frequently use words like “Pepe, God Emperor Trump and deus vult” (Latin for “God wills it,” in this case, meaning Trump’s ascendancy).
Another group Squirrell noted is “Anti-progressive Gamers,” who you might be familiar with because of their freakouts when fictional characters from fictional movies such as Ghostbusters are recast as women. They frequently toss around terms like “snowflake, pandering, tumblr, feminist [and] triggering.” The “Men’s Rights Activists” lean heavily on words like “cuck” (taken from “cuckold,” a demeaning term implying male weakness but deployed against any man who disagrees with them), “bitch” (any woman who won’t sleep with them, aka all of us), and “beta” (a heterosexual male who treats women like actual human beings and thus gets laid). There are the “Anti-Globalists,” who rant about “the establishment, elites” and of course, “George Soros.” And the “White Supremacists,” who use a mixed bag of racial slurs and the phrase “western culture,” a stand-in for “we’re white and we’re right.”
The_Donald brings all of these groups together into a powerful Trump-worshipping whole. Recognizing the rapid expansion of the group last year, conservative provocateurs like Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos participated in AMAs (“Ask Me Anything,” or Q&A sessions) hosted by the subreddit. So did Trump himself, who during the campaign and as recently as July has retweeted inflammatory Reddit-generated content. According to Vice’s Motherboard, Reddit administrators took pains to make The_Donald and its often highly offensive output less visible to site visitors, and Gizmodo’s interviews with multiple other subreddit moderators led the outlet to conclude The_Donald is internally regarded as Reddit’s “most problematic community.” But with exponential growth on their side, members of The_Donald have chided site administrators and all other critics.
“First Reddit ignored our sub,” The_Donald moderators wrote in their announcement of Trump’s AMA, per Motherboard. “Then Reddit laughed at our sub. Then Reddit fought our sub with Hillary’s paid haters. And now we are winning with our God Emperor, the Nimble Navigator, Mr. Donald J. Trump!”
And to think—the American conversation about online radicalization focuses almost solely on Muslims. But as Tim Squirrell notes, The_Donald is a site “for disaffected white men from all walks of life to share a communal hatred…They start out in different corners of the internet with different interests and different lexicons…but the more time they spend in [The_Donald], the more pernicious views of the world they are likely to pick up by osmosis.” He continues:
They are forming a coherent group identity, represented in the language they have begun to speak, which coalesces around their common hatred of liberalism and their love of Donald Trump. We’re witnessing the radicalization of young white men through the medium of frog memes. In order to see it, all you need to do is look at the words coming out of their mouths. The alt-right isn’t yet united, but it soon will be.
We’ve seen the deadly results of the alt-right’s actions so far. If what Squirrell writes is true, it bodes terribly for the rest us, but especially to those who are their direct targets. The_Donald is the president’s base. And like the man they put in office, the danger they pose to this country is only growing.