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Reddit's biggest Trump community is fracturing over right-wing extremism

Donald Trump Holds Campaign Rally In Charleston, WV
Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

Although it might be difficult for many of his detractors to grasp, Donald Trump supporters come in all ideological stripes. So what happens when Trump's most diehard fans start in-fighting over, of all things, the presence of too many hard-line right-wing extremists in their midst?

A look at what happened on Reddit this week might give you an idea. If you've visited the site's front page lately or perused r/all (the feed of all new posts across all of Reddit's communities), you might have noticed a strange influx in posts about Trump — and specifically about r/The_Donald, which has long been the most popular subreddit among Trump supporters on the site, with 130,000 users as of Friday morning. Its numbers have been on the rise lately, despite a recent mass exodus.

The reason r/The_Donald is garnering so much attention has to do with a bizarre schism that's also led to the rise of a new subreddit, r/Mr_Trump. Since r/Mr_Trump was created two months ago, 15,000 redditors have flocked to it, and many of them are r/The_Donald ex-pats. That's because this week, a complicated set of circumstances involving an alleged "coup" by moderators and Reddit admins, a possible doxing attempt, and right-wing European extremism all came to a head.

In other words, it's a perfect storm of how some Trump supporters might find themselves at odds with each other in real life.

Reddit's ongoing ideological war

To understand Reddit, you first have to understand Reddit's ongoing ideological war, which typically pits conservative and libertarian male users against "shills, cucks, and SJWs."

Here's a translation guide:

  • Shills: shills for the democrats and other moderate or liberal political fronts;
  • Cucks: cuckolds, an old English term for a man whose wife makes a fool of him by cheating on him, which modern men's rights activists and associated groups have fashioned into an all-purpose nickname for a weak-willed man, often one being manipulated by...
  • SJWs: "Social Justice Warriors," a denigrating term used to label progressives on the internet, most often feminists, women on Tumblr, or anyone who speaks too loudly about social justice, diversity, representation, and other progressive buzzwords.

These politicized buzzwords have evolved among Redditors and members of other, similar corners of the internet in response to Reddit's primary ongoing demagogue battle: a consistent, grumbling interplay between men of various political stripes and supporters of intersectional feminism.

The ideological conflicts that frequently play out across other parts of Reddit have even the site's conservative political communities firmly in their grip. And when we look at r/The_Donald and r/Mr_Trump today, we see that even these two markedly conservative strongholds are at each other's throats, with the latter group of Trump supporters accusing the former of being taken over by liberals and covert Clinton supporters.

But while there's no proof that any of these so-called shills, SJWs, or any other nebulous entities have actuals invaded r/The_Donald, the community has seen the rise of a sizable new contingent recently — "Europeans."

One Redditor's interpretation of recent events

An extremist European subreddit has made waves in Reddit's Trumpland

The trouble among various Trump supporters on Reddit arose primarily because of a skirmish that occurred in a completely unrelated (at least on the surface) subreddit: r/European. Though the drama playing out in r/European has earned little attention outside Reddit and conservative blogs, it led directly to Reddit's current proliferation of Trump-related content.

Apparently, many members of the r/European subreddit really like Trump.

R/European formed three years ago as an extremist offshoot of r/Europe, a general news and discussion community where offensive content is expressly prohibited. As a community, r/European is so consistently full of racist rhetoric, particularly of the anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic varieties, that it was once featured on a subreddit devoted to calling out hate communities on Reddit.

Earlier this month, an r/European user apparently reported one of its posts for inciting violence against Muslims. A few days later, the community's moderators briefly shuttered it and then re-opened it, announcing their sub had been quarantined by Reddit administrators. When a subreddit is quarantined, it no longer appears in sitewide search results, and its members are restricted in what they can post.

Quarantines on Reddit usually result in a mass exodus, as members of the quarantined sub move to more active, visible locations on the site. In the case of r/European, the exodus was to a surprising place. An informal survey of r/European members conducted two months ago by the subreddit's moderators revealed that 70 percent of r/European subscribers at the time were supporters of Donald Trump. (17 percent self-identified as Nazis.) So when Reddit administrators quarantined r/European, many of its members decided r/The_Donald should be their new Reddit home.

However, not everyone was happy to see them — particularly since r/The_Donald was dealing with its own drama.

Trump community moderators are at war with themselves

The tension at r/The_Donald began when one of r/The_Donald's former head moderators, a user by the name of CisWhiteMaelstrom, deleted his account. Allegedly, he'd been threatened with doxing — the unauthorized, public reveal of an internet user's real name and address, typically so the the info can be used to harm or threaten the victim. Proof of this threat against CisWhiteMaelstrom has yet to surface, but many members of r/The_Donald believed it came from members of another, notably progressive subreddit.

Before CisWhiteMaelstrom left r/The_Donald, he allegedly hand-picked a number of lower-ranking mods, most of whom remained loyal to him after his departure. But according to the Reddit gossip machine and a post by CisWhiteMaelstrom himself, not all the mods who stepped up to replace CisWhiteMaelstrom were happy with the lower-ranked mods he left behind.

Immediately after the demise of r/European, the community at r/The_Donald saw an influx of new users. With those new users came new posts that were only obliquely related to the subject at hand — as one user put it, "this went from shit about Donald Trump to shitting on Islam, Feminism, and anything outside of the norm." So the senior moderators of r/The_Donald did what any good Reddit moderators would do: They quickly instituted a new rule declaring that any posts in r/The_Donald had to be directly related to Donald Trump.

But the senior mods also went one step further: They took the opportunity to do a purge of lower-ranking moderators. They claimed the purge was done primarily to get rid of inactive mods and any mods who were allowing too many off-topic posts. But because of the timing, and because of the fact that many of the lower-ranking mods were connected to CisWhiteMaelstrom, not everyone took the senior mods' rationale for the purge at face value.

Many r/The_Donald members believed that the newer, high-ranking mods (who were each named by their predecessors) were too liberal, and under the thumb of progressive Reddit admins who wanted to censor free speech on the subreddit — hence all the accusations that r/The_Donald had been taken over by shills, cucks, and SJWs. This week, the female mod who replaced CisWhiteMaelstrom, TrumpGal, announced she was stepping down from her position after she claimed to have received yet more doxing threats — this time, not from outsider progressives, but from members of her own Trump-loving community. When she did, redditors accused the new moderators she left in her wake of being sockpuppets and liberal infiltrators. As a consequence of all this, several of the lower-ranking mods who'd been stripped of their mod status moved to the newly minted, unpopulated r/Mr_Trump in protest. And many users followed.

Because of these many converging factors, r/Mr_Trump has become a haven for users fleeing the quarantined r/European and for those fleeing the alleged censorship of r/The_Donald. Even though redditors who frequent r/European may have only a tangential relationship to Trump in terms of their ability to influence the election, their immediate embrace of Trump as an ideological bedmate reflects the frequent collision between Trumpism and far right-wing ideology — and, perhaps, the certainty felt by refugees of r/European that they would receive a quick and easy welcome from Reddit's Trump communities.

Instead, so far, r/The_Donald mods have stood firm on not allowing off-topic posts, which has bolstered the claims from extremists that the mods are being censorship-heavy. It's true that some members of r/The_Donald would welcome new members with liberal, less extremist viewpoints. But any attempts to weed out extremism have been met with rank desertion from many Trump supporters to more extreme subreddit camps — an interesting prognosticator of what could happen if Trump's real-life campaign should start to woo moderates and tone down inflammatory language.

Meanwhile, r/Mr_Trump has filled with a mix of Trump-related and other political posts, in addition to off-topic humor and blatant anti-Semitic and Islamophobic material. And multiple other Trump-related subreddits have been created as a function of the unrest in r/The_Donald, which amounts to lots of posts about Trump and all this subreddit drama flooding Reddit's main pages to an unprecedented extent.

For the most part, this ideological split seems to have little to do with business as usual on Reddit's other, smaller Trump communities, most of which are devoted to sharing Trump-related memes and bashing Democrats. As one wise user remarked after being faced with the imploding subreddit, "Keep calm and keep shitposting."

If advice like that can't make Reddit great again, no number of fracturing subreddits will.