How Alt-Right Trolls Keep Tricking The Mainstream Media

On one hand, it's weird that we're already buried in coverage of the 2020 presidential campaign. On the other, it feels like Donald Trump has been president for 46 years. Either way, it's clear we have precious little time to learn the stupid lessons of 2016 if we want to stop things from turning to shit.

Specifically, historians will always remember 2016 as the year that a 4chan meme burst to life and became president of the United States. Fringe right-wing groups on message boards learned how to inject bullshit into the mainstream with stunning efficiency. And it's time the rest of the world caught on to the scam. Here are three examples of how it works.

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3
4chan Tricks Everyone Into Thinking The "OK" Sign Is A White Supremacist Code

Where It Began:

Early in 2017, 4chan kicked off a campaign to convince the media that the "OK" hand gesture, one of the most ubiquitous things in the history of human communication, was a secret code that white supremacists use to identify each other. Yes, because of some bored little shit with a laptop, the "OK" sign is racist now. We truly live in amazing times.

4chan

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The Fringe Media Picked It Up:

Most of the quasi-celebrities occupying real estate in the alt-right bastard sphere were eager to assist this trolling campaign for reasons you and I will probably never fully understand. The mentality seems to be that you can ruin the left's credibility by baiting them into complaining about seemingly harmless things, so why not turn it up to 11? Donald Trump is especially prone to using this particular gesture, so wouldn't it be funny to force-feed the media the idea that it's a coded message to his white supremacist audience?

So alt-right personalities and professional leeches such as Milo Yiannopoulos, Mike Cernovich, Roger Stone, and Lauren Southern took it upon themselves to throw up the hand sign whenever they could. Twitter pounced on it:

Twitter

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And it got to the point where Stephen Miller was accused of adjusting his suit jacket in a way that was a bit too Nazi-ish ...

Twitter

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Related: 5 Ridiculously Implausible Things The Alt-Right Is Afraid Of

Then The Mainstream Media Picked It Up:

During Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court confirmation hearing, a former employee of his, Zina Bash, was photographed behind him throwing out the supposed "white supremacy" signal. The problem is that this is an incredibly easy gesture to make, even accidentally. Imagine sitting with your arms folded naturally and suddenly your thumb itches, so without even thinking, you scratch it with your forefinger. Whoops! You just flashed a racist taunt live to the entire nation!

Media outlets such as CBS, AJC, The Daily Mail, Newsweek, and Time had their suspicions, but they didn't go full frenzy until she did it again. When you actually watch the video, she's pretty clearly trying to communicate with somebody on the other side of the room. And maybe I'm being optimistic, but her message seems a little more "Yes, OK" than "Let us exterminate the enemies of the white race." In a still image that can be passed around without context, though? TOTAL Hitler.

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To their credit, most media reports mentioned the Anti-Defamation League's statement urging us not to buy into 4chan's hoax. But the problem is that this is almost always a footnote, so anyone who doesn't bother reading the article to the bottom remains under the impression that this really is some nefarious code.

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Why does the media pull this kind of shit? If they know that it's a prank, why not put that in the headline? Why bury it under a bunch of speculation, and then be like "Gotcha! It means nothing, you worrywarts!" That's a fucking stupid twist ending to pull when we're dealing with actual racism.

Then The Government Got Involved:

As a result of alt-right hijinks, government agencies now have a zero-tolerance policy about employees being seen in public with their fingers. Four Alabama police officers were suspended without pay for apparently flashing the sign in a photo. And a White House intern was reprimanded for flashing the sign in a group photo with the president. He claims he was merely doing a hand thing that he'd seen Trump do a million times -- which, I mean, c'mon dude. Pick your spots.

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A U.S. Coast Guard employee was removed from duty after appearing to make the gesture in the background of a news report. Or maybe he was scratching his head?

MSNBC

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We don't know if any of these people were deliberately referencing the 4chan thing. Shit, maybe they were. Or maybe they weren't doing anything at all. That's the point of the prank, to get people chasing after shadows, looking to the world like we're getting worked up over nothing. All it took was one random nobody on an anonymous message board.

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Related: 5 Stupid Ways The Alt-Right Is Destroying Itself From Within

2
The Time A White Supremacist 4chan Slogan Was Almost Written Into Australian Law

Where It Began:

In October 2017, users on 4chan's white supremacist /pol/ board came up with a plan to troll the media. They would all print out the slogan "It's Okay to Be White" and plaster it in college campuses around the world. The concept is simple: The statement sounds like something a white supremacist would post, but if you have a problem with it, I guess you think it's NOT OK to be white, making YOU the REAL racist. Checkmate, libs.

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The Fringe Media Picked It Up:

4chan claims to have upwards of 22 million monthly visitors, and it should be noted that they're not all or even mostly Nazis. But when you reach those kinds of numbers, even a one-digit percentage of assholes makes for thousands of trolls who did their duty and posted the "It's Okay To Be White" slogan all over their towns and colleges.

Reddit

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Local college publications were the first to report on it, but the news spread out from there. The neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, as well as albino-reptile-in-a-human-skin-suit David Duke, boosted the signal among their own legions of followers. Popular YouTube right-winger Sargon of Akkad also praised the effort to his 894,000 followers.

Soon it made its way to Twitter, where every conservative and their dog decided this was the slogan that was going to spark the liberals into some sort of apocalyptic triggered meltdown. Even Markus Persson, the billionaire creator of Minecraft, seems to have fallen down into some kind of depressing racist rabbit hole, leaving future pop culture analysts to try to decipher hidden white supremacist cues in his game about block placement.

Twitter

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Related: 6 Surprising Things You Learn In The Alt-Right Media Bubble

Then The Mainstream Media Picked It Up:

After The Washington Post reported on the deluge of posters mysteriously appearing all over university campuses, Fox News toady Tucker Carlson dedicated a segment of his show to cluelessly falling into 4chan's trap. With his month-old pastrami brain running at full steam, his "WHAT? IS IT NOW NOT OK TO BE WHITE?" argument made you wonder how this man is legally allowed to be within 50 feet of a camera and/or written words.

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Meanwhile, the far-right news blog Gateway Pundit decided to help the campaign by sending their White House correspondent, Lucian Wintrich, to the University of Connecticut to deliver a speech titled "It's Okay to Be White." Wintrich ended up arrested after getting into a physical fight, while news organizations of course mused on the freedom of speech implications.

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The trolling campaign was so successful that they decided to repeat it on its anniversary the next year, like it was a racism reunion tour. In November 2018, the signs appeared again, baffling CBS and driving Infowars into a frenzy about virtue-signaling liberals and probably something about Hillary too. Again, this all started with a goddamned 4chan poster who, for all we know, could be nine years old. We've created a world in which ideas actually spread faster if they're childish and stupid. But we're not done yet ...

Then The Government Got Involved:

If Australia has a political equivalent to Donald Trump, then it's probably Pauline Hanson, a former junk food magnate who became a force in politics through the sheer magnitude of her hatred of foreigners. In November 2018, Senator Hanson introduced a motion into the Australian Senate for the government to officially acknowledge that "It's OK to be white." Politicians from the ruling conservative party (which is named "the Liberal Party" ... yes, I know that's super confusing) voted almost unanimously to pass the motion, but it was narrowly defeated 28-31 by more level-headed politicians.

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The very next day, after it came out that a white supremacist slogan had barely avoided getting written into Australian law, the Senate asked for a re-vote. They didn't have to, but they just wanted to watch the yes-voters squirm. This time, the motion was unanimously defeated. Conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison claimed that his party's near-unanimous embrace of a 4chan prank was "regrettable," and the result of an "administrative error." They went on to reprimand exactly nobody, and business continued as usual.

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Related: 5 Things You Learn Being Attacked By The Alt-Right

1
One Anonymous Prankster Kicked Off An Entire Conspiracy Theory Subculture

Where It Began:

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You've likely heard about "QAnon." We've covered this one before, but to recap, in October 2017, somebody on 4chan made a cryptic post about how Hillary Clinton was about to be arrested:

4chan

After the initial positive reaction, they began to claim that they were some sort of high-level government operative with maximum security clearance in the "Deep State." Think the Smoking Man from The X-Files but with more Pepe memes. And 4chan ate it up, as it reaffirmed what they already wanted to believe about President Trump being the champion of the new right, someone who would finally put the boot to SJWs and get women out of the video game industry.

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The Fringe Media Picked It Up:

The QAnon phenomenon, it turns out, only took off after a group of 4chan moderators banded together and decided to make money from it. An investigation from NBC revealed the extent to which a tiny cabal of mods contacted prominent YouTubers in the conspiracy theory community and pushed heavily for them to cover QAnon.

And they were depressingly successful. Nobody has ever confirmed whether any of these guys are behind the hoax, but they sure as shit made a profit from it. After establishing a decent rapport with prominent YouTube channels to push the theory and running their own YouTube and Discord channels, they started setting up Patreons and other donation accounts into which legions of dupes could shovel their money to keep the train running.

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It wasn't very long before the most "mainstream" of conspiracy media, Infowars, started pushing it. And from there the snowball of absurdity really started gaining mass as it rolled down the mountain of bullshit.

Then The Mainstream Media Picked It Up:

Roseanne Barr (whose old sitcom had recently been revived) started tweeting heavily about QAnon. And then a guy constructed a makeshift "armored vehicle," drove it to the Hoover Dam, and blocked a bridge for 90 minutes. Armed with a rifle and a bunch of QAnon signs, he screamed meme gibberish at cops, and now spends his time in prison writing love letters to Trump packed with QAnon references.

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And when protesters started turning up to political rallies and protests carrying QAnon signs, it was impossible for the mainstream media to ignore it. And so they drew a heavy breath and began explaining to the general public what QAnon is, all in the tone of a disappointed father having to tell his kids that they can't bring their imaginary friends to school with them.

Related: A Quick Guide To The Hilarious Language Of The Alt-Right

Then The Government Got Involved:

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In August 2018, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked directly about QAnon at an official briefing, to which she gave one of the legendarily dismissive non-answers that she was hired for. But that's far from the strangest story about this weird-ass shit penetrating the government. The weirdest thing is also not that Mike Pence wound up tweeting (and then deleting) a selfie with a SWAT officer wearing a prominent "Q" patch in December.

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Hell, the weirdest part isn't even that an outgoing California council member started bizarrely reciting QAnon posts in her farewell speech during an official city council meeting, finishing it off with "God bless Q."

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No, the weirdest thing is this:

Instagram

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That's a photo of Michael William "Lionel" Lebron, a talk radio and YouTube host prominent within the QAnon conspiracy circle, posing with his wife inside the actual Oval Office with the actual president of the United States. And here's the thing: Literally nobody knows how he got there.

White House security doesn't know. West Wing officials don't know. Absolutely nobody from the White House or the president's security detail remember letting this guy into the building, let alone into the Oval Office to take a photo with the president. This opens up only two possible, equally disturbing options:

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1) The president is an idiot, the White House is incredibly susceptible to penetration, its security is incompetent, and pretty much anyone can simply stroll into the Oval Office and get a pic with the world's highest-ranking narcissist.

2) Oh god, it's real. QAnon is actually real. This whole thing has been planned from the beginning. The four-dimensional chess ... the Satanic pizza stuff ... I take it all back and officially pledge allegiance to Pepe. I think it might be better than the alternative.

S Peter Davis wrote a whole book about conspiracy theories. You can buy it on Amazon here.

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