It only took a few minutes to figure out that HanAssholeSolo, the person behind President Donald Trump’s most retweeted tweet, had also used racial slurs and posted derogatory comments about Muslims. Then, there was the one that caused all the problems: a thread entitled, “Something Strange About CNN…can’t quite put my finger on it…,” with a graphic of dozens of the network’s talents with tiny blue Stars of David.
Shared more than 300,000 times, and the subject of debate over whether it inspired violence against the media, HanAssholeSolo’s animated GIF reengineered Trump’s 2007 WrestleMania appearance into a living, breathing political cartoon in which the ostensible leader of the free world clotheslined a man with the CNN logo for a face and then proceeded to beat him with his fists. Allies argued it was a joke and all in good fun, but the post I uncovered painted it in a new, more sinister, light.
My reporting on the Stars of David meme quickly went viral. At this moment it’s been shared more than 14,000 times by the likes of CNN’s own Jake Tapper and MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, who’s had his own run-ins with the president as of late. In the past, when a post or story of mine has garnered that much attention, I’ve always dealt with the inevitable criticism and harassment that follows. Sure enough, it wasn’t far behind.
Before the hour was up I was receiving messages from the usual customers: anonymous accounts with Pepe avatars and bios declaring themselves “ethnonationalists” and “white identitarians.” Despite my southern Baptist upbringing, they assumed I was Jewish because I’d uncovered anti-Semitism, and so the threats and memes predictably featured pictures of Adolf Hitler, scenes from the Holocaust and other anti-Semitic garbage. I was peppered with the usual slurs and insults before a user calling his or herself “Pepe’s Imam” told me: “There’s a civil war coming, leftist. Memes are the least of your problems.”
Over the past few weeks I’d heard plenty of talk about a new civil war, this one supposedly the looming violent clash between left and right. Since last year I’ve been threatened regularly, including an incident in which somebody circled my house at four in the morning, and so I’ve kept a close eye on extreme rightwing communities. In their posts and on the subculture’s favorite media outlet InfoWars, I’d heard talk of that conflict, but now the rhetoric seemed universal.
I returned to the Reddit forum where HanAssholeSolo had been posting, a subreddit called The_Donald where extreme supporters of the president rail against the “MSM,” or the mainstream media, and journalists like myself. They’d already spun my outing of their confederate as part of the larger conspiracy against them and the man they call “God Emperor.” By following their posting histories, I found plenty of mentions of that civil war, as well as subreddits like Physical_Removal that focused on “removing” problematic members of the media and liberals.
In the past few hours I’d been getting plenty of threats about going on a “helicopter ride” and cartoons of people being hurled out the doors of an airborne chopper. Here I found it was all a reference to the murderous Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s practice of tossing his victims into the sea. The posters there, and in my Twitter feed, seemed to take a great deal of pleasure at the thought of replicating that atrocity in modern-day America.
Other threats appeared on related sites, particularly on 4chan, the wild west of internet forums. Here, in reference to my reporting, they talked openly about “the Journocaust,” a term some used in place of the civil war. The fantasy seemed to be open hostilities in which journalists, academics and liberals could be hung in public, an event some called “The Day of the Rope” after a plot point in William Pierce’s The Turner Diaries, a 1978 novel about a fictional race war some in the extreme right hold as a holy book of sorts.
One anonymous member counseled on how to intimidate and threaten me without running afoul of social media moderators and the authorities. Another posted excerpts from a short story about killing journalists with lines like, “the media lies, the media dies” and “a traitor in front of a camera is still just a traitor.” Yet another said death was too good for journalists and “they should have their flesh twisted from their bones.”
And then, this:
I mean, he’s not wrong. If I could slit his flabby neck and dump him in a ditch somewhere without getting caught, I absolutely would in a heartbeat.
Same goes for pretty much any shitlib whiny or fake-news propagandist. The only thing stopping me is that it would be inconvenient, and the fact that the law enforcement apparatus is still semi-functional.
I’m surrounded by people who feel the same way. Shitlibs have dehumanized themselves in our eyes. We simply don’t give a shit about them, don’t consider them human.
Trump’s stupid meme didn’t do anything to reinforce that belief. Decades of constant browbeating, whining, lying, and despicable deception by leftists and their media establishment are what did it.
I learned last year the best strategy is to be open about this kind of stuff and expose it however possible. On my Twitter feed I prepared screenshots of the offending rhetoric while critics accused me of lying. The left is the violent group, they told me while linking to stories about clashes with antifascist groups. In the same thread, as they claimed I’d made the whole thing up, the anti-Semitic materials and threats were piling up.
Things didn’t slow down.
The Daily Stormer, the most popular Neo-Nazi publication in America, set its sights on me and declared my agenda as “Jewish.”
Then, former imperial wizard of the Ku-Klux-Klan and recent U.S. Senate candidate David Duke, one of the leaders in white supremacist thought, weighed in and said people like me had “promoted the mass collective guilt of Whites and laughed about it,” a charge that seemed to open the door for more white supremacists to come after me.
Paul Joseph Watson, second banana over at Alex Jones’ conspiracy empire InfoWars, criticized me for discussing the harassment, criticism that then led to Jones’s army to join in.
While Neo-Nazis and 9/11 Truthers sent more memes and threats, people kept talking about the original GIF that’d started the whole mess. Wrestling is fake, they said. A choreographed fight that’s nothing more than some harmless fun.
I kept thinking about HanAssholeSolo’s posting record. His rampant use of racial slurs. His talk of wanting all Muslims eliminated. The CNN meme with the Stars of David. That wrestling GIF that, upon first glance, might appear to be tongue-in-cheek, but, with closer inspection, hides something much, much darker.
HanAssholeSolo has apologized, and vowed never to post that kind of hateful rhetoric again. But as I discovered, there are thousands more like him—and they’re not sorry.