Far-Right Trolls Who Helped Trump Win in 2016 Aren’t Feeling Him This Time

donald-trump-right-wing-reaction.jpg Former U.S. President Donald Trump  Makes An Announcement At His Florida Home - Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
donald-trump-right-wing-reaction.jpg Former U.S. President Donald Trump Makes An Announcement At His Florida Home - Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

When Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, the nihilistic trolls of 4chan‘s “politically incorrect” message board were jubilant. “We actually elected a meme as president,” wrote one, not inaccurately.

Ever since Trump had announced his campaign the year before, with a speech that accused Mexico of sending drugs and rapists over the border into the U.S., 4chan and an online network of associated white supremacists had waged an all-out content war in his name. They so thoroughly saturated the internet with MAGA memes that Clinton was obliged to make a speech condemning the alt-right as it manifested online.

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But those same communities who once formed an effective grassroots movement for driving the Trumpian narrative are plainly unenthused by the announcement of his 2024 campaign. The rambling speech Trump gave at Mar-a-Lago on Tuesday night in hopes of kick-starting a political comeback was received poorly across the conservative ecosystem: Fox News cut away in the middle of it, while major donors started jumping ship soon afterward. And the deflation of arguably his fiercest base — the digital warriors — is one more sign that Trump won’t have the juice he needs to return to the White House.

We’re fucked,” concluded a user on Patriots.win, a pro-Trump forum made to replace Reddit’s r/The_Donald after it was banned for abusive comments in 2020. “Trump was a bore last night. Please clap. Low energy,” wrote another, alluding to Trump’s successful attack line and jokes about Jeb Bush in the 2016 Republican primaries. True believers tried to push back against “doomer bullshit” but found their comments down-voted by the pessimistic faction of the site, which argued that Trump had no chance of winning because Democrats rig elections. The top comment on the thread about his speech predicted that he will “lose again to fraud.”

The far-right commentators who made a name for themselves on the web with the kind of vicious and mocking rhetoric that emerged from r/The_Donald and 4chan in 2016 were no less disappointed. Perennial instigator Milo Yiannopoulos pointedly endorsed Kanye West as a 2024 candidate instead. White nationalist streamer Nicholas Fuentes called it an “EPIC FAIL” on Telegram, complaining that Trump hadn’t mentioned election fraud, “big tech censorship,” or the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Ali Alexander, the “Stop the Steal” organizer whose efforts to overturn the 2020 election helped inspire that deadly chaos, explained how he would have rewritten the speech, and hoped that Trump would “relaunch” the campaign sometime in 2023.

Jan. 6 was a topic on the message forums as well, with more than a few Trump loyalists saying it was hopeless to vote him back into power — leaving force as the only option. “Nothing else but a March on Rome is going to do it,” observed a user at Patriots.win. “Either globalist cabal, or freedom fighters, pick our sacrifice we’re willing to make,” said a second. On a subreddit devoted to political memes, one member said that “January 6 needs to happen more often” because “government should be afraid of its people and what they can do,” with another agreeing that this was “just as the founding fathers intended.” A 4chan anon ominously wrote, “If Trump loses 2024 there shouldn’t be another election.”

Yet the majority of the reactions to Trump’s new campaign on 4chan — once a hotbed of pro-Trump talking points and sentiment — were dismissive. In sharp contrast to the giddiness around Trump’s trollish antics in 2016, users ridiculed voters who can’t accept that he’s not getting back into the White House. Meme characters wearing MAGA hats are now depicted crying in a rage over a string of election losses.

The most striking reversal of all is that a smattering of users are excited to see Trump run … so they can watch him lose and his supporters melt down again. “Never thought I’d catch myself rooting for Trump but here we are,” wrote one 4chan user. “This man will tank the Republican’s chances of winning the presidency harder than any Democrat could ever even dream of. Trump is quite literally the savior of the Democratic Party.”

It could be the sign of a shifted ideological landscape to read this statement on what’s often described as a toxic, racist, hard-right forum. Or it could be that for a lot of this crowd, the politics never mattered — only the spectacle.

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