If you want Donald Trump to come and hang out in your subreddit, all you have to do is ask, preferably via a short, bulleted memo. Or at least that's how r/the_donald managed to land the Republican Party's presidential nominee for an AMA (or "ask me anything") session this Wednesday night.
According to jcm267, a senior moderator for r/the_donald — which has more than 180,000 subscribers and has been described as "a melting pot of frustration and hate" — several of the subreddit's moderators got together in a group chat and worked up "a quick professional little memo" that they hoped would catch the presidential hopeful's eye.
"Basically it just said what an AMA is and how much free press he'll get out of it," said jcm267, who also goes by tehdonald and who spoke to BuzzFeed News under the condition that his real name not be revealed. "We made sure it could be something he could scan in 30 seconds. It was a nice-looking business memo with a little addendum." r/the_donald moderator velostodon then emailed the memo to an unnamed Trump campaign staffer, and on Tuesday night, the staffer cornered Trump with a printed-out copy of the bulleted proposal. Trump scanned it and agreed on the spot.
The AMA will take place on Wednesday night while President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are set to take the stage at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
While r/the_donald bans outright bigotry and racism, it has been accused of allowing veiled intolerance to find a home in its fast-growing community. In April, the New York Times wrote that "visitors to the group will find a cascade of offensive postings." A recent Vice story on the subreddit described it as "an authoritarian [political community] full of memes and in-jokes, far right talking points, coded racism, misogyny, homophobia, and Islamophobia, and a hypocritical 'free speech' rallying point," and pointed to posts with titles like "Jesus Christ people, stop reporting Islamophobia. We don’t fucking care about our ‘Islamophobia problem’ AT ALL!”
jcm267, for his part, told BuzzFeed News that the subreddit gets a bad rap in the media. "Just on our mod list, we have a big diversity in both ethnicity and thought. It's not this big Klan rally like they like to call us. This sub reflects a majority of people, who, when they're not at work and not being policed for what they say, don't have the time to be politically correct."
Even before the AMA was set up, a number of the memes and bits of media tweeted by Trump's official account had originally come from, or been featured prominently in, the subreddit.
When asked if Trump was a subscriber or known reader of r/the_donald, jcm267 demurred. "There's no way to know if things he tweets came from us but there have been some interesting incidences," he told BuzzFeed News. "A few weeks ago, [former Trump campaign manger] Cory Lewandowski tweeted a direct link to our subreddit. He had recently left the campaign, but it makes you think because he had very close access to Trump for so long and clearly he was aware of us."
Though a Trump staffer ultimately acted as the go-between for r/the_donald, it's unclear whether there'll be any relationship between the subreddit and the campaign beyond Wednesday night.
"I'm not with the campaign," jcm267 said. "They may have some liability and they might want to keep distance — I have no idea. I'd like to have a relationship with them, though."
With 48 hours to go before the question-and-answer session, most of the logistics are up in the air, including how long the candidate will answer questions. "We like to have our AMAs for two hours," jcm267 said, "but we know he's a busy man and can't spend all day on Reddit."
But r/the_donald moderators are hoping that Trump will carve out extra time.
"Knowing Mr. Trump he might come back some time at 4 AM when he wakes up and just decide to answer questions out of the blue," jcm267 said. "You never know with Mr. Trump."