Despite relatively small numbers by most estimates, the alt-right, a group of almost entirely anonymous posters without a leadership structure, emerged as a potent online force over the past year. As the presidential campaign wore on and minorities, journalists, and Clinton supporters were subjected to an unending campaign of insults, harassment, false information, and horrifying images, it was hard to know how much worse it could get.
Well, if the first few hours of Donald Trump as president-elect are any indication, the answer is: a lot.
The coalition of trolls and white supremacists that turned many of the internet’s social spaces into toxic cisterns of abuse is showing signs it was emboldened by last night’s historic results. Already, evidence is everywhere that they are now in the process of making the internet an even nastier and crueler place.
Just have a look around:
- On the Daily Stormer, the neo-Nazi website that is one of the many substations of the movement, editor Andrew Anglin compiled a list of tweets expressing fear about Trump's presidency, including some by rape survivors and minorities. The dek: "You can definitely troll these people into suicide." (Another post on the Daily Stormer: "Dear Liberals: This is the Era of Revenge.")
- On 8chan/pol, one of the kaleidoscopically hateful image boards where the alt-right focus-tests its memes, a poster wrote, "Any Hill-shills you know IRL you should encourage to kill themselves. Everyone and anyone supporting Hillary who crosses your path, and who is in an emotionally fragile state...We need to make mass suicide a thing. We won the battle, now it is time to chase down our enemies and hack them apart. Make it trend, you fucking cuckholds! #KillYourself #DoItFaggot."
- On the Twitter timeline of the mainstream liberal commentator Peter Beinart, hardly a Twitter warrior, where he has been retweeting responses to his anodyne observations about Trump's low support among Jews. Among them: "Jews are always jews first, in whatever host Nation they are parasitising," and "you don't have a home nobody wants you. In the ovens u go."
- On the jubilant subreddit r/the_donald, a trending post crowed, contra rueful liberals, "WE WOULD HAVE CRUSHED BERNIE TOO, YOU CRYBABY CUCKS!"
- On Twitter, the popular and frequently banned alt-right account Ricky Vaughn appeared to hold something of a coming-out party, instructing "mainstream media faggots" to DM him for interviews.
- Also on Twitter, Mike Cernovich — possibly the closest thing the alt-right has to a breakthrough figure — threatened to "do journalism on journalists" and continued to excoriate Ben Shapiro, the former Breitbart editor who the Anti-Defamation League found to be the single most harassed Jewish journalist in the world. "Millions of people want to stay involved. This is a movement. I am not going anywhere, am in discussions on creating something permanent," he wrote.
Etc, etc, ad nauseam.
In its exuberant escalation of offense-giving, the alt-right seems to feel that its outrageous behavior has been rewarded with a mandate thanks to Trump's victory. The alt-right, which values offensive speech — about race, immigration, religion, and gender — as a virtuous assault against polite neoliberal consensus, found an avatar in the president-elect, who ran a successful campaign against the movement's boogeyman, political correctness. Even though the alt-right may not have done all that much to help Trump become the most powerful man in the free world in terms of the number of voters it turned out, his victory will — has already — validated its worldview and poured fresh fuel onto its fire.
Given the renewed energy, it's hard to imagine how the situation will do anything but further devolve. Twitter, where the vast majority of nastiness takes place, has shown itself to be as incompetent at managing abuse as it is competent at spreading hate. In a Twitter thread last night, former employees bemoaned creating "Trump's campaign vehicle"; "a machine that turns polarization into $"; and "a gigantic shouting machine. the best there ever was." And the incubators of this nastiness, places like 4chan and 8chan and smaller forums like therightstuff.biz (which is hosting a live call-in broadcast called the "Daily Shoah" tonight to celebrate "liberal tears"), will simply always exist in some form or another.
And it can probably get worse. Reports leading up to the election found that a relatively small, hyperactive group of alt-right accounts were responsible for most of the abuse attributed to the group. But the most mainstream website to nurture the alt-right, Breitbart.com, gave Donald Trump his campaign's chief executive. And that campaign convinced nearly 60 million Americans to vote for Trump. The trolls have been fed, and fed well. Now they're coming back for more.