On Thursday night, after President Trump reversed his isolationist position on Syria and launched airstrikes in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack by the Bashar al-Assad regime, one of his most steadfast and prominent communities of online support erupted into chaos and infighting.
Moderators of the subreddit r/The_Donald, which has nearly 400,000 subscribers and received press during the campaign as an influential meeting ground for Trump supporters, banned a slew of users after debate broke out over the Syria action.
The bombing was unpopular among those who supported Trump’s previous isolationism, including far-right figures like Ann Coulter and white supremacist Richard Spencer. It also irked many Trump supporters who are prominent online, prompting the Twitter hashtag #SyriaHoax. But on r/The_Donald, critical comments like “This is how you become a one-term president” were reportedly deleted and their authors banned.
“I feel it was pretty hypocritical of a sub that frequently talks smack about liberal echo chambers,” banned user Lachesis44 told The Outline.
One of the moderators of r/The_Donald noted that the group has a long history of banning subscribers. Disapproval of Trump is seen as a violation of the forum’s rules.
“We don't talk to obscure media,” moderator OhSnapYouGotServed told The Outline in a Reddit message. “But we've banned more than 200,000 users since the primaries began — we don't want shitlibs, cucks, or crying bitches in our 24/7 Trump rally.”
Asked in a follow-up message how many of those 200,000 were banned last week after the Syria action, the moderator said, “About six million. Go on now go, walk out that door. Just turn around now ... you're not welcome anymore,” then blocked me from further messaging.
But several other Trump supporters banned from the group were willing to answer questions, and confirmed that the debate over Syria led to an unprecedented kerfuffle in r/The_Donald, underscoring how support for Trump in some quarters is becoming more complicated.
The subreddit has always been intolerant of dissent, but the Syria strike drew fierce objections from Trump’s “America First” contingent, dividing the r/TheDonald more than any of the president’s actions so far.
“The issue was that they were banning people who were voicing their opinions in a respectful, logical manner even if they had a long history being a proponent of Trump,” Lachesis44 said. “The sub has a long history of banning people, but most of those were people who came into the sub just to talk crap or to troll. I saw people who are are much bigger supporters of his than I am get banned [after the Syria debate].”
The tension on Reddit came against a backdrop of concern in the alt-right — the far-right wing of the Republican party with roots in white nationalism, and which is often critical of the mainstream GOP — about several of Trump’s actions and policies. One source of angst is the reported diminishment of former Breitbart executive chairman Steve Bannon’s White House influence and elevation of the apparently more moderate Jared Kushner. Trump supporters on Reddit have previously clashed over the issue of legalizing marijuana, which has a strong base of support on the site. One disillusioned subscriber, TheChronic2015, took issue with attorney general Jeff Sessions’ stated opposition in February to legalizing marijuana, writing on a different Trump sub: “I'm a Trump supporter and a former member at T_D. I left the_donald after I posted an article about Jeff Sessions hinting at a crackdown on marijuana. The post was up for about 10 minutes in which time I was accused of being a concern troll, paid shill, and a cuck. Eventually the post was buried by the mods.”
It should be noted that r/The_Donald is notorious for being infiltrated by pranksters who feign Trump support, which may be part of the motivation for the aggressive moderation. (It also means that the sources I spoke to may or may not be sincere, although their comment histories showed nothing to indicate anything other than earnest Trump support.) Reddit users who say they support Trump also mentioned two other policies that troubled them: Trump’s recent reversal of internet privacy rules, and his guidance regarding H1-B visas, which allow companies to employ foreign workers with highly specialized skills. The guidance moved to limit the number of H1-B visas issued, but did not go far enough for some.
“I'm pretty hacked off about the H1-B situation, but I do like the new guidance better, but he should still have killed the program, reduced the numbers [of immigrants], something real,” user SteelToeShitKicker, who was banned from r/The_Donald, wrote in another sub called r/AskThe_Donald. “Now, we are bombing Syria and Bannon is getting kicked out of the inner circle. I'm gutted. At least I don't have to listen to Hillary lecture me from the White House.”
“The Syria attack has to be the first [Trump] action that I find inexcusable, especially if it leads to any more action,” banned subscriber Lachesis44 told The Outline. “I come from a family with an extensive military background and joined the Army myself out of high school (I was disqualified from my service right before shipping) and one of the main reasons I picked Trump over Clinton was that I thought he'd keep us out of action.”
Trump fans on Reddit, and the doubts expressed there about his recent performance, are not necessarily representative of all his supporters; in fact, a poll conducted last month by Penn State University’s McCourtney Institute of Democracy showed that only 3 percent of Trump voters regretted their choice. But the online dissent from the right over the past several days underscores how much easier it is for any politician to rally their base while campaigning than to keep it happy while governing.
The subreddit seems to require subscribers to support everything about President Trump. I asked the banned user SteelToeShitKicker whether it had become more complicated to do so.
“I wouldn't say it's more complicated to support everything,” SteelToeShitKicker answered. “I'd say it's impossible.”