For the first time since 2010, an American man has made to the Australian Open quarterfinals. The aptly named Tennys Sandgren is the last American standing in the men’s singles division, an achievement that is ever-so-slightly tainted by the fact that he’s probably a huge Trump supporter — and not the craven “Trump is terrible but I voted for him anyway because I am a Republican” kind, but the out-and-proud MAGA hat-wearing, “Pizzagate is real” kind.
At a post-match press conference on Monday, a reporter asked Sandgren about his Twitter account, where he’s retweeted and engaged in conversation with prominent alt-righters — whom the reporter very politely referred to as “political figures who might be considered outside the mainstream” — like Paul Joseph Watson, aka Prison Planet. Sandgren, who burst out laughing when the reporter mentioned the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville where a leftist protester was killed by a white nationalist, gave a lengthy answer that essentially amounted to RETWEETS ≠ ENDORSEMENTS.
“Who you follow on Twitter, I feel like [that] doesn’t even matter a little bit. What information you see doesn’t dictate what you think or believe, and I think it’s crazy to think that,” Sandgren said, as transcribed by Deadspin. He continued: “That’s not how information works. If you watch a news channel, you wouldn’t then say that person who’s watching a news channel thinks everything that news channel puts out.”
Let’s take a look at the people Sandgren follows on Twitter: Donald Jr. and Melania; an account called “Conservative Brew”; Students for Trump chairman Ryan Fournier; Tim Allen, who once compared being a Trump supporter to being Jewish in 1930s Germany. Here are some other Twitter users whose #relatable #content caused Sandgren to smash that mf follow button: @MAGAJoe69, a Pepe type who only has 18 followers including Sandgren; “Decline of the West”; Gavin McInnes, founder of the Proud Boys; rape advocate Mike Cernovich; “Meninist,” a cutesy term for men’s rights activists; JonTron, a vlogger who recently attempted to “clarify his controversial views on race.” Very regular stuff. Okay, sure, retweets aren’t endorsements, all views expressed here are my own and do not represent those of my employer, etc. etc. etc., but doesn’t it indicate something that the almost all the 565 accounts Sandgren follows — save for The Intercept, CNN Breaking News, BBC Breaking News, and a handful of professional athletes — are affiliated with the alt-right?
According to Sandgren, the answer to that question is no, not weird at all, nothing to see here — but he also deleted all his tweets after the press conference, though not before admitting he “find[s] some of the [alt-right’s] content interesting.” Sandgren’s recent Twitter activity includes retweeting a video by alt-righter Nicholas Fuentes about the “future of America First,” a far-right media company. In November 2016, Sandgren tweeted that Pizzagate — a far-right conspiracy claiming that a Washington, D.C. pizza parlor is a front for a child sex ring frequented by Democrats — is “sickening” and claimed the “collective evidence” surrounding it, of which there was none, was “too much to ignore.” A few weeks earlier, Sandgren tweeted that the mainstream media was “concocting a way” to cover up the truth about spirit cooking, another alt-right conspiracy that has something to do with, um, Hillary Clinton, performance artist Marina Abramović, and… Satan? In 2012, he posted some homophobic tweets about gay clubs and “trannies.” All very regular, definitely not alt-right stuff.
Dude is running Kyrgios off the court. He also tweets a lot pic.twitter.com/ObCR8BbQOE— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) August 3, 2017
The views of the alt-right most appeal to young, white American men — and Sandgren, who is just 26 years old, ticks off all those boxes. Considering how many young athletes are coming of age in an online echo chamber pushing dozens of toxic views per day, it seems statistically likely that we’ll get more alt-right-sympathetic athletes in the future. It’s unclear whether Sandgren is America’s first alt-right athlete — he’s definitely not the first athlete to be beloved by the alt-right — but he’s not the first to be suspected of being sympathetic to the racist fringe movement. Then-Dallas Mavericks player Andrew Bogut, who is Australian, also tweeted about Pizzagate in November 2016, though he later said the idea of him being associated with the alt-right was “laughable” before extolling the virtues of Western civilization and claiming alt-righters would never approve of him because he’s from Australia.
Sandgren is similarly choosing to deny any ties to the alt-right. In a Tuesday interview with ESPN, he attempted to clarify what he meant when he said some of the alt-right’s “content” was “interesting.” It’s “not really specific ‘alt-right’ content that I deem of value,” Sandgren said. “I think that’s very incorrect and don’t find information like that to be of value or hold onto any of those things. So it’s not who I am as a person in any way.” As for his deleted tweets? He just wanted a fresh start, okay?