Now Pepe was going to be president…
The recent chaos at the Iowa Democratic caucus was exacerbated by eager Anons responding to a 4chan call to “clog the phone lines,” making it difficult for precincts to report results. The origin of Pizzagate, the conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton and John Podesta were running a child sex ring out of the basement of a pizzeria in Washington, D.C., betrays 4chan’s longstanding compulsion to make jokes out of child pornography (or “cp”). “Denizens of /pol/,” Beran writes, “saw references to cheese pizza in Podesta’s email…and noted the initials of Comet Ping Pong, the rest of the tale wrote itself.”
During the 2016 election campaign, the raiding party of hyperactive anons found it all too easy to sow panic among a demographic new to the Internet, older people who lacked the skills or discernment to assess the sources of the “news” they were consuming. Research has suggested that older Internet users are more likely to get trapped in “filter bubbles”—chains of websites that prevent them from seeing opposing views—and this tendency made them perfect targets for disinformation.
The question of causality preoccupies anons, many of whom believe they were instrumental to Trump’s victory. /pol/ promoted Trump relentlessly, never missing an opportunity to go on the offensive against his enemies. On October 13, 2015, Trump acknowledged his far-right fans by tweeting a picture of himself as their cartoon alter-ego Pepe the Frog, a louche figure who’d been appropriated from a comic by Matt Furie, and had been through a complicated life as a meme, ending up as a vehicle for jokes about gas ovens and SJWs being thrown out of helicopters. Now Pepe was going to be president, and the scent of lulz was in the air.
On election night in 2016, I had /pol/ open on my phone. I found the anons professing to believe (ironically, of course) that through “meme magic”—an occult system elaborated with a theology incorporating an ancient Egyptian frog god and a 1980s Italian synth-pop record—they were actually willing into being a Trump victory. Many posts were variants of “God Emperor take my power!,” as if we were in the final scene of an anime whose heroes channel energy into some cosmic weapon or vessel. When Trump did in fact win, there was a moment of stunned incomprehension at this unprecedented intrusion of the real into the world on the other side of the screen. Or was it vice versa? Then the board set about celebrating by memeing pictures of crying Clinton supporters.
Image by MajorMalfunction via Flickr (cc).