On Feb. 22, a Donald Trump fan named Neil Tucker uploaded a new profile photo to his Facebook page. The photograph shows a black man opening his jacket to show off the words on the front of his T-shirt: “DONALD TRUMP MATTERS.”
The photograph—and its Trump-ian mockery of the Black Lives Matter movement—was a hit. The post has been shared almost 1,000 times on Facebook and is now making the rounds on Trump Twitter. Trump fans have shared the photograph to repudiate the campaign’s racist overtones (“But trumps a racist pig..... how can this be?”) and, in doing so, they’ve turned Tucker into a minor social media star.
“Love Your Shirt Neil!” one Facebook user gushed. “Where did you get it?” A pro-Trump Twitter account pinned the pic alongside an alleged quote from Tucker himself: “Donald Trump is Courageous, Patriotic … has Genuine Love for our Country.” One white person called Tucker a “bad brave mofo.” Another white person said: “Right on Brother!!!!” A third white person chimed in: “THIS GUY IS ONE OF THE ‘SMARTEST’ BLACKS IN OUT NATION!!!”
I have sad news for Trump Nation: Neil Tucker is not black. Rather, he is himself a white person who has amassed a modest Facebook following thanks to a series of right-wing-friendly Photoshop jobs: Nancy Pelosi in Joker makeup; Marco Rubio as Scarface; a shareable digital medallion that reads, “Islamophobic and Proud of It.” The faux Trump endorsement is one of Tucker’s specialties. In recent months, he’s posted Photoshopped testimonials from Britney Spears, Taylor Swift, and the GEICO gecko. Two months before Tucker’s “DONALD TRUMP MATTERS” upload, a near-identical photo surfaced online with just one little difference. In the original, the shirt reads “White Lies Matter.” Donald Trump supporters took a Black Lives Matter activist and transformed him into their fake black friend. (I contacted Neil Tucker on Facebook, but he did not reply.)
Welcome to Donald Trump’s online playground, where reality is negotiable. Thanks to the creativity, drive, and/or willful ignorance of Trump's Internet-based troops, any statement can be twisted to praise the GOP front-runner. These aren’t just dirty tactics to get Trump elected at all costs. They’re a big part of what makes supporting Trump feel like a fun, lawless ride.
A common complaint about social media is that it groups users into ideological bubbles, where they speak only with like-minded people who re-affirm what they already believe. But Donald Trump supporters have turned their bubble into a bunker. At Trump rallies, attendees perceived as activists or just outsiders (often, black people) have been removed by security or pushed out of the crowd. And online, Trump fans gather inside locked Facebook groups like “TRUMP CRUSADERS 2016,” “Donald Trump American President,” “Donald Trump 2016 Info Headquarters,” “Donald Trump Cyber Army,” and “Donald Trump Will Prevail,” where discussion is shielded from outside intrusion or observation. One spirited Reddit fan club, titled “The Donald,” warns participants that “posts supporting other candidates will be removed.”
The pro-Trump posts that get passed around inside these groups come largely from a group of little known, off-brand conservative websites. Trump has told his flock that the media is “absolutely dishonest. Absolute scum. Remember that. Scum. Scum. Totally dishonest people.” The candidate’s total disavowal of all “mainstream” media sources—including even the conservative Fox News channel, and right-wing TV stars like Megyn Kelly and Glenn Beck—has, for Trump fans, elevated fringe news sites to mainstream status. Pro-Trump Facebook pages share stories from sites with names like Yes I’m Right, ETHyper News, USADailyPolitics.com, Daily Headlines, Conservative Tribune (home of the prolific pseudonymous blogger “Wilmot Proviso”), and the Drudge Report spoof DrudgeToday.com.
These sites cast aspersions on other candidates (Gateway Pundit: “Cruz and Rubio Caught Shaking Hands During Commercial Break, Met in Hallway Before Debate”), exaggerate even the good news (Yes I’m Right: “The Results Are In. Trump Is CRUSHING Every Primary!”), present rumors as accepted truths (Prntly.com: “Rick Scott endorses Trump in Florida at Mar A Lago”), or just plain make stuff up (USAPoliticsToday.com: “Breaking: FBI makes Move to Harrest Hillary”—typo in original, and yet, it’s still being shared). Any news story can be twisted into a Trump-themed micro-controversy. Here’s the Yes I’m Right take on Melissa Harris-Perry’s exit from MSNBC: “When This Reporter REFUSED to Cover Trump Stories, the Network Said ‘PACK YOUR BAGS!’ ” The real flashpoint for the Harris-Perry/MSNBC feud: The host insisted on covering Beyoncé’s “Formation” video instead of live rallies for Jeb Bush and Chris Christie.
In Trump-land, information needn’t even be attached to some website with a newsy name—copy-pasted Facebook posts and chain emails do just fine. An individual’s refusal to support the candidate in real life can also be easily brushed aside. An anonymous essay posted to a site called Reality News Media claimed that the Republican party “will kill [Trump] before they let him be president.” It was soon falsely attributed to Reagan appointee turned conservative pundit Bill Bennett and passed around the Web. In reality, Bennett has said that he sees “a lot of irrationality” among Trump supporters.
Another piece praising Trump was first published on an Obama birther blog called The Complete Obama Timeline but was later passed along as the work of a correspondent for the New Yorker. Unscrupulous Trump advocates have also spread made-up endorsements purportedly penned by pilot Chuck Yeager and writer Peggy Noonan. The Noonan piece, the online gossip mill had it, was supposedly published in the Wall Street Journal. It wasn’t, and Noonan didn’t write it.
Trump haters have been caught spreading unflattering falsities about their own beloved candidate, too. Debunked rumors include the claim that Trump adopted a new logo resembling a Swastika; that he tweeted an image of himself sending Bernie Sanders to the gas chamber; and that his father palled around with Mao Zedong. Trump’s supporters aren’t the only ones to fall for this kind of stuff. On Monday, Sanders supporters shared a New York Times article announcing Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s endorsement of Bernie. The Times itself later identified the piece as a fake news story mocked up on Clone Zone, a website that enables the spread of false information by providing templates of major news sources.
But there’s something especially ironic—or perhaps just diabolical—about a group that claims to despise “establishment” media sources, then turns around to leverage the MSM. As a Snopes investigator said of the faux Noonan piece, “The content circulated in blog comments and on social media for several months before Noonan’s name was attached to it, and the added (but spurious) credibility of a well-known media personality and popular newspaper injected new life into the commentary.”
Trump’s supporters are adept at taking any piece of content that’s cast into their den, and chewing it up and spitting it out so it looks good for their hero. Comedy videos made to skewer Trump—like the Game of Thrones parody “Winter Is Trumping”—have been repurposed by his supporters as fun-loving tributes. And when the Arizona conservative group the Public Integrity Alliance released a “Make America Great Again” parody music video painting Trump supporters as uneducated yokels, it instead found an audience among its targets. PIA president Tyler Montague marveled: “Trump fans love it.”
On Reddit, supporters riff off Trumpian syntax, promoting their candidate with the same Trump buzzwords—“low energy,” “yuuuuge,” “sad!”—that detractors use to mock him. When Trump does something spectacular, they say that his border wall just got 10 feet higher.
Turning an anti-Trump talking point into a glowing affirmation is part of the fun. It also puts Trump fans inside Trump’s own head. When one supporter on Reddit was asked to explain the candidate’s many documented lies, he said he doesn’t take all of Trump’s statements literally, comparing him to an Internet troll who sows discord and delights in the aftermath. “He’s shitposting, just like he does all day every day,” the Redditor wrote.
Trump is trolling. If you join his cause, you can too.