Inside #Cult45 is an ongoing contributor project and as such will be presented as a series, updated with new chapters as the project progresses. This post will include the first two chapters, Inside #Cult45 and A Deplorable is born. Any specific identifying information to the contributor has been altered to protect the privacy of the author and the subjects.
Mid February 2020, I decided to do an experiment. I was going to gain entry into the online community of the Trump base. Not the average republican base, but the real base. The MAGA fandom. My interests were threefold. First, as a liberal Resister, I have always had difficulty understanding the right. The difference in perspectives, concerns and interests always fascinated but confounded me. How could we be witness to the same past three years and feel so different? We all witnessed kids in cages, constant corruption, destructive policies and a weakening on the world stage.
To give the reader some context, Donald Trump had been Impeached in the House of Representatives for attempting to influence the 2020 election with the aid of Ukraine. His charges were abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. He was then acquitted by a Republican majority in the senate. The Republican senate made it well known before the trial that he would be acquitted. They blocked all attempts at witnesses and evidence, essentially running an Authoritarian show trial. So much for impartial justice in America.
Shortly after that, he seemed to make his intentions known that the Kremlin would have every chance to interfere in the 2020 elections. He did this by removing the impartial Director of National Intelligence and installing a Trump loyalist with zero experience. Richard Grenell had a known history of corrupt dealings in eastern europe. This would be the man who oversaw the National Intelligence Program. He now had a man inside to sanitize any damaging intel prior to it reaching the House. He called the newest intelligence on Russia’s interference a Democrat hoax. Election security bills still gathered dust on Mitch McConnell’s desk. Americans, who had been paying attention, knew that Trump was a traitor. Every action pointed towards assisting in compromising the 2020 elections. We were in the middle of a crisis that could change America forever. But there was and still is a subculture that worships him. Even after all we had witnessed. I needed to know what these people were like. What motivated them. How was it possible to ignore such things? How did they ignore the President of the United States overtly betraying our democracy in real time? They were all traitors in my mind.
Second, I wanted to see how common the trolling and doxxing of Resisters was on Twitter, and perhaps help prevent it in some ways by analyzing, recording and sharing my insights. There was ample instances of left wing Twitter users being victims of coordinated attacks by the use of Twitter user lists. This often resulted in doxxing, suspensions or bans. Similar discord was occurring in Facebook and other social media platforms as well.
Third, eventually we would need to heal the divide in offline America if not in social media if we were to survive as a nation. America was at it’s most divided than I had ever seen in my lifetime. That was going to take understanding and compromise. Why did it seem that we existed in separate worlds? What was it that was spurring the fanatical, rabid base? What did they see that I didn’t?
My only realistic option to even attempt to accomplish any of this would be through the skewed lens of the internet. Specifically, through social media by use of Twitter. Now, believe me, I went into this knowing that this would be an unscientific, anecdotal, warped view of who this base actually was and how they actually feel and behave. I am not an academic, psychologist or scientist. Im not even a writer. Twitter is not analogous to real America writ large. In other words, don’t judge from this project. It is inherently flawed in that respect. Considering it fictional may be the most fair way to read it. These views, experiences and conclusions are my own. They are not fact. Nor are they a representation of the average Trump voter. This project was for insight, however inaccurate it may be. I needed some questions answered and this would hopefully give me some.
The nature of social media has some unique aspects. It allows us to become anonymous and that anonymity brings out some personality traits that we normally would never reveal. It allows us to behave terribly, often with zero or limited consequences. But it also allows us to connect with those whom we may never meet. This was useful as I’m a resident of a blue state, so this was the simplest, and safest option for me to be able to approach a larger cross section of the Trump community. So, I would attempt to go undercover as a member of #Cult45. I would become one of the MAGA folk of Twitter. Secret agent man style, disguise and all. I would learn their language, like what they like, follow what they follow, read what they read and Tweet what they Tweet. And maybe, just maybe, I could gain some insights, and perhaps change my admittedly negative perspective on the members of #Cult45. After all, we are all Americans, so how different could we truly be?
A Deplorable is Born
To begin this project, I would need to build a new persona from the ground up, through an anonymous Twitter profile. I would create a new network of friends. This profile would be unconnected with anyone I knew, for safety reasons. I had experience on Twitter, mainly with friends of like mind and liberal Resistance groups. This was going to be a similar process of building the profile, persona, Tweet style, the likes, the retweets and the web of Trump supporters that I would “study”. So, a new account was going to be the first step.
I set up a dummy gmail account, registered a new account on Twitter and used one of my favorite characters from one of my favorite movies as my pseudonym. I used the character’s face for my profile picture and a scene from the movie as my profile background. I now populated the about field of my profile with my favorite line from that movie, and some standard MAGA hashtags. And it was indeed standard as they all used the same hashtags for identification purposes. I decorated with hashtags such as #MAGA (Make America Great Again), #KAG (Keep America Great), #2A (2nd Amendment), #ProLife, the American flag emojis and the ubiquitous #Patriot. I used a city where I didn’t live as my home. There was nothing that could identify me. I now had the basis of my character’s profile.
Next phase was to populate my interests. I would need to have the same interests as them. This refined my profile’s appearance, and make it look more organic and legitimate. I searched out a random MAGA user, and went through their likes and what they were following. I followed the standard conservative news sites and right-wing personalities you would expect. I found and followed Fox News, Breitbart news, Bill Oreilly, Ben Shapiro, Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and more. I added Mitch McConnell and dozens of other GOP politicians. I found many fake news/right wing propaganda sites to follow as well. And the cherry on top? POTUS himself. What self respecting Trumper didn’t follow Donald Trump?
I then went to my feed and prepared my first test. Could I pull this off? Could I convincingly imitate a right wing Trump supporter? I had past experience in the wilds of Facebook battling right wing trolls with a small group of Resisters. We would enter the comment sections of news sites and counter propaganda and disinformation. It was a team effort. I had experience with the usual talking points and the right-wing troll discourse methods of deflection, whataboutism, straw man arguments and false equivalencies. It had been enlightening on countering trolls, but the takeaway I would be using for this was common talking points. I was going to rely on these past experiences in addition to right wing media to assist me in acting the part so I could integrate and begin studying the habits of my new subjects.
I began to scan the Tweets on the feed of the personalities and news outlets I followed. I peeked at MAGA profiles who had commented and reviewed their interests, Tweets, retweets and replies. I scanned their followers. They stuck together. The division between left and right was online as well. Especially on Twitter. I started to like some of the Tweets. I searched replies to Tweets and liked the replies from other right wingers. My profile was starting to get populated with a history of my likes, and follows that reflected my alter ego. These actions were all recorded on my profile page under the tabs for Tweets Replies and Likes. That way, when it came time to make friends, if they did any kind of vetting, they would see a legit looking MAGA profile with the expected content. There would be no way to tell the difference. They would see my profile, my likes, my follows and Tweets and see that I was one of them. A True Patriot. A proud Trumper, A fellow Deplorable.
Now it was time to shoot off some Tweets. I opted for the standard retweets, some with replies to show my political affiliation and personal Trump friendly takes on current events. It wasn’t too hard to pull off, as I had dealt with MAGA folks before. I put out some current talking points of conservatives, and the cliched, shallow tropes of blindly praising the POTUS for Making America Great Again. You would see fans say the same stuff on TV when interviewed at his rallies. I did some complaining about Obama, ridiculing of Hillary, laughing at Pelosi, and Tweeted about the silly libs who had been completely owned by the right. I essentially parroted used up, stale right-wing talking points, and the standard things that we liberals despised and mocked. I wasn’t going for a particularly clever persona. It had worked as far as I could tell. I looked the part. I had hashtagged my way to MAGAdom.
I was almost at the last stage. It was time to go live, and hunt down some “real” folks to follow. People that I could watch, interact with and learn from. I used the search bar and searched popular Trumper hashtags. I started to scan the feed for Tweets and replies from the right wing Trump clan. It was simple, they clearly identified themselves with their Tweet content, their replies and their profiles. Not unlike how liberals Resisters often do. They had created their own world like we have and travel in specific digital circles via their hashtag identifiers. I liked some replies, and did some follows. Retweeted a few replies and Tweets and followed the Tweeters of those replies and Tweets. At this point I started to gain some followers as well. I followed them, they followed me. Twitter culture demands mutual following back for the most part. It’s Twitter etiquette. Apparently my profile and interactions seemed legit. I was in. I had passed the unspoken test. I had infiltrated the MAGA Cult of Twitter.