The fractured elements of what was once called the alt-right were unified once more on Thursday night in condemning Donald Trump’s airstrike in Syria as a mistake. Or as Milo Yiannopoulos put it, “FAKE and GAY.”
This loose confederation of Web-savvy, anti-establishment right-wingers formed an important vanguard of Trump’s online support in last year’s election, and its unified opposition to the airstrike forewarns a political downside to intervention in Syria. While foreign wars tend to boost presidents’ popularity in the short term, Trump risks losing the segments of his base that flocked to his isolationist, “America First” message.
In addition to its nationalist, anti-interventionist and anti-“globalist” views, the alt-right and its fellow travelers have also displayed a marked affinity for Syria’s ally Russia, whose government has returned the love by tweeting images of the alt-right’s mascot, Pepe the Frog, from official accounts. In reacting to the airstrikes, leaders of the movement placed those ideological reflexes over their personal loyalty to Trump.
Most noteworthy were the herculean efforts of blogger Mike Cernovich, who took to the livestreaming application Periscope to rally opposition to the strike in a marathon session that went on for several hours.
Just days after Donald Trump Jr. suggested he be given a Pulitzer Prize, Cernovich tweeted, “Sources telling me U.S. attack in Syria planned for tonight, we must stop! #NoMoreWar,” at 7:40 pm Eastern time, an hour and a half before NBC News broke the news of the airstrike.
During the course of the livestream Cernovich — at times holding his infant daughter Cyra in his arms — blamed a variety of actors for fomenting the conflict. “They want war. Deep state, all these people want it, man,” he said. Of the media, he said, “They’re trying to con Trump into believing the people want war.”
Cernovich also expressed his belief that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad had been framed for the chemical attack, though he had not decided by whom. “It was probably ISIS did it to themselves,” he said on the livestream, while also tweeting, “Did McCain give ‘moderate rebels’ (ISIS) in Syria poison gas and Hollywood style film equipment?”
Vice Media co-founder Gavin McInnes, founder of pro-Trump “Western chauvinist fraternal organization” the Proud Boys, joined Cernovich as a guest via Skype, and shared his skepticism. To illustrate a parallel from his own life, McInnes recounted a story in which he said a female friend accused a man of rape and McInnes violently confronted the man, only to be convinced by the man’s incredulous response that he was not guilty of rape. (In a text message, McInnes, who left Vice a decade ago, maintained his skepticism about the source of the chemical weapons attack but signaled support for Trump’s response).
Earlier in the day, alt-right online philosopher Stefan Molyneux also joined Cernovich to condemn the action and question whether Assad was really responsible for the chemical weapons attack.
Other callers offered even more disturbing theories. One man expressed his concern that the “deep state” had approached Trump and threatened to kill him and his family if he did not get in line and voiced his suspicion that “the whole thing” could be traced back to Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice. “Yeah, could be,” responded Cernovich.
Others who have been associated with the alt-right were similarly dismayed by the news.
Yiannopoulos — who has kept a low profile since losing a CPAC speaking gig and a six-figure book deal over revelations that he once spoke favorably of pederasty — declined to elaborate on a text message describing the airstrike as “FAKE and GAY.”
White nationalist Richard Spencer, whose embrace of hard-core racism has led Yiannopoulos and others to distance themselves from the “alt-right” label, displayed no such reticence, calling the strike “a sad, shocking and deeply frustrating moment.”
“I condemn the strikes,” he said. “I’m going to wait and see. Perhaps Trump is slapping Assad across the nose and won’t go further. Perhaps Russia was informed of the attacks. Worst-case scenario: We’re replaying the 2000s: A conservative comes to office on a populist message and becomes a globalist and neocon shill. Again, I’ll wait and see but I’m prepared to denounce Trump.”
Spencer was not alone in vacillating between condemnations of the strike and expressing hope that Trump will not take further action against Assad. The anonymous alt-right Twitter troll Ricky Vaughn tweeted, “THERE IS NO ENDGAME IN SYRIA if we remove Assad. No leader that can hold together that country.” He also tweeted, “Hoping this is 88D chess giving Trump political space and an excuse for meeting with and negotiating with Putin.”
Over on The_Donald subreddit, a central hangout for Trump’s alt-right fans, debate raged all night. One poster attempted to douse the discontent by writing, “Calm the fuck down all you concern trolls. This isnt WWW3 – its trump putting America first. We need to stop Assad from killing his people. They flee and guess where they are going?” The /pol/ section of the message board site 4Chan, another hotbed of online Trump support, was similarly torn asunder by the news, with one poster writing, “/pol/ hates Trump now. What happened?”
Meanwhile, internet troll Charles Johnson was not prepared to accept that the U.S. really had struck at Assad, saying that a source at CENTCOM told him the strike had actually targeted the Islamic State. “I’m very skeptical of any claims made in the media on military matters,” he said. “Especially since the Iraq War.”