As Americans relaxed over a long Fourth of July weekend, the pro-Trump meme factories were gearing up for war.
These online communities, which churn out lo-fi, shareable images and videos meant to amuse and energize President Trump’s social media supporters while provoking his enemies, were spurred to action by what, in their world, qualified as a series of seismic events.
The first shock came on Sunday morning, when President Trump tweeted a video that depicted him in a professional wrestling arena attacking a man with a CNN logo superimposed on his head. The meme, or one very similar to it, had been created by a user on Reddit, the popular internet forum, and posted days earlier on /r/The_Donald, an active pro-Trump forum there, before making its way to the wider internet and, finally, to the 33.3 million Twitter followers of the leader of the free world.
In the world of meme creators, where getting a presidential tweet is akin to having your artwork hung on the wall of the Smithsonian, President Trump’s post was cause for celebration. “Wow!! I never expected my meme to be retweeted by the God Emperor himself!!!” wrote the creator, a frequent poster on Reddit whose user name combines a vulgarity with the Star Wars character Han Solo.
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Days later, that Reddit user himself became a figure of national interest as news organizations checked his posting history and discovered that he had a record of creating memes that were racist and anti-Semitic.
On Monday, a CNN reporter tracked down the identity of the user, who quickly deleted his posts, renounced his meme-creating ways, and apologized in a long, seemingly sincere post to /r/The_Donald. CNN declined to name the user, but said, somewhat mysteriously, that it “reserves the right” to publish his identity in the future if he continued to create offensive content.
To many on the right, that caveat felt like a threat issued by a powerful news organization to a private citizen: Fall in line, or we’ll expose you.
CNN quickly clarified its intent, saying that it had “decided not to publish the name of the Reddit user out of concern for his safety,” but the battle had already begun. Right-wing Twitter users excoriated CNN for what they saw as a threat against the Reddit user, and the hashtag #CNNBlackmail began to spread as thousands of the network’s detractors began to pile on.
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