Tumblr Is the Unlikely Platform for Alt-Right Infighting
The social media platform has become a veritable smorgasbord of competing reactionary interests.
Rex-Vandalorum is a 24-year-old Texan, a "Minarcho-Traditionalist," and a linchpin of Toryblr, a community of Tumblr users who believe right wing politics are just not right wing enough. His name is Latin for "King of Vandals," the Germanic tribe that sacked Rome in 455 AD.
Now that Rome has fallen, however, Rex spends his time posting dank memes instead.
"Back in 2014 right wing blogs on Tumblr were more or less divided into two cliques," he tells me, explaining the Tumblr right and its subcategories. "Freeblr, for more Libertarian/AnCap-leaning folks (Anarcho-Capitalists, who favour free markets and the elimination of the state), and TradNatblr ('traditional nationalist' Tumblr), for Nationalists/Fascists/NatSoc types ('National Socialists', i.e nazism)."
Rex-Vandalorum felt he fit with neither.
"After comparing some flaming between Republicans and monarchists on here to Whigs and Tories, I realised monarchists should have their own group. The name serves as a nod to the High Tory ideology (17th century British conservatism), and as my own little inside joke."
Very few would sign up to Tumblr expecting conservative politics.
Tumblr, now in its tenth year, and hanging in there after its purchase by Yahoo in 2013 for $1.1 billion, has long been popular with fringe subcultures. The social network is widely considered to be left-leaning, and the (overly harsh) archetype of the social justice-obsessed "Tumblrina" popularized by Gamergate and the "TumblrInAction" subreddit has done little to dispel this reputation.
Very few, then, would sign up to Tumblr expecting conservative politics.
But unlikely as it sounds, Tumblr has become a hive of right wing beliefs, running the gamut from moderate Ronald Reagan fandom to Donald Rumsfeld's Dank Meme Stash, to full-blown Southern Fried Fascism. You can join Conservablr, Toryblr, Freeblr, Tradblr or Gunblr. If these are too mainstream, you can sign up to Orthodox Autocracy (the 'Official Nationality' ideology of Nicholas I of Russia) with shades of Dixieblr, Tsarism (Russian monarchism), Evangelical Distributism (an Orthodox Christian 'middle path' between capitalism and socialism), Sedevacantism (minority traditionalist Catholics), or perhaps Falangism (should you wish to identify as a Spanish fascist, and a Franco supporter).
Right wing Tumblr is a game of linguistic musical chairs, where players pass obscure-sounding names between themselves in a race to avoid being labelled a "cuck." Beyond the semantics, what do they stand for? And why choose Tumblr as a home for their beliefs?
In Tumblr messages, I approached several accounts to find out.
Liberty Bill is credited for creating "Freeblr," a Tumblr tag devoted to libertarianism. He's twenty-two, obsessed with economics, and a self-described "collectivist's worst nightmare." He's also moderate, compared to others I encountered on right wing Tumblr.
Bill started his blog in his freshman year of college, after the 2012 election, and now reports just under 20,000 followers. "When I started it, I really wanted it to be inclusive to a wide range of ideas," he said. "Your libertarian-leaning Republicans all the way to your Anarcho Capitalists… Gunblr (Tumblr's community of firearm enthusiasts) is older but has a close relationship with Freeblr as we both support private ownership of firearms for self defense especially for minorities and the LGBTQ community."
He sees Toryblr, a more nationalist, alt-right styled Tumblr group, as "more at odds with Freeblr."
Others accounts lean overtly to the far right. I spoke to a "traditionalist" and "Toryblr affiliate" going by Renegade Royalist, whose feed includes memes mocking "social justice warriors" and antifa (anti-fascists), and pictures of George W. Bush touching bald men's heads.
Tumblr has become a hive of right wing beliefs.
"There have been several evolutions of Toryblr," he says, "but it's basically become an environment of monarchists, traditionalist Christians, nationalists, and memes." Surprisingly, given the name, most members of Toryblr are American, and aren't specifically focused on supporting the British monarchy: "We don't have any affiliation or affection to/for the modern Tory party of the UK, but traditionally the Tories have been the monarchists, so that's where it comes from. Also at the time of the creation the term 'alt-right' didn't exist."
He also alluded to long-running beefs between Toryblr and the "proud conservatives", who present a more traditional, inclusive vision of right wing politics.
"They view us as Nazis (we're not). We view them as weak on important issues (they are)." Getting blocked by the owners of such accounts, who they refer to as "the cuck caucus," is regarded an achievement on Toryblr.
Renegade Royalist is wary of the term "alt-right" but has come to accept it.
"As for Trump, we like him," he said. "He makes for great memes and is frequently referred to as the God Emperor. Farage (the British politician, Trump supporter and noted Brexiteer) is good, but as with Trump and most other mainstream politicians our hope is that they will usher in people who we like even better, aka shifting the overton window (the range of ideas deemed acceptable to the public) and such..."
Some Toryblr members shrug off the alt-right tag, but they certainly like the haircut. They even have their own "fashy fashion" blog which claims that seasonal fashion is a Jewish invention and, bizarrely, quotes Susan Sontag. They talk about "the lessons to take from fascism" and discuss the works of Oswald Mosley, the British fascist. They compliment each other on being "Aryan-looking". The social justice hate is strong, of course, as is an obsession with "natural" hierarchy (i.e. that some races, cultures or genders are better than others). Even vaporwave, the visual aesthetic and music genre, is not safe from the "Right Wing Death Squad," although there is a noticeable lack of shitposting; instead, they are earnest, convoluted and wordy, taking as their template the missives of Mencius Moldbug (the 'neoreactionary' theorist and computer engineer known for his controversial views on race and the abolition of democracy).
The question remains: why choose Tumblr? For all the talk of social media as a political echo chamber, many of us willingly go where we'll find people like ourselves. Sometimes echo chambers are where we feel most comfortable.
Yet right wing Tumblr prevails, against the tide. There is a popular sentiment among the alt-right that they're persecuted, that everyone is being racist against white people and sexist against men. On a site like Tumblr, they might actually be in a minority; perhaps this lends them a sense of validation.
Tumblr allows for rich visual and text-based content, and its users skew toward the young and educated. It makes sense, then, that a Tumblr version of the alt-right would go beyond flippant Pepe memes. The joke for years has been that Tumblr is a "safe space" for overly precious online liberals—the punchline might be that Tumblr is also a "safe space" for fascism.