Reddit ‘Quarantines’ Pro-Trump Subreddit Over Anti-Police Threats

By William.Sommer@thedailybeast.com (Will Sommer)
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

Reddit quarantined the “The_Donald” subreddit on Wednesday, citing threats made on the popular forum for Trump supporters against law enforcement officers.

“Recent behaviors including threats against the police and public figures is content that is prohibited by our violence policy,” a Reddit spokesperson said in a statement. “As a result, we have actioned individual users and quarantined the subreddit."

The new quarantine was brought on by anti-police threats posted on The_Donald. Some users had apparently encouraged violence against law enforcement, angry that officials in Oregon were trying to bring back GOP state senators who fled the state to avoid voting on a climate-change bill. In a note to The_Donald moderators, Reddit administrators said they had “observed this behavior in the form of encouragement of violence towards police officers and public officials in Oregon.”  

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It’s not clear what posts prompted the quarantine, but on Monday, Media Matters detailed a number of anti-police messages posted on The_Donald. 

One user posted that they would have “no problems shooting a cop trying to strip rights from Citizens.” Another wrote that “rifles are the only way we're going to get any peace in our lives ever again.”

With roughly 754,000 subscribers, The_Donald is one of the largest forums for Trump fans on the internet, and by far the largest on Reddit. The site became so prominent in the Trump movement that Trump himself answered questions from the forum’s members during the 2016 campaign. 

Trump digital strategy director Dan Scavino monitors The_Donald for ideas, Politico reported in May, and Trump has tweeted meme videos from the site. 

The_Donald plays a key role in the right-wing ecosystem online, according to Becca Lewis, a Stanford doctoral student who studies online subcultures on the right. The_Donald posters take memes from more extreme forums like 4Chan or Gab and bring them to the subreddit, where they can picked up by more mainstream politicians and pro-Trump personalities. 

“You get these things that start out just with smaller audiences, and then in part through The_Donald end up reaching millions and millions of people,” Lewis said. 

As part of the quarantine, Reddit users will see a content warning before accessing the subreddit. In the past, quarantines against other subreddits have made them harder to find, and sometimes serve as a prelude to being banned from the site entirely.

The_Donald was controversial on Reddit long before Wednesday's quarantine. Prior to the 2017 Unite the Right white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, The_Donald moderators pinned a post encouraging members to attend the rally to the top of the page. The subreddit’s users regularly vote content from white supremacists and other extremists to the forum’s frontpage. The subreddit was also an early hotbed for conspiracy theories about murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, with The_Donald posters regularly claiming without evidence that Rich was murdered by Hillary Clinton.

Lewis believes the quarantine is a “step in the right direction,” but comes “too little, too late.”

“It has become a hotbed for disinformation, harassment, calls for violence, and conspiracy theories in the form of memes and other forum-style posts,” Lewis said of The_Donald.

In its message to the subreddit’s moderators, Reddit asked for them to take action to prevent further threats being posted on the forum. One The_Donald moderator, “shadowman3001,” fumed after receiving the note, claiming the quarantine was political.

“It would seem they've set up an impossible standard as a reason to kill us before the 2020 election,” the moderator wrote.

In emails to The Daily Beast, The_Donald moderator “sublimeinslime” said the quarantine was “unexpected” and said it could drive some The_Donald members to other social media platforms. 

“As hard as our moderators work in a position in which they are not paid, it is somewhat of an insult as we are faced with the burden of correcting this,” the moderator said.  

Other pro-Trump figures, including Fox News host Tucker Carlson and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, have also appeared in the forum to interact with subscribers.

The quarantine provoked outrage across the pro-Trump internet. A self-described “memesmith” named “Carpe Donktum,” whose videos Trump has reposted on Twitter, declared the quarantine to be “ABSOLUTE BULLSHIT.”

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