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Make America Meme Again

The Rhetoric of the Alt-Right


Heather Suzanne Woods and Leslie A. Hahner

As demonstrated by the 2016 presidential election, memes have become the suasory tactic par excellence for the promotional and recruitment efforts of the Alt-right. Memes are not simply humorous shorthands or pithy assertions, but play a significant role in the machinations of politics and how the public comes to understand and respond to their government and compatriots. Using the tools of rhetorical criticism, the authors detail how memetic persuasion operates, with a particular focus on the 2016 election of Donald J. Trump. Make America Meme Again reveals the rhetorical principles used to design Alt-right memes, outlining the myriad ways memes lure mainstream audiences to a number of extremist claims. In particular, this book argues that Alt-right memes impact the culture of digital boards and broader public culture by stultifying discourse, thereby shaping how publics congeal. The authors demonstrate that memes are a mechanism that proliferate white nationalism and exclusionary politics by spreading algorithmically through network cultures in ways that are often difficult to discern. Alt-right memes thus present a significant threat to democratic praxis, one that can begin to be combatted through a rigorous rhetorical analysis of their power and influence. Make America Meme Again illuminates the function of networked persuasion for scholars and practitioners of rhetoric, media, and communication; political theorists; digital humanists; and anyone who has ever seen, crafted, or proliferated a meme.

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Chapter 3: Lulz: White Nationalism for the Digital Age




White Nationalism for the Digital Age

In early 2017, a new Alt-right symbol began to occupy public consciousness. On February 7, users on /pol/ drafted a post entitled “Enter the Milk Zone” that showed, among other items, a meme marking areas of the world where lactose intolerance was high.1 Comments indexed an odd combination of eugenics and genetics to show how lactose tolerance was related to “racial purity.”2 As one user pronounced, “Roses are red, Barack is half black, if you can’t drink milk, you have to go back.”3 Within this thread, veganism was deemed a Jewish plot for world domination and racial intermixing justified as the reason one user (who identified as black) could digest milk.4 After this thread gained traction in social media, a whole host of others began posting about milk tolerance. The president of the National Policy Institute, and an avowed white nationalist, Richard Spencer, placed a milk emoji in his Twitter profile and tweeted about his tolerance to milk.5 Baked Alaska—aka Tim Gionet, a well-known troll—followed with his own milk emoji on Twitter.6 Neo-Nazis popped up on YouTube drinking gallons of milk at Shia LaBeouf’s latest performance art.7 Soon, the mainstream media was covering milk as a symbol for neo-Nazis and the Alt-right.8

Except milk was not necessarily a symbol adopted by the Alt-right. Instead, this elaborate coupling of milk with racist claims about lactose diges←103 | 104→tion and the...

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