Donald Trump’s Personal Army: How Reddit’s The_Donald Morphed From Posting Memes To Harassing Political Targets Online

The Donald Trump hub on Reddit started quietly in 2015, with a few hundred subscribers filling The_Donald with memes and tongue-in-cheek praise for the brash billionaire, who, at the time, was the surprising head of the pack for the Republican Party.

As the calendar turned to 2016 and the site exploding with subscribers, it has morphed from memes and self-described “sh**posting” to something critics say is far more sinister. It is now described as a hub for a very small but effective pack of users to organize harassment of journalists and perceived enemies of Trump.

In the last two weeks, as Donald Trump’s stumble in the first debate and the week that followed sent his poll numbers crashing, a number of opponents have reported being targeted for harassment and even death threats.

One of those is Washington Post reporter Travis M. Andrews, who wrote a story when the Anti-Defamation League declared the internet meme Pepe the Frog was a “hate symbol.” Pepe is something of the unofficial mascot for The_Donald, and one of the site’s moderators had written a post calling on other users to speak out to journalists who had covered the Pepe story. It included contact information for Andrews.

Andrews said he got a number of replies, including some who called him “scum” and told him to “prepare for my jail sentence.” Others were more threatening.

Andrews wrote to the site’s moderator, who defended the attacks.

“I’m very serious about you carrying a responsibility for the horrible attack last night. While you are busying yourself with symbols and identity politics, you are legitimizing violence against peaceful Americans of a peaceful political persuasion,” the moderator wrote.

While The_Donald still seems very interested in spreading memes (which make up much of the top 25 posts at any given time), a small group of users has continued to organize a campaign of harassment against opponents.

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That was the case this week after a revelation about one of the group’s favorite targets, the Hillary Clinton-supporting PAC known as Correct the Record. This group blasted an announcement earlier this year that it would be leading a campaign to push back against “misinformation” about Clinton being spread online. While the group was vague in details about how this would be accomplished, opponents claim that the group is paying an army of trolls to harass and silence critics online.

This week, a publication found the group’s FEC filing that included names and even addresses of Correct the Record employees. This information was posted on The_Donald, where a number of users talked about ways they planned to harass the people named.

“I’m probably going to find some of these f***ots on facebook later and trigger them. Time to create a new facebook account,” one user wrote.

Some users wrote about real-life confrontations.

“One of the people listed is like 5 blocks from my house,” another user wrote. “I’m going to tape a picture of Donald to his mailbox, car, front door everyday lmao.”

There was no consensus among The_Donald users on harassing the Correct the Record employees, and some users even warned against doing it. Others used the information to dig into the lives of the PAC’s employees.

“This person already deleted their facebook page. Definitely have some CTR shills lurking here now,” one wrote, adding, “Edit: But she didn’t delete her Flickr, Vimeo, etc. Or her online high school year book (looks like a f***ing wildebeest).”

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This is not the first time that Trump supporters have been accused of harassing political targets online, and the criticism is not limited to The_Donald. Back in February, Huffington Post reporter Julia Craven tweeted about her fears of a Trump candidacy. At the time, Trump was starting to string together primary victories, and Craven said she was getting hate mail from some Trump supporters.

“Trump is not a fan of black people, women or journalists. So, yes, I am f***ing petrified of this man’s rise,” she wrote.

Craven said that tweet unleashed a wave of harassment.

“Then the backlash began. Hundreds of people have tweeted at me in the past 12 hours with messages that echo various notes Trump has struck on the campaign trail — his contempt for black people and their concerns, his casual misogyny, his anything-but-compassionate language regarding mental illness and his genuinely frightening readiness to suggest that maybe it’s OK to meet words with physical violence.”

Though the recent cases of harassment emanating from The_Donald may be getting a lot of attention, it appears that it is still a very small portion of the site’s roughly 225,000 users who are engaging in these efforts. The top stories for the month still contain plenty of memes, and Pepe is just as popular as ever.

[Featured Image by Ralph Freso/Getty Images]