My Little Nazi: The Curious Link Between the Alt-Right and the My Little Pony Fandom
Beloved children’s cartoon My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and fascism: two things that, to your average John Q. Public, would seem to go together about as well as peanut butter and syphilis. From an ideological perspective, the two seem pretty much diametrically opposed: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, which extols the virtues of friendship, tolerance, acceptance, and kindness; versus fascists, who extol the virtues of violence, division, cruelty, and subjugation. How could somebody possibly profess allegiance to both things simultaneously without the severe cognitive dissonance tearing them in half? Spoiler alert: there’s no real answer to that question because, as I’ve discovered, the small but vocal contingent of neo-Nazi bronies seems to be mostly immune to or apathetic towards the idea of introspection. Join me on a macabre and fascinating journey into the origins and the beliefs of one of the internet’s most unlikely communities, and how their mere existence is indicative of the fractious state of “nerd culture” as a whole.
The seemingly unlikely phenomenon of the “brony” in and of itself was fodder for many a think-piece when the nascent community made a permanent impact on popular culture circa late 2010 and early 2011. The mere idea of teenagers and adults watching a television show based on the infamous My Little Pony media franchise entirely of their own volition and advocating that others watch it as well was, for its time, a novelty that many had trouble reconciling with, which to some extent is still the case almost a decade later. In spite of the wider world’s bewilderment, the community managed to not only grow but flourish in the coming years, hosting massive fan conventions all over the world and churning out enough creative fan-works to give Trekkies a run for their money. In the wider scheme of internet culture, the brony community seems to mostly overlap with other stereotypical “nerd” cultures, with many discovering My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic through the video game fandom, electronic music fandom, anime/manga fandom, and particularly the furry fandom, with which there is a surprising (or unsurprising) amount of community overlap. This can be attributed mainly to the fact that the brony phenomenon originated as a direct result of community discussion on /co/, the 4chan board dedicated to comics and cartoons, which would, inadvertently or otherwise, incontrovertibly influence the culture and the demographics of the My Little Pony fandom.
I’m by no means the first hot-take purveyor who has written about the “wild west” culture of 4chan, or even the phenomenon of Nazi bronies for that matter, nor will I be the last. Over the years, the site and its offshoots have cemented their legacy as bastions of a sort of libertarian/anarchic experiment come to life; a place where words don’t have meaning, actions don’t have consequences, identity is irrelevant, and the world around you is but a fleeting shadow. The site’s emphasis on anonymity and laissez-faire moderation has resulted in a community that can be described as “unique” — for better or worse. In some ways, it only seems fitting that the My Little Pony fandom would spring from such an environment — after all, where else could adult pop culture connoisseurs discuss a television show ostensibly aimed towards little girls without fear of judgment and ridicule? While many would argue that the brony fandom’s flaunting of their individuality and pushing of societal boundaries has had a largely positive impact on society — and I would be very much inclined to agree — it also carries with it some dark and sordid baggage, as is the case with many isolatory “nerd” communities on the internet. Enter the Nazis, stage right.
One aspect of establishing communities of like-minded individuals via the internet is the almost invariable exposure of vulnerabilities and insecurities due to the impersonal nature of communicating via computer screens. Sociologists refer to this phenomenon as “mediated communication”, as opposed to face-to-face communication, and it comes with its own set of advantages and drawbacks — one of the main drawbacks being the sheer ease of access to emotionally vulnerable or malleable individuals who seek acceptance, be it group acceptance or self-acceptance. Neo-nazi recruiters have reaped the fields of internet nerd communities for decades, recognizing and exploiting the insecurity and loneliness that one naturally encounters in such spaces. Twitter personality and pop culture maven Colin Spacetwinks has written at length about this exact phenomenon (and it’s a cracking good read to boot) — as he summarizes succinctly in one of his tweets, “video games do not make you violent, but, isolated nerd spaces and repressed issues with masculinity make you vulnerable to fascist thought.” Sure enough, the ideas of pride in one’s heritage (i.e. skin color) and masculinity (i.e. which gender roles one conforms to) seem to be recurring points within the rhetoric that one uncovers in such communities. It seems only natural that such individuals would latch onto a “nerdy” phenomenon such as My Little Pony, particularly those who were already deeply entrenched in the anime/manga fandoms; as analyst Jeet Heer writes in his own article on the subject, “the particular style of anime that often pops up on the alt-right is the most heavily stylized and idealized versions of Japanese animation, where the characters are utterly denuded of any connection to biological reality.” Even more denuded of any connection to biological reality? The alien, ostensibly equine creatures that inhabit the magical land of Equestria.
The picture above is just a small sampling of the baffling, almost otherworldly content that one will usually find on /mlpol/, the main hub of alt-right bronies that amusingly came about as a result of an April Fool’s Day prank wherein two different 4chan boards — /mlp/, the My Little Pony board, and /pol/, the alt-right board — were combined for a day for no reason other than to watch the two seemingly incompatible communities fight. Instead, however, the two communities got along swimmingly and ended up starting their own spinoff website to discuss ponies and fascism in harmony — “Springtime for Hitler” comes to mind almost immediately. Naturally, as with almost all communities that originated from the depths of 4chan, all of the rhetoric espoused by its members is steeped in many layers of irony and sarcasm, which may arguably be a means of sugarcoating their ideology as a means of making it more palatable to outsiders. To this day, debate rages in the brony community whether or not the “alt-bronies” are a real, sincere community or an elaborate in-joke comprised entirely of disingenuous trolls and wiseacres who espouse incendiary rhetoric solely for the shock value. Part of this discourse revolves around Aryanne, a gag character created back in 2014 by an artist known to the world simply as “Ass Stalker”, who has essentially become the official/unofficial mascot of the alt-brony community. Everything about this character is a goldmine for dark comedy — the juxtaposition of the cute, wholesome, and family-friendly image of My Little Pony with the dark, violent, and antagonistic image of Nazism should ideally make for a great visual gag. But if you see people seemingly embrace Aryanne as a community mascot and identify with her as a character — even an obvious goof character — is the joke still funny? Who’s laughing?
In the wake of the recent massacre in New Zealand bringing the discourse surrounding “ironic” internet fascism into the mainstream, it’s hard to overlook just how detrimental an impact that bigoted rhetoric can have; not just on one’s psyche, but on the world as a whole. I suppose in some ways the prevalence of racism and xenophobia in online communities is not necessarily a sickness in and of itself so much as it’s a symptom of a much more insidious disease — isolation. As Vice contributor Roisin Kiberd summarizes in her own article on the subject, “to me alt-furry betrays a misguided frustration, a longing for an imaginary solution to an imaginary threat. Hiding behind their avatars, these men can cast themselves as underdogs.” Be it alt-furry, alt-brony, alt-weeaboo, alt-gamer, alt-obsessed Jeopardy watcher, or alt-anything else, the forming of an identity around tilting at windmills is a tragic, yet nonetheless fascinating spectacle to witness — and, as recent events show, one that carries to potential to enact real-world harm. What can we do about it? Should we do anything about it? That’s a great question. The answer is there really isn’t an answer, or at least not a satisfactory one. What can one do to dispel somebody’s bigoted views, especially ones that are tied directly in with their sense of self? Is it even possible? What would the solution involve? Diplomacy? Violence? It’s a conversation that we as a society really ought to be having, in spite of how utterly absurd it is on a surface level — introduce the notion of a neo-Nazi who watches My Little Pony to someone 30 years ago and they’d crack up and ask which issue of National Lampoon you borrowed that from. Absurd as it may be, though, the phenomenon is very real — more real that many of us would be comfortable to admit.
“Pony Nationalism and the Furred Reich: Inside the Alt-Furry’s Online Zoo” by Roisin Kiberd, Vice, 2016
“Yes, there’s a connection between My Little Pony, Donald Trump, and white identity politics” by Jeet Heer, The New Republic, 2016
“Does the Furry Community Have a Nazi Problem?”, by Eric Killelea, The Rolling Stone, 2017
“How the internet helps spread hate, Nazi views” by Connie Guglielmo, CNET, 2017
“Nazi Ponies”, Know Your Meme, 2015